Talking Vegan Food & Cooking with “Veggie Dream Girl” Leslie Durso
June 7, 2014
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have with us today Leslie Durso. She’s a vegan chef and a healthy living expert. Welcome to Green is Good, Leslie. LESLIE DURSO: Hi. How are you guys? JOHN SHEGERIAN: We are great today and we’re so glad to have you on to share all the great things you’re doing to help vegan-ize the world and make it a healthier more sustainable place to live and it’s just great to have you. You have an interesting background and journey. I’d like you to share that before we get talking about all the things you’re doing today. Talk a little bit about your background, Leslie, and where you’ve been leading up to becoming a vegan chef and healthy living expert. LESLIE DURSO: Sure, I would love to. My journey started early, a lot earlier than most people’s. Meat was something that I never really acquired a taste for and I grew up in a very large Italian family with a lot of food and a lot of meat and our whole lives just revolved around the dinner table and when I was about eight years old, I found out what a vegetarian was and I said, ‘That’s what I am,’ and my family said, ‘What? Who is this kid in this Italian part of our family? You’re going to stop eating meat?’ and they thought it was a phase I was going through. It was a really big deal but they finally after years and years accepted my decision and it was later in life that I decided to cut out all animal products. I basically just stopped eating all of them and I was like, okay now I’m a vegan and it was a very easy journey for me. I always thought it was sort of meant to be and then getting into the food world, obviously I had the same stuff for food at a young age because my mom, after making Italian spaghetti, made the sauce and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for me. She just wasn’t quite sure what to make and it got me in the kitchen with my mom and my grandmother and my great grandmother figuring out foods, figuring out vegetables, how to make them without meat and how to make something meat eaters would like them as well and that’s something that was really important for them so all my food had to taste really good to everyone, not just people that are obsessed with vegetables as I am. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wait a second now. First of all, for our listeners, we’re so excited to have Leslie Durso on. She’s a vegan chef and a healthy living expert and if you want to follow along on your tablet or iPad or laptop while you listen to this edition of Green is Good, you can go to www.lesliedurso.com. I’m on your website right now. First of all, beautiful website, really fun. Let’s step back. You’re an Italian girl, so you’ve got cooking and food in your DNA, so it’s not hard to believe that you fell in love with cooking. It’s your cultural ethnic history so now mom and grandma and you and you’re getting now into the whole cooking thing and cooking vegan. A lot of our listeners send me emails when we have vegan experts on and stuff like that and everyone has this mountain of veganism that they think and they think it’s so hard to climb. Can you share a little bit about the vegan cooking experience and that it’s not that hard once you get into it? LESLIE DURSO: Absolutely. It’s really not that hard and this is what I always tell people too. There’s only about 12 mainstream different kinds of meat on the market. There are over 25,000 edible plants on the earth. There’s so much to do with vegetables and my style of food is very approachable. I call it a whole foods style of cooking. I’m only using whole real foods. I try to use as little processed foods as possible and that means not using a lot of fake meats and cheeses so when people sit down for a meal and they’re cooking my recipes, they recognize the ingredients in it and they’re like, ‘Hey, that’s all stuff I can get at my local grocery store,’ no matter where you live in the country so it’s a little bit more approachable. That’s really how it had to be for me growing up as a kid in the family that I did. Everything had to be very approachable for my family or they weren’t going to eat it and so I learned how to make really simple vegetables very tasty. It doesn’t mean you have to cut out eating your favorite foods. You can vegan-ize just about anything out there and still make it taste filling and you’ll feel better. People start getting feeling good and they just want to eat healthier all the time. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right, right, right. And, you were in Hollywood. You had a successful television career, correct? LESLIE DURSO: I did, but I was on a couple shows for a long time and then I used to host an environmental science show with Bill Nye the Science Guy. I used to do that so long ago and when that show ended, I really decided- Bill was actually really instrumental in this as well- it helped me find my passion in education and how I wanted to educate the world and make it a little better and he said, ‘You have to do it with food,’ because I had started bringing food to set and telling everybody about what I do and how I eat and he was like, ‘This is a message that you need to share with the rest of the world’. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, for a while, you were a private chef to Hollywood people and other folks in New York and Hollywood? LESLIE DURSO: Yeah, absolutely. I’m one of the greatest ones out there for meat eaters and vegans. I assist a lot of meat eating celebrities that are just looking to get healthier. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha, so a lot of the people who have started vegan restaurants started off as private chefs. What’s the next evolution for you? Are you going to take your Hollywood experience and evolve that into a vegan cooking show or what’s your vision and goal to really bring vegan food and a healthy lifestyle to people out there on a scale basis, on a bigger basis? LESLIE DURSO: TV is something that will probably always be part of my life. I love the medium. I love being able to communicate with people that way. I have a recurring little segment that I do on the Hallmark Channel’s Home and Family. I’m kind of on the road to being a vegan judge for Food Network. I’ve gotten to judge Cupcake Wars, which was super fun. I felt like I was eating 32 cupcakes in one day. I thought I would die but yeah, I could definitely see my career going back into that line but I’ve also got a ton of other projects that I’m working on. My first book is about to launch, which you’ll be able to find more information on my website when that does. I’m working on a little restaurant project. I’m working on a little food line project so there’s a lot going on in my life and a lot more than I’m going to be able to share in the upcoming months. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What do you enjoy the most though, which part of it? Do you enjoy being in front of the camera cooking or judging or do you want to open Durso’s Vegan Restaurant in Venice or Santa Monica? What gets you out of bed in the morning? LESLIE DURSO: You know, what really gets me out of bed in the morning is knowing that I’m helping people become healthier and happier because whether you make my recipes every single day or if you make my recipes once a month, you’re cutting down your intake of bad foods in your life and you’re increasing your good food intake and that’s really what it’s about for me. I love helping people on their journey no matter where they are in getting healthier and when I say getting healthy, it’s not necessarily always about being 100% vegan. That’s not an option for a lot of people in their lives. It’s really about cutting back on the processed foods, cutting back on fat, and replacing that with fresh vegetables whenever they can. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there that just joined us, we’ve got Leslie Durso on. She’s a vegan chef and she’s a healthy living expert and you can check out more of the great work she’s doing at www.lesliedurso.com. So when people go to your website, can they hire you to coach them in healthy living? Do they hire you to do private parties and cook for them or what are the services that people can engage with you on from your website? LESLIE DURSO: Yes, yes and yes. I love being accessible to people. I travel around the country constantly and I’m always giving talks and seminars. I teach at Whole Foods monthly. I’m doing all the green festivals this year so go to greenfestival.org if you want to find out those dates and for me, I love being able to reach out and be available to everyone. You can hire me on my website. You can email me and you can do in person cooking classes but I also do virtual cooking classes and seminars and consultations where you just jump on Skype and you bring your computer into the kitchen and we can talk about all the things you want to talk about. JOHN SHEGERIAN: This is wonderful so you make vegan living easy. LESLIE DURSO: If it’s hard, no one’s going to want to do it. If you make it easy, everybody is going to want to do it and not only do I always make it easy. I make it yummy. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re in the middle of spring right now. Can you inspire some of our listeners with what are some of your favorite spring recipes that will get people socialized to the great vegan cooking that you share with your lucky, lucky partners and lucky colleagues and lucky clients? LESLIE DURSO: Spring is actually a great time to experiment with fruits and vegetables. There’s so much beautiful stuff out there. I was just at the farmer’s market the other day and they’ve got fresh peas already and I love fresh peas so I’ve got a bunch of those and a bunch of asparagus and I’m making a fresh pea and asparagus risotto, which sounds pretty normal to the everyday Joe and that’s really what my food is about. It’s just highlighting the beautiful produce that’s out there. There’s so much beautiful fresh food out there. The strawberries in California right now are to die for. They’re so sweet. They’re like candy. JOHN SHEGERIAN: A lot of people say that it’s better to be paleo than vegan or one thing rather than the other. Why vegan? Is there science behind being a vegan over a meat eater? How do you pitch that to people that are interest in being and feeling better? LESLIE DURSO: Absolutely. You’re vegan. You know the difference but vegan for me is what feels good to have in my body. You really have to find your own personal balance and what makes your body work and feel good but medically, veganism is proven to lower cholesterol. It’s proven to help fight cancer. It’s proven to lower your risk of diabetes. It’s proven to lower your risk of heart disease. It’s unbelievable how many people that I work with that are going into veganism strictly for health purposes so the animal thing and everything else doesn’t really matter to them. They just want to get off all of the prescription drugs that they’re taking. A lot of the idea is helping people in that respect we’ve seen incredible results and I’m not a doctor and this has all been under a doctor’s supervision but you lose the need for drugs in your life just by removing animal protein and replacing it in your diet. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Interesting. What changes do you see afoot in the vegan movement with regard to fast food, with regards to available food that people can buy, and other changes that you see in terms of right where we are today and where we’re going in the future? LESLIE DURSO: I think it’s a very, very exciting time to be vegan and part of this movement. I think we’ve kind of gone from that oh gosh, that’s like that hippy crazy thing that freaks people out in the country to everyone pulling strings. Jay Z and Beyoncé are going vegan. That kind of brings it to a whole other level. My website sort of exploded with people looking for information. It’s so great that now it’s a mainstream healthy thing you can do and there’s more available now than there ever had been on the food front and the new information front. With the internet and television, it’s acceptable and that gets me very excited and I really hope that in the future I do a restaurant and feel like I help so many vegans have menu items at mainstream restaurants and I would love someday to see every restaurant in America with vegan options and gluten-free options. There’s so many people out there that have allergies or just want to be healthier that day and why shouldn’t your restaurant provide that healthy option for them? JOHN SHEGERIAN: What I’ve seen also, Leslie, you’re so right, in LA and New York, the growth of the restaurants that are sprouting up, such as Veggie Grill and Cinnamon Snail and Pete’s Food and Gracias Madre and The Candle Chain and Sage, it just seems like there’s tons of great options out there now for people, including, which is really cool, Chipotle now has the sofritas, which is totally vegan. LESLIE DURSO: I love, love, love seeing that and anytime you sit in a restaurant and come with a bunch of people that have more restricted diets and everyone can sit and eat from the same table, people can be really excited and I’m just so happy to be part of this movement and I love seeing all these restaurants pop up and I know there are so many big plans. You walk into a Veggie Grill in Los Angeles and it’s packed and that’s so exciting to see and you know it’s not all vegan people eating there. It’s anybody wanting to get healthy. Like I said, that’s a very exciting thing for me. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What’s also cool about you Leslie, is not only are you on the cutting edge in terms of what real science said, veganism and healthy living is really the best way to feel good about yourself, have a better life, and potentially live longer and live better, but you’ve also merged that with your social media skills so you won Angeleno Magazine’s Social Media Entrepreneurial Game Changer this year. What does that mean and how does that help you further get out your message, the great message that you’re trying to continue to spread? LESLIE DURSO: You know, I love social media because it’s a way to directly interact with people all over the world and winning that just made me realize even more how exciting veganism is in food culture right now. I was the first vegan chef to be part of a food and wine event on the beach a couple years ago and that just shows me that it’s becoming so much more mainstream to have veganism out there and to have veganism a part of your events. I went to an event that was catered by another vegan chef in Los Angeles and the event had nothing to do with veganism and the people running it were not vegan. They just wanted to do it because they thought it would be cool. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Cool, cool. What is your favorite social media platform? What are you on the most? LESLIE DURSO: I am always on Instagram. I love Instagram. It’s a great platform. I love the visual style of it. I love how fast you can connect with people and it’s just a little snippet of, Okay here’s what’s happening in my life right this second, go. That’s a big one for me. I love Instagram and all of my social media is all Leslie Durso — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, everything, Pinterest — everything is Leslie Durso. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, you make it very easy and logical, once people know who you are, it’s easy then to find you on any of the platforms that you’re communicating on. LESLIE DURSO: It’s easy to find me and unfortunately, I’m not creative enough to come up with a really cool little name for myself. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Leslie Durso suits you fine. Unfortunately, we’re down to the last two minutes and I’m going to leave this up to you in terms of shameless plugs and everything else. What’s up next for you? What’s the future? Where will we be able to see you, besides Instagram, in the future? Where on television? What restaurant in LA? What’s going on for the coming year for Leslie Durso? LESLIE DURSO: Well, there’s a lot going on. Like I said, make sure you’re subscribed and checking my website regularly because my e book is about to drop and then I’ve got cooking classes at Whole Foods in Los Angeles monthly. I’ve got green festivals all over the country. I might be in development for a restaurant right about now so keep your eyes open and ears listening and you’ll hear some details on when and where that is launching and I’m constantly delivering free information on my site so just keep checking that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Any pearls of wisdom? Because we have a lot of young women out there in high school and in college that listen to this show around the world actually that want to become a woman ecopreneur. LESLIE DURSO: Hello, all of you beautiful women entrepreneurs. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Any one or two pearls of wisdom to make it easy for them to make the leap and jump to be a woman ecopreneur? LESLIE DURSO: Keep going. Really believe in what you’re doing. Find a passion, something that you’re really, really excited about and just keep going. I’ve heard no so many times in my life. I’ve heard so many times in my career somebody trying to change who I was and saying you should do this but that’s not who I am so really sticking to who you are and having a strong belief system and just going for it 100% all the time is the best advice that I could give. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Thank you, Leslie, for being on Green is Good today, and thank you for going for it, for 100% all the time. For our listeners out there, please use Leslie’s services. Learn more about her and continue to go to her website, www.lesliedurso.com. Thank you, Leslie, for being a sustainability superstar and vegan evangelist. You are truly living proof that green is good.