Here’s an interview with George Vutetakis, known as “The Vegetarian Guy,” who wrote a great cookbook about the restaurant he started in Michigan years ago. He’s known in San Diego for roving around farmer’s markets and sharing his delicious recipes with the world.
Why and when did you become vegetarian/vegan?
George: The decision to become vegetarian came in an instant when I was 14, vacationing with family in Greece. At one of the many feasts we attended, the two goats I had befriended the day before were served as the main course–hooves and all. The years following, I studied yoga and felt vegetarianism was a path consistent with the philosophies of balance, peace and connecting to the earth. I became vegan because I find most dairy sources to be unreliable and connected to the factory farm slaughter industry. Today, everything I do is plant-based.
What are some of your favorite foods?
George: My Greek grandmother’s cooking was a major inspiration. Many of her dishes are my comfort foods, such as: Horta, boiled greens with fresh lemon and extra virgin oil and Kaletsounia, spring pastries made with fresh amaranth or sorrel. I learned to cook formally in India and many of my favorite dishes are those which we cooked there. The traditional Gujarati dishes in particular: Dhokla, a steamed chana dal cake with a fresh coconut, toasted sesame, cilantro, chile and ginger garnish, Devra, Patra and Khandui.
What are your favorite veg-friendly restaurants in San Diego?
George: San Diego is in the dark ages when it comes to vegetarian and vegan restaurants, but that is about to change with Casa De Luz opening in North Park. I recently visited their home base in Austin, Texas and it was a wonderful experience! My favorite raw-vegan is Peace Pies, available at the Hillcrest, Little Italy, and Leucadia farmer’s markets and their restaurant in Encinitas. With the incredible bounty of local ingredients available daily at the 50 or so farmer’s markets in San Diego County, almost all my food comes from those. All the great food cultures of the world have bustling fresh markets, which double as social centers. When meals are prepared at home, the real magic of food is found and we lay the foundation for changing the world one meal at a time.
Do you have any tips for veggie travelers?
George: My wife and I have made the trip between S.D. and Michigan several times. In the last few years, the veg landscape has changed dramatically. After a little research on HappyCow, we found veg places every two hours or so. If there was a barren stretch, such as I-40 between Flagstaff and Gallup, we filled up our cooler at the grocery store with ingredients for simple wraps.
Can you tell us about your cookbook and other veggie work you do?
George: My cookbook, Vegetarian Traditions, tells the story of my former restaurant, Inn Season Cafe–still going strong in Royal Oak, MI after 30 years. The 200 award-winning recipes in the book are all plant-based, many inspired from local farmers who I believe are the real heroes of the modern food revolution.
My blog is a living resource of information, recipes and a view into my veg life. It focuses on the tremendous substance and variety of options waiting to be discovered with plant-based ingredients.
Recently, I began working as Director of Research and Development with Michigan-based Garden Fresh Gourmet creating plant-based products for national distribution. I return home to the bountiful markets of San Diego every chance I get.