Today, Vegucated’s Community Manager, Ashlee Piper is chatting with Heather Goldberg and Jenny Engel, the charming, uber-talented sister act behind Spork Foods, the Spork-Fed Cookbook, and the recent Spork Online. If you’re not already a devoted “Sporkie,” get ready to be completely enamored by their talent, humor, and the awesome giveaway they’re offering.
AP: What were you gals doing before you started Spork Foods and how long have you been vegan?
SF: We have been vegan for about 14 years and before we started Spork Foods, Heather was getting her business skills down by helping run an environmental non-profit organization called TreePeople. Jenny attended culinary school in New York City at The Natural Gourmet Institute and worked as a private chef and in restaurants (including Native Foods and Elf Cafe in Silverlake) prior to starting Spork Foods.
AP: What sparked your interest in plant-based cooking and how did Spork Foods start?
SF: We have always loved to cook, and when we grew up, the kitchen was the focal point of our house. We constantly hung out in the kitchen while our family prepared meals and because of that we realized that food was such an important element with regards to bringing a family together. When we went vegan, there were very few delicious alternative foods, like vegan cheeses and meats out there – so if we wanted any of those comforting substitutes – we had to get cooking. We didn’t want to sacrifice the flavors and textures that we loved just because we chose a plant-based lifestyle, so we dove in and started experimenting in the kitchen.
Spork Foods started because we always wanted a sister business, where we could eat lunch together every day! Not only that, but we love the idea of empowering people to feed themselves with nourishing, delicious vegan foods. We loved the concept of teaching because you get to explain not only how to make the recipe, but what the ingredients are doing in your body, and where they come from. For example, did you know that all citrus originated in Asia, or that basil can help cure a tension headache? These are the things you don’t get to explain if you are in a restaurant setting, so a cooking class is a great way to convey this information and also feed people delish vegan food. We knew that Spork Foods had to combine all of our passions, so we opened up shop – teaching and feeding people vegan cuisine.
AP: There are many elements that make Spork Foods’ approach so unique – the outgoing, warm, fun vibe of your classes (and book! and videos!), the creative, but approachable food, and most notably, the chemistry between you two as sisters. What made you want to team up?
SF: Awww, shucks. You are very kind. We know that not all siblings are cut out to work together, but since we are close and have complete trust and respect for each other – who better to work with than your sister? We got most of our squabbles out of the way as kids and by the time we were both teenagers, we realized we’re actually a lot alike. When you go into business with any biz partner, whether they are family or friends, it is crucial to have someone you trust helping you run the show.
AP: You’ve got celebs like Emily and Zoey Deschanel, Ed Begley, Jr., Weird Al Yankovic, and Alexandra Paul raving about your food and classes. Who are / have been some of your favorite celebrities to work with?
SF: All of our students are incredible people and care so much for the animals, planet, and promoting health. We have been so fortunate to meet some super inspiring people along our journey. We don’t like to play faves, but we were really honored that Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard are some of our clients, along with Kristen Bauer who plays Pam on True Blood. Just recently Kiernan Shipka, who is Sally on Mad Men came to class and she was awesome!
AP: [Picks jaw off floor because I’m a huge Veronica Mars and Mad Men fan…] You’re a celeb favorite, but your classes are open to everyone, of every age and eating persuasion. What have been some of your most memorable and/or touching moments from your classes?
SF: Honestly, so many stories have moved us to happy tears through the time that we’ve been cooking. One that comes to mind is that a set of two daughters and their mom came to class one day. When we do introductions in class, we always ask what brought people in- and the mom said she had breast cancer that was recurring. One of her daughters explained the benefits of switching to a vegan diet and showed her the video Healing Cancer Naturally, by Mike Anderson. This documentary changed the mom’s life! She is healthy and vibrant. She and her daughters are all vegan and the health benefits that they have seen have been staggering. The mom has been in remission now for many years, one daughter brought down her cholesterol levels significantly and the other looks so young for her age, you wouldn’t believe it. By the time the mom and her daughters finished telling their story, the whole class was choked up and motivated by their story.
Just knowing we can connect like minded people, and gather them around a class full of healthy vegan food – we feel proud to do this type of work every day. There are so many examples like this that are not only stories about people changing their health, but also helping advocate for animal rights, or acting as environmental activists. We are blown away at how compassionate our students are and the amazing moments are way too long to list.
AP: Many of the people who attend your classes are omnivores. What’s the response you typically get when they try your food?
SF: We love it when omnivores come to class, and in fact, most of our students are not vegan or veg, but they want to learn about this way of eating. Sometimes we get raised eyebrows when we bust out the nutritional yeast or tempeh in the beginning of a class, but by the time the meal is served and people are eating they are smiling and diggin’ in for seconds. We love it when hear, “If I could eat like this everyday, I could be vegan!” because then we show the class our cookbook, Spork-Fed, tell them about our online cooking classes at Spork Online, so that they really can cook and eat like this every day.
AP: You have a gorgeous book, Spork-Fed, that’s full of 75+ sumptuous and easy recipes. I love giving this book as a hostess and bride-to-be gift because it’s so pretty, hip, and simple-to-follow. What recipes do you receive the most raves about?
SF: You’re making us blush! We adore it when our students, or fans of the book send us pics of what they have been making, or post on Facebook. We think that two of the most popular dishes from the book are our Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese with a Breadcrumb Topping and our Mini Southwest Black Bean Burgers with a Smoky Cashew Cheese. These dishes are pretty quick to whip up and they are great ways to expose people to vegan cuisine because they are more familiar to an omnivore’s palate. They are also WAY healthier than their non-vegan counterparts and no animals are harmed in the making of these comfort foods.
SF: Spork Online is an online vegan video cookbook, where you can make a one-time purchase of $29.95 and have indefinite access to over 150 original recipes and videos. The recipes are themed just like our cooking classes, so you can learn everything from how to make your own vegan sushi, to gluten-free recipes, Mexican cuisine, South-East Asian cooking and more! And you can download the recipes instantly and follow along with the videos as you cook. We also have very special guests who participate in the classes so we film the dinner convo. Our guests all have amazing stories of their own, so the dinner party at the end of class is fun to watch!
AP: So, these are cooking classes, spanning a variety of cuisines, that are online, easy-to-follow, and even the occasional celebrity pops in to join in the fun? Sounds pretty awesome, and especially perfect for newbie vegans. What do you recommend most often to folks who are looking to transition to a more plant-based diet?
SF: We have had celeb guests like Kristen Bauer and her husband Aubrey Van Stratten on the site, along with the amazing animal advocate and sassy lady Rory Freedman, co-author of Skinny Bitch; Paul Shapiro, VP of farm animal protection at The Humane Society of the United States; Nathan Runkle, founder of Mercy for Animals; Gene Baur, founder of Farm Sanctuary; and many more! They are all such incredible people!
Our recommendation is to go for it! If going full-fledged vegan seems too intimidating, or scary, just try replacing some items in your diet with vegan alternatives. Cheese is a huge source of artery clogging fat and cholesterol and the vegan cheeses out there have come so far and are really tasty and melt well. If a person substitutes some dairy products like cheese and milk with vegan alternatives, that is one place to star where you don’t have to re-learn your whole way of cooking. Once you feel comfortable with a few substitutes, you can start thinking differently about the way you plan your meals. We have a video called “Pantry 911” that accompanies an article we wrote for VegNews. You can access the video and article on our website, so that you know how to stock your pantry and refrigerator and get started!
AP: What are your top three favorite ingredients to work with and why?
SF: Questions like this are like a parent having to pick their favorite kid. Seriously too hard! Depending on the type of cuisine we’re preparing we love a wide variety of spices and condiments. All in all, if we had to choose our favorite ingredients – they would have to be:
- Fresh, organic vegetables – because how can you prepare a delish vegan meal without those.
- Nuts – because you can make amazingly rich tasting dishes using a simple cashew cream or macadamia cheese and that is a great way to convince people they are not sacrificing the textures and flavors they love.
- Whole grains – because whole grains can satiate you and are delicious!
We are basically the same person so we have the exact same answer. Weird, right?!
AP: What’s next for the Spork Foods empire? A restaurant? Your own show? Food-scented clothing line? (I kid on the last one…)
SF: Not to leave you hanging, but we have some tricks up our sleeves, and fun things coming down the pipe, but nothing we can share just yet. We will keep you posted!
AP: Time for the real questions: Favorite 80’s movie? Favorite 80’s heartthrob? Mine are (a) Secret of Nimh and (b) James Spader (I mean, come on).
SF: The Three Amigos tied with The Princess Bride tied with Mannequin. We only have eyes for our fellas, but in a silver fox kind of way – Steve Martin is our fave!
AP: If you were to make a five-course vegan supper for eight people (alive or dead), who would be in attendance, and why?
SF: Well our dudes have to be at our sides at the dinner table, and to fill the next six seats – we would put out a call in Vegucated fashion for anyone willing to take a pledge of going vegan for a year. This is a five-course meal we’re talking about so the stakes are high. It would be a wonderful introduction to the vegan lifestyle and start this challenge off with a bang!
AP: When you’re cookin’ and developing recipes, do you listen to music? Clue us in on your gettin’ busy in the kitch mix.
SF: Yes, definitely! If we’re cooking at a leisurely pace, we will put on some Bob Marley or a little Snoop Lion, but in general we go through different phases from Sam Cooke to Guns and Roses to Katy Perry. We love Spotify because we can play whatever we’re in the mood for.