With more people going meatless and moving to more plant-based diets either for health reasons, to lower their carbon footprint, or doing it as animal lovers, Laura Theodore had the right idea when she launched “Jazzy Vegetarian” in 2011. KLCS talks to the jazz artist and chef about how she brought her concept to television back when it wasn’t always hip to be vegan, why she created the show and what it’s like having musician friends such as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Rickey Medlocke joining her to cook vegan dishes on the show.
Much of what you cook is the way I eat, dishes with an eye towards health.
What’s the theme or aim of your show?
The aim or theme of the show is to help people to add more plant-based vegan food in their weekly menu plan, whether they’re vegans, vegetarians or omnivores. The mission is to guide people to help them make healthy and easy recipes in their home kitchen and to add at least one plant based day a week to their menu plan.
Do you have a favorite dish to cook?
I don’t it’s like asking who’s your favorite pet; I just love creating delicious vegan dishes. I do have a favorite dessert though, it’s my vegan version of my grandmother’s Pots de Crème, it’s a 60 year old recipe that about 15 years ago I was able to make vegan and not only is it a favorite of my family, it’s a real fan favorite as well.
What’s the key to that dish?
Grandma used eggs and cream and chocolate chips and sugar. In place of the eggs and cream, I use tofu and it comes out just like grandma’s because when I was a little girl that’s what she would make me. On our birthdays, we got to have the choice of our dessert, so I’d always choose that dessert. So I worked on it, till I got the right ratio of the tofu to the chocolate chips. And of course the cream, I use vegan milk, plant based milk. Soymilk is really, really good with it. I worked on it until it became the right ratio so it came out with the same texture of grandma’s thick chocolate Pots de Crème.
What’s your take on soy? I know you’re into health, there’s a whole discussion on phytoestrogen and soy.
My expertise is not in that but I suggest everybody listen to my podcast with Dr. Pam Popper, she did an entire podcast on soy and the fallacies and the truth about it. I have three main reasons for being vegan – compassion for animals, better health and for the environment. And I think that we each have to make our own choices depending on what’s more important to us and our family and take it from there.
What is the favorite part of your job?
Oh, that’s a good one! I love writing, I love writing cookbooks, I love creating recipes and anything associated with that. And I love the way that those recipes have enabled me to be in front of the camera, because I am most comfortable in front of a camera. Creative recipes that are almost like doing a jazz riff in an improvisational jazz song and creating these recipes and presenting them in front of the television camera and helping people… that’s my favorite part of my job. I love it.
You’re the Jazzy Vegetarian, so I’d assume you were a fulltime jazz singer, so what made you feel the need to do a cooking show?
I was in front of the camera since I was a young girl; I was a child actor. So when I started seeing Food Network many moons ago, I realized, “Oh my gosh, there are no vegan shows out there, there’s not really any vegetarian shows.” And I’m really comfortable in front of the camera, that’s where my comfort zone lies. And I really started thinking about it, I thought about it for years. But that’s how it all came together. Then I started realizing music, food, they really go together. When you are sitting down to dinner, often we’ll have music in the background. So I realized that jazz music, because I have six albums, and food go really well together. Food had been my hobby since I was a young girl. My grandmother, my mother both taught me to cook. My grandmother’s last name was “Cook”. Isn’t that crazy? And that really describes my grandmother. She was loving, but she was an amazing cook. She passed to my mother and my mother passed that on to me. And I started making family recipes; first vegetarian and about 20 years ago, or longer, I started turning them vegan. So I realized that television, music, vegan recipes, food, that was really the place to go. And when I started developing more and more vegan recipes, because when I started doing this, there really wasn’t that much available. I realized that people loved what I was doing and it was something I loved doing and that’s how it all came together.
What made you originally want to cook on TV and what was your path to being a chef on TV?
The reason I wanted to cook on TV, I felt there was a real need for it; there are very few vegan television shows. The path was very challenging, which is why we’re called “Jazzy Vegetarian” and not “Jazzy Vegan.” When we started trying to get a deal, the word “vegan” wasn’t even spoken and we were having a hard time even getting people to respond to “Jazzy Vegetarian,” but we were very fortunate that public television saw that this was going to be something that was going to be important and we finally landed with public television and PBS and we’ve been with them since 2010 and were just so honored and happy to be there.
Did you start at your local PBS station like a lot of people do?
No, not at all. Since I was already fairly well known, as well known as you can be as a jazz artist, we just started shopping to all the different networks. So finally we got to a national presenting station, Oregon Public Broadcasting was our original presenting station and they got us out nationally and we premiered on national public television in October 2011.
You used to be in a studio with no natural light and now it looks like you’re in your home kitchen, which must be nice.
It’s really, really wonderful. From moving from studio to studio, anybody that produces a cooking show, they know what a challenge it is each season to try to find a studio to present the season in. We were very fortunate that we’re in our own home kitchen now and that’s where we’ll be continuing and the cool thing is we’ll be able to film Season 9 pretty soon, and we’re looking forward to that and it’s going to look like Season 8 in the home kitchen so we’re really happy about that.
I loved the episode with Rickey Medlocke, is he a friend and is it easy to get your musician friends to come and cook with you?
I’ve known Rickey for a really long time and we had done a whole bunch of music together. He produced a bunch of music for me; it was really great music. And we always stayed in touch and not only is he a wonderful person, a wonderful musician, he’s just so fantastic to work with. We just had such a blast that day. We had so much fun. He flew up to the studio and we really had a good time. It was just great; one of my favorite episodes too.
I never knew he did jazz.
He didn’t do jazz. I actually was a rock singer, I played Janis Joplin off Broadway in the original production of a show called “Beehive” which I won awards for. And I did a lot of rock; I had a hard rock group and really, really loved that, and did a bunch of different things with Janis Joplin. I also did the world premiere of a show called “Love, Janis,” which also ended up off Broadway. I did the original one in Denver. When I was doing my rock years, that’s when I worked with Rick.
With Jazzy Vegetarian is it because you’re mostly a jazz singer, so you combine both?
Yeah, that’s pretty much it. At the time I had switched to doing jazz and all my albums except one, I have a New Age album, all the rest of my albums are jazz. And we were thinking of names for the programs and my husband and I looked at each other, “Well, you’re a jazz singer and vegetarian.” We knew we didn’t want to use “vegan,” so we said, “Oh! Jazzy Vegetarian!” It was the next morning, I walked in my little studio, the jingle just came right out of my head, it was so incredible – “Jazzy, you’re going to be healthy with the Jazzy Vegetarian!” Right there, start to finish on the tape and that’s been the jingle ever since.
I love that the dishes are simple to make and you mimic textures when making faux cheese with cashews, and things like that. Do you ever run out of new recipes?
Thank goodness, no. It’s kind of like the same as you never run out of a new run to do a jazz improvisation. There’s always some new combination that can come together. For some reason, I guess it’s just from my jazz background and cooking for so long. I’ll wake up in the middle of night and say, “Oh, that’s it, I can combine this with that and it’s going to make this texture and that’s how it’s going to make it different, or make this burger hold together or this crust hold together.” And I just really love doing it.
Have you had meat or fish recently?
No. The last time I had meat was in the 1980s. I became fully vegan about 11 years [ago] now. It took me a lot of years to move from being partial vegetarian, giving up meat and then becoming a pescatarian. It was over a long period of time. Back then it was very, very difficult. As a musician at that time, I was on the road a lot. It was like, “Oh my gosh, there’s nothing to eat.” Now it really is so much easier. It’s really doable if that’s the life path you want to take. But I did do it over a period of many, many years. For anyone thinking about moving towards a vegan or plant based diet, do research, talk with their health professional, as far as whatever vitamins you need. Making sure you’re on a good diet plan for your situation. Some people do it over a long period of time; some people say “I want to start next week.” There’s all different ways to do it. Getting back to the beginning of our conversation, my mission from day one is to help people incorporate more, easy, tasty, delicious and family-friendly meals into their weekly menu plan, whether they’re looking to be vegan 100 percent of the time or just lowering their carbon footprint by taking more meat out of their diet.
You can tell you really enjoy your job teaching people how to cook healthier. What keeps you going? Is it the love of food and helping people?
It is. It’s just the joy in helping people in every way and any way that I can. Particularly now, it’s so important for us all to do a tiny little something for the world. Which is what I do, I feel it’s just a tiny little something, but it helps me to get through by knowing that I’m able to help people.
What do you do when you’re not on your show teaching us to cook?
I’m very busy, I’m writing books, I’m creating recipes, I have a weekly one-hour podcast on the Unity Online Radio Network. I had a podcast before on Blog Talk Radio for eight or nine years, and I started with Unity Online Radio in February and I just love being on this channel, they’re just fantastic. It’s a one-hour live broadcast every week and then writing the new season of television; it’s just everything to keep Jazzy Vegetarian going, it’s a lot but I love it.
So far everyone’s had a Julia Child story; do you have one?
I did not know Julia Child, but she definitely has influenced me, like she influenced all of us. Part of it is in her book “The Way to Cook,” she actually has a lot of vegan recipes in there, or recipes that could be easily switched out just by using vegan buttery spread rather than using actual butter, because in that book she really focuses on a lot of vegetables and she was looking toward healthier cooking at that time. So that book really inspired me. And it also inspired me that she was able to start writing cookbooks at a later age, starting her television show, continuing on well into her 90s. How inspiring is that? And to be able to be so groundbreaking to do those live television shows! Think about when you watch Facebook Watch these days with cooking demonstrations and all the stuff that’s going on; that’s the way she did her television shows. It was live. It was unedited. You really have to look up to her and know that she was a true pioneer that has led the way for chefs and obviously female chefs to be a center point of television these days.
Do you get feedback that your show is a calm place that takes them away from their lives for a bit?
I do, thank you. Somebody wrote last week on Facebook, I was so thrilled, they said, “Gee, in world where there is nothing normal anymore, we’re so happy that every Saturday we have our normal time with ‘Jazzy Vegetarian.’ That’s just one of many, many, many posts and emails we get everyday and we’re so grateful for that. Some of the episodes are a little fun and festive, like the episode with Rickey. And some are more serious and really towards a health point. Some of them are just really showcasing the way that anybody can cook easy meals at home that their family is going to enjoy, so it’s a nice potpourri and it’s a good way to just take a half hour and get away from the troubles of the world and learn something at the same time.
What’s the most frequent question you get?
How did you get started? Because people see I was a jazz artist, people probably know I was an actor and they’re like, “Well, how the heck did you get here?” Particularly doing a vegan television show which is so unusual in itself.
As a child actor, were you in anything we would know?
I grew up in Ohio, I went to a great drama academy with a lot of other actors; some of them are well known. I did local heater and I did a little television series that was Tri-state and children’s series. And when I went to New York, “Beehive” and “Love, Janis,” those are the ones that are the most known of the work that I’ve done, as far as theater is concerned.
Do ever pinch yourself that you get to do this for a living?
I think I feel very fortunate, but as you know being on public television and producing the show, it’s a lot of work and a lot of challenge and a lot of resources needed. I’m thankful for it everyday, yes.
When you’re in L.A., do you have any favorite places to dine?
I used to go to Real Food Daily. I loved that restaurant. I think that she’s just wonderful. I think she’s a great chef, very, very influential, Ann Gentry.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I just wish for everybody to be healthy and safe during these challenging times and I hope that with the show and the podcast and the books that I’m helping somehow to inspire and to uplift people in some small way. And I feel really, really grateful that we’re on public television, on your station. I’m so grateful that we’re able to have a place there. I love being here, I love being with public television and I just feel really honored and I want to thank you for doing this interview today, I really appreciate helping to get the word out there.
Watch Laura Theodore’s Jazzy Vegetarian on KLCS Create Channel (58.3) Sundays at 6:30 AM & 10:30 PM and follow Laura’s social media on Twitter (@Jazzyvegetarian), Facebook (facebook.com/JazzyVegetarian) and Pinterest (pinterest.com/JazzyVegetarian).