Interview with Natalie Slater: Bake and Destroy -- Good Food for Bad Vegans
Natalie Slater does something pretty unique with her first cookbook, Bake and Destroy. She combines a punk vibe with some truly unique recipes to create a vegan cookbook that's a rollicking read. When a cookbook author talks pro wrestling and curling up to watch Pee-Wee's Playhouse when she describes her food, you know you're in for a good time.
I caught up with this charming Chicagoan and her responses to my questions reflect her writing style: pure fun.
You've had the Bake and Destroy website since 2006 -- what prompted you to write the cookbook to supplement the website?
Up until the book my website was mostly desserts, but I hopped on Instagram a couple of years ago and inevitably started sharing photos of the other things I was cooking and eating. When people started asking me to post those recipes too I thought it might be a good opportunity to collect a bunch of never-before-published Bake and Destroy recipes and present them in a totally different way.
Bake and Destroy (the site) is beyond fun, incorporating your punk style, love of pro wrestling and vegan recipes, all of which carries over to your cookbook, which even features a forward from a pro wrestler. How did you come up with this combination, or was it just natural to write about the things you love?
Part of me wishes I could attribute that unlikely-yet-successful combination of things to something really clever like market research, but I actually just really love punk rock, lowbrow art, pro-wrestling and goofy stuff in general so that's always what I gravitate toward when I'm developing recipes.
What recipe has gotten the most attention, so far?
Probably the dumbest one I ever wrote, which was Doritos-crusted Tofu. It's four ingredients: tofu, the only vegan Doritos, cornstarch and soy milk and when I posted it on social media you would have thought I was running for office on an extremist platform. Half the people were ready to hang my portrait in their living room and name their girl children after me and the other wanted to string me up for giving veganism a bad (aka unhealthy) name.
What's your favorite recipe in the book, or is it possible to have one? (And how do you decide to put mashed potatoes on a pizza -- which sounds absolutely delicious in the book, btw.)
I'm always slightly embarrassed when I reach for my own book to cook something, but my Nacho Chee-Zee Sauce is legit. I make a batch almost every weekend and then eat it on everything for the entire week. As for the pizza, I really didn't want to suggest buying fake cheese for my pizza recipes. There are some good ones out there - I like Teese by Chicago Vegan Foods - but not everyone has access and I wanted literally anyone to be able to make my food. Then my dilemma became, well how do I get stuff to stick to the crust? Oh, duh - mashed potatoes, aka nature's glue.
How long did it take to develop your cooking style?
I've always been a baker - for fun when I was a kid, and then professionally later in life. Cooking, however, was a little too willy-nilly for me. I appreciated the rules and science that go into pastries and the freedom of cooking scared me. I kind of touch on it in a post I did a while back about myhusband's cooking style (and his awesome tacos). But in the last few years I've become more comfortable taking risks, and in doing so have become a much better cook than I ever thought I would be. So I try to share that epiphany I had with my readers - that it's so important to have fun when you're cooking. Worst case scenario you eat your mistakes and move on with your life.
What's your favorite ingredient -- which one do you lean on the most?
Well, I have an avocado problem. It's pretty serious. I eat one whole avocado every day - smashed on toast, smeared on sandwiches, cubed on top of a bowl of rice and beans. It's not so much an ingredient for me, though, as just a staple. I'll just split one open and eat it with a spoon. When I'm not being disgusting with avocados I'd say I use a ton of nutritional yeast. I make it into "cheese" sauces, throw it in soups, sprinkle it on pasta or popcorn... it adds a nutty, cheesy flavor to everything and bonus: it makes your pee bright yellow.
Is there any kitchen tool you just can't live without?
I'm on my third food processor right now. I have zero knife skills, so I stick everything in there. Plus it's the best way to blend typical vegan ingredients together - soaked cashews and nutritional yeast to make cheese sauce, tofu, lemon juice and spices to make mayo - I abuse my food pro to no end.
Was it more difficult to write the book than the blog, or was the process similar?
I actually think it's harder to blog. When I blog, I'm a one-woman show, and I know that I'm better at some components than others. My recipes are good. My writing is pretty good, but it's too long most of the time. My photos are terrible. I know they are. When I wrote my book, a food stylist/photographer took the photos. An editor trimmed my rants into concise descriptions. An illustrator made the pages look all cute. I had a whole team helping me, it was a lot easier than blogging.
Is there anything else you would like people to know about the cookbook?
I think what I'm most proud of is how many ways I was able to pull my friends into the project. My friend Agnes illustrated it, I collaborated with other friends on recipes and gave them little shout outs in the descriptions, the ceramics in the photos were created by two friends of mine, I wore a dress two other friends made me in the photo, which another friend shot. One of my best friends wrote the intro. It's not just my book, it's their book too.