Chef Chad Sarno on Overcoming Asthma With a Plant-Based Diet: "Opened My Eyes to the Power of Food"

Chef Chad Sarno in the kitchen.
Chef Chad Sarno in the kitchen.
Courtesy of Chef Chad Sarno

The best way to describe chef Chad Sarno might be a multitasker. The vegan culinarian is involved in a lengthy list of conscious projects, from his work with Wicked Healthy Foods, a brand he and his brother Derek created to make healthy eating more accessible, to leading the plant-based efforts of Rouxbe, the premier online cooking school.

Now he's taking time from his über-busy schedule to host An Evening With Chad Sarno on November 20 as part of Miami's upcoming plant-strong extravaganza, Seed Food & Wine Festival. Guests at his dinner will get to dig into six courses from the award-winning chef.

Ahead of his appearance in the Magic City, Sarno spoke with New Times about why he went plant-based, his all-time favorite food, and where he's planning to eat while in Miami. 

New Times: You embraced a vegan diet in your late teens after struggling with asthma. How did a plant-based diet affect your health?
Chad Sarno: Yes, this was one of those turning points in my life on many levels that would lead to really developing my passion for the work I currently do around culinary wellness. By eliminating dairy products and processed foods from my diet at the time, I was able to free myself from the reliance on inhalers and other asthma treatments. This experience not only opened my eyes to the power of food but also sparked my inspiration to dive deeper into plant-based culinary arts. It was clear as day the connection between the foods we consume and health. This was the start of my path personally and professionally.

What's your all-time favorite meal?
Fresh manicotti.

Food is far beyond just a taste experience. We all have foods that we have an emotional connection with — the feeling of comfort, nurturance, nostalgia, and celebrations are some of the most familiar. Growing up, my Italian grandma was one of my greatest culinary influences. At most of our holiday family gatherings, the pasta courses would come out, and fresh manicotti was the star. Converting this to plant-based was essential — using her same sauce, making eggless fresh pasta, and just substituting some fresh dairy-free ricotta and béchamel brought this dish back into my life. Simple perfection.

Your Wicked Healthy account is one of my favorites on Instagram; the images are totally mouthwatering. What's Wicked Healthy all about?
Wicked Healthy is a brand that my brother Derek and I had launched years back as a resource and community to share recipe inspiration and make eating healthy approachable. Derek handles much of the social media photography, with us both contributing recipes and other food inspiration through our travels. Showcasing refined yet rustic familiar foods with a healthy twist is our main focus. Eating healthy does not need to take all day. You don’t need to use hard-to-find ingredients or sacrifice taste. Wicked Healthy was launched to share with others that anyone can incorporate more plants into their meals without the sacrifice of comfort and flavors many are used to. We are in the process of publishing a book that will share a bit about our personal connections to food, along with a collection of some of our favorite recipes that celebrate plants and living a wicked healthy lifestyle.

You've been at the forefront of the vegan movement for quite a while. How have you seen the landscape change? 
Yes, it certainly has, from the culinary world to the health-care world. We are in a very exciting time seeing both these segments blossom with plant-based innovation and awareness growing quickly.

The area that I have seen the greatest evolution is within the wellness world of treatment and prevention. The wellness and health-care segment is finally opening up to prescribing plants as prevention and treatment more than ever. We are at a time in history within the health world that plant-based culinary education has begun to infuse the wellness conversation. The culinary world is constantly evolving and has grown far beyond a trend, with more chefs offering animal-free offerings on menus, but the health-care and wellness world is just now beginning to recognize that plants are key to prevention, disease reversal, and overall health. Of course there have been some incredible trailblazers leading this mission over the years, and due to their work, a snowball effect has begun. This is something many of us know and that has attracted us to eating a plant-based diet, but for a very large segment of physicians, health-care professionals, and HMO groups to start seeing this makes it incredibly exciting.

With the rise of many diseases of affluence directly related to diet, the time has come where chefs are being looked at as key holders of health and are we are seeing more partnerships happening with physicians and other health-care professionals within the culinary field. As the VP of culinary wellness at Rouxbe Cooking School, I have been fortunate to be part of the development of Culinary Rx, an online culinary and nutrition course that health-care professionals are prescribing to patients.

Plants are beginning to take front seat as prescriptions, and the pharma and food industries are being threatened, which is absolutely needed. I personally could not be happier about seeing this culinary wellness revolution unfold, and I'm honored to be part of it.

What advice do you offer to cooking newbies who want to transition to a plant-based lifestyle?
Learn the basics — it will make the transition to cooking much more enjoyable. Look at recipes like a GPS: There is a starting point and a destination. Without the understanding of how to properly execute core techniques, the final outcome of your dish may vary drastically from what is intended. Give ten people of different skill levels the same recipe and you will get ten very different results. With the clear understanding of the foundational techniques such as knife skills, dry and moist heat cooking methods and flavor profiles, you will have the confidence to make the transition to cooking and incorporating more plants much more seamless. The online Plant-Based Professional Certification course I have launched with Rouxbe Cooking School covers these foundations for aspiring plant-based cooks; health-care practitioners; wellness, health, and food coaches; culinary students; and instructors who seek an intensive immersion in culinary skill and knowledge development with plant-based cuisine.

What details can you give us about your six-course wine-pairing dinner at Seed? 
Really looking forward to being part of this year’s festival. The menu will highlight some of my favorite autumn flavors. Think rustic comfort food.

Any eateries you're excited to visit while you're in Miami? 
I heard the food scene is thriving in the city, with many chef offering plant-based items and tasting menus. A few places I want to be sure I can make it to - Jugofresh who is doing cold press juice raw foods right, and Della Bowls who just opened in Wynwood Yard seems super cool and I hear Basil Park has some great vegan options too.

With such a short trip packed with events, I am hoping I will have enough time to explore the options. Otherwise, I will have to save more of a culinary tour for a future trip. 

The Crazy Sexy Kitchen Dinner takes place Friday, November 20, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $125 for early bird and $130 for regular price via Seed Food & Wine Festival runs from Wednesday, November 18, through Sunday, November 23. Visit

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