In the past few years, the mellifluous moniker of chef Chloe Coscarelli has become synonymous with crowd-pleasing vegan eats. After winning Food Network's Cupcake Wars in 2010, the pretty chef with an infectious smile went on to write three popular cookbooks before opening her groundbreaking NYC eatery, By Chloe, with partner Samantha Wasser, in 2015.
The cheerful spot sells vegan burgers, shakes, air-baked fries, mac 'n' cheese, cupcakes, and other nutritious twists on familiar foods. Coscarelli's menu items even won over self-proclaimed vegan skeptic, Iron Chef Michael Symon.
The first By Chloe location, in Manhattan's West Village, is so successful that her team has already opened three branches, and others are on the way.
This year, the 29-year-old Coscarelli will make her first official appearance at the SOBEWFF. New Times spoke to the upbeat culinarian about her vegan history, her plans while visiting Miami, and how she stays so positive.
New Times: When did you become vegan, and what inspired you?
Chloe Coscarelli: I've been vegan for about 13 years. At a young age, I made the connection between the pets we had and the food on my dinner plate; it didn't make sense that we would be eating animals. I think a lot of kids have that same realization.
I decided to go vegetarian, but I felt myself falling into eating a lot of cheese pizza and cream cheese and not-so-healthy items that just had the meat taken out. It wasn't until I discovered vegan cuisine that I was like, Wow, this is a delicious, exciting, nourishing, cool new cuisine. There were vegetables I had never known about before and different spices and colors and legumes and grains, and I just fell in love with the food and never looked back.
By Chloe has been growing quickly. How many locations are there?
We're trying to take it one step at a time; focusing on quality is definitely a top priority of mine. Right now we have four locations, and there are plans for more. It's great, though. The demand for vegan food is really high. There aren't a lot of options, and people are really looking for new ways to be healthy and incorporate vegan food into their diet, so it's an exciting time.
What has surprised you most about becoming a restaurateur?
I guess what's really interesting to me — especially growing up being vegan before there were many options — is realizing how many people want to eat vegan food for really different reasons and what mainstream appeal this cuisine has for everybody. Vegan food is really just drawing in a big group of people.
I think there was definitely an old-fashioned stereotype about what kind of person is vegan and what kind of person eats vegan food, and I think now we're just breaking down all those boundaries. So many people are wanting to try it for so many different reasons, whether it's health, religious purposes, being kosher, allergies, lactose intolerance, awareness of the environment and sustainability, or just enjoying the taste.
It has to taste good. At the end of the day, that's what it's always going to be about — that's what drives people's choices with food. But lucky for me and other vegan chefs, there are so many great ways to make vegan food taste delicious.
Do you, as an ethical vegan, ever struggle with being in the largely omnivorous food world?
I don't think I could be doing what I'm doing if I weren't just so confident in this cuisine. I feel very energized and optimistic about the food trends and where they're headed. I have no doubt this is the cuisine of the future, and it's just really exciting to be at the forefront and watch it grow to reach so many different people. It's an exciting time to be vegan and to be in food!
There's nothing more thrilling than having someone take a bite of something and watching their mind just open and expand, so that's really fun.
How did you get involved with the South Beach Wine & Food Festival?
Another vegan chef friend of mine, Matthew Kenney, has a restaurant in Miami, Plant Food + Wine. He invited me to cohost a vegan dinner with him at the restaurant, so it's kind of like a pop-up for the festival. I'm a huge fan of his; he has some great restaurants in New York and Los Angeles, so the opportunity to cook with him and collaborate is like a dream come true.
What do you two have planned for the vegan dinner?
We are still planning everything out, but I think seasonality is definitely going to drive this dinner. There'll also be underlying themes of Italian flavors, but it's not really going to traditionally fit into any cuisine box — except for being vegan of course. Those are the flavors we're playing with now.
There's going to be a ton of food; this is our opportunity to just be creative and try something new. When you have a restaurant, you have to stick to the menu and stick to certain things your restaurant stands for, same as any food venture, so I think this is one night for us to really play. We're both excited about that.
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Do you have any vegan spots you plan on checking out while in Miami?
I haven't planned it yet, but usually right when I land, I'll post on Instagram about where I should eat, and I get amazing suggestions. Then I just line them up. Hopefully, after this vegan dinner we're hosting, we'll have some time to explore those.
Vegan Dinner Hosted by Chloe Coscarelli and Matthew Kenney
7 p.m. Saturday, February 25, at Plant Food + Wine, 105 NE 24th St., Miami. Tickets cost $250 each via sobefest.com.