The chef makes vegan food delicious, accessible and hearty

SAN DIEGO — The sound of food sizzling on the grill means chef Avonte Hartsfield is working his magic.

“Nice and crispy, all the right texture. Just like you expect pulled pork,” he said as he inspected the progress.


What do you want to know

  • Rollin Roots is a restaurant that makes good food, from plants
  • Chef Avonte Hartsfield aims to make vegan food accessible and affordable for everyone
  • Hartsfield only uses whole vegetables and treats them like their non-vegan counterpart
  • All of his food is soy and nut free

Hartsfield pulled pork, however, is made from jackfruit. He’s the genius behind Rollin Roots, a kitchen that cooks with plants. Their slogan is “Dank Ass Vegan Food” and the menu is as sassy as its chef.

The Rich Gal is a po’boy sandwich made with hearts of palm, the Spicy Boy uses oyster mushrooms to mimic chicken, and the Daikon Love is made with its own creative version of vegan beef. Everything is soy and nut free.

“Sometimes I’m like, ‘Am I frying real chicken like what’s going on here? “” Hartsfield laughed. “[The oyster mushroom] it looks like chicken, it tastes like chicken and it’s a plant.

His concept goes beyond getting people to eat more plants; he works to make vegan food accessible to everyone.

“Growing up in black communities, there’s no vegan food,” Hartsfield said. “When I was growing up, the vegans I thought of were people who did yoga on TV and ate salads and, you know, went to retreats and things like that.”

Most of its entrees cost less than a fast food combo meal and its sandwiches are as big as your arm, breaking the reputation surrounding some vegan foods for having small portions and a high price tag.

“I mean honestly, our food is a lot bigger,” he said. “So it’s probably two servings at a fast food restaurant or something.”

Randall Domescik is a fan after trying the Spicy Boy Loaded Fries.

“So it’s made with fried oyster mushrooms and buffalo and I’ve always loved buffalo chicken fries, so I think Avonte is the first vegan I’ve had, so it’s so good,” said said Domescik. “Every time I come here I have to get it.”

He tried going vegan, but never found anything that satisfied him until he tried Rollin Roots.

“I thought ‘Wow, this is huge. I don’t even know if I can eat all this!’” Domescik said.

It’s this reaction that drives Hartsfield to hand roll every scoop of macaroni and cheese.

“We really don’t like the publicity as a vegan,” Hartsfield said. “But I really hope that people, after trying our food, will realize what they miss about vegan food and how good vegan food can be.”

Rollin Roots is looking to open a restaurant in Los Angeles in the coming months.


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Tanya S. Norvell