A Year of Living La Vida Vegan

Nico Cooking at Farm Dinner

Nico Cooking at Farm Dinner, Photo by Alec Zimmerman

After transitioning to a plant-based diet a year ago, I returned to running on mountain trails; but I’ve also learned to cook again, explored the West Coast vegan food scene, discovered vegan restaurants around the world, and moved to Oregon to live with my girlfriend. In other words, I’ve embraced living a vegan lifestyle. 

I turned vegan last year while I was still living in San Francisco, my home for the past two decades, and one of the first things I changed was my daily routine as a chef. Since 2011, I taught Peruvian cooking classes at 18 Reasons, an award winning community cooking school. But after seven years, I needed a break.

Instead of teaching others how to cook, it was time for me to learn to cook again. So I began adding vegan cookbooks to my library, and prepared new recipes: Thai, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Southern dishes. For the first time, I was pressing and frying tofu, adding coconut milk to a curry, or making a grocery list that only had vegetables.

A year ago, I also met my girlfriend Alec during a trip to Portland. We dated long-distance for a few months, and explored the West Coast vegan food scene in Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle before I moved to Oregon. But our shared passion for travel took us to other cities too: Paris, Copenhagen, Toronto, Montreal, Lima, and Cusco.

We were delighted that L’Arpege in Paris and NOMA in Copenhagen, two Michelin-starred restaurants among the world’s best, offered vegan tasting menus. And in Peru, we discovered a growing vegan food scene that featured many familiar native ingredients: corn, potatoes, quinoa, tomatoes, beans, or tropical citrus and fruits.

As a long-time vegan, my girlfriend Alec has been a continuous source of inspiration and cooking vegan is a daily practice for us. Every morning, I prepare lunch for her, and label each container with blue tape and a sharpie. Because chef habits. In return, she has taught me how to grow and care for our bountiful backyard vegetable garden.

At a recent dinner party at a friend’s farm, I was reminded how much I love cooking for others: from planning the menu, to setting up the mise en place, preparing each dish, and serving a multi-course meal, I am learning to be a chef again. But more than that, I have embraced a vegan lifestyle and am happy to be living la vida vegan.