- Tell us a little bit about yourself and your history.
I was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. My background is in business administration and since I met my husband, eleven years ago, we have been moving around the world.
My interest in a plant-based diet is recent, only 4 years ago, when I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia and my doctor told me that I was just one step away from developing diabetes. I still remember those words, like a life sentence, chained to medication. I had no energy. I was depressed, overweight, and unhappy. At that time my uncle told me that there was a new documentary that I should see called Forks Over Knifes, the same night I turned on my TV and watched it two times.
It was an eye-opening moment, all the scientific data, the testimonials, the results — real people taking control of their lives through food. I felt so enlightened. I also watched Food Inc. and then everything made sense. The next morning I declared myself vegan.
Then I had to re-learn everything I knew about cooking, break my own paradigms and reinvent the way I used ingredients. I felt so alive. I recovered my health and a new passion was born: vegan cuisine.
It’s been a learning process, I am not perfect and I try my best every single day. With my company Lovingreens, I promote a plant-based diet. I experiment with ingredients and I focus my efforts on making plates that are not only good for your health, the planet, and the animals but that also taste delicious, and look appealing and beautiful. I received my Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator certification from Main Street Vegan Academy in May of 2014.
- A lot of vegans would be intimidated about applying at Le Cordon Bleu, one of the world’s most prestigious culinary institutes, but you seem to have just jumped in. What was your thought process?
I read an interview with Chef Chad Sarno and his advice was that if you really wanted to take vegan cuisine to the next level, you had to be trained in the classic techniques, learn knife skills, master the basics, and embrace your passion. That’s what I did. I went to Le Cordon Bleu in Miramar, Florida, and had an interview with the president of the school. He explained the program to and indicated that I would never be forced to taste or do anything that would be against my diet and beliefs. I enrolled the same day!
- What is the culinary program there like?
They offer two options: Diploma (12 month) and Associate (24 months), which is the one I enrolled in. The size of the class is usually between 15 and 20 students but this number decreases as you move on in the program since, unfortunately, some students quit. It is a very demanding and has nothing to do with the glamour we see on TV shows. You have to be on your feet for 4 hours a day, wash greasy pots and pans, take smelly out trash, swipe and mop every single day, plus take written exams, do oral presentations, and complete projects, cost analyses, and more.
This industry itself is very demanding, mental and physically, but is also very rewarding.
- How was your progress evaluated since you made vegan versions of almost everything?
They evaluate according to flavor and technique. I loved to see their eyes opening wide when they tasted my creations. I use tempeh; I make my own flavored seitan; and quinoa and mushrooms are my best friends. I use Earth Balance, soy milk, veggie stock, yellow peppers, and cashew cream. It’s been a fun and very challenging journey.
- What was Foundations III class about?
Foundations III is about animal protein cooking techniques, butchery, and plating composition. It was a very hard time for me and I’m glad it is in the past. I think I cried every single day and questioned myself so many times. I was ready to quit, but the support of my classmates and my Chef instructor helped me get through.
I was excused from having to witness or practice any butchery, except for the chicken and fish, which I still prepare at home since I’m the only vegan in my family. It is a very complex dynamic but is the only way I am able to continue to do what I love and have the support of my beloved ones.
My friends at school would complete the butchery part and I was required to cook only. I did not taste ANY of my dishes. My friends would taste and help me with salt content only. Then I would present and get graded. I always got A’s and my Chef instructor was so impressed, that he asked me to try out for the School’s Competition Team.
- What’s that?
The American Culinary Federation hosts student team competitions nationwide, first locally (by state), then Regionals, and finally a National Competition. Last year I was selected to be LCB Competition Team captain
and was in charge of creating a salad for a four-course meal,
I made it completely vegan: we won the State Championship
and got a silver medal in the Regionals. This year, I am again participating with the salad and the competition will be held August 8th in Orlando.
- How did your instructors respond to your veganism?
The school knew in advance but I had to notify my instructors at the beginning of every term. The Chefs always were surprised but never judged me, and I always got their support.
- Has your being at the school changed anyone’s attitude at all?
It has changed my classmates’ view and perception of vegan food; some of them changed to almond milk and they are more informed about animal rights issues. The Chef instructors are more open to trying vegan dishes, and the school supports more vegan cuisine — so much that they asked me to co-host a Blue Ribbon Workshop on the subject at the school. I worked alongside an Executive Chef who has more than 30 years of experience in France and the U.S., and all the participants were surprised and pleased with the recipes and the food we presented.
- What are your plans after this?
I’m currently working in the banquet kitchen at The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne and I love it. My plan is to gain enough experience on how to manage the back of the house, organize a kitchen, and keep food costs under control, so I can open a successful restaurant in the near future. I want to keep teaching and promoting a healthy vegan lifestyle, be an activist and help the millions of animals that are unnecessarily killed every year.
Carolina Quijada, VLCE, attended Main Street Vegan Academy in May of 2014 and is a new graduate of Le cordon Bleu in Miramar, Florida. Learn more about Carolina and her culinary stylings at www.LovinGreens.com