Brian McCarthy is an Oregon-based chef for Bon Appétit and author of The Vegan Family Cookbook. McCarthy is on campus this week demonstrating vegan cooking techniques to the Bon Appétit chefs on campus, offering tastings of vegan cooking in the House Dining Halls, teaching a class for MIT students in a cook–for–yourself dormitory, and signing copies of his book on Friday at lunchtime in Maseeh Hall. He sat down during his visit this week to answer some questions with the Division of Student Life.
Q. What made you decide to write a vegan cookbook?
A. Seventeen years ago, my family started eating the vegan diet. I was already a chef by then. I would come home and have to cook vegan for the family and I didn’t know how to do it. We had some really bad food. We were eating brown rice and tofu too much and I didn’t really know what else to do. There were no real books out there so I just started writing down recipes for the family. Our transition to vegan was really difficult and awkward, and I’ve heard that from a lot of people. Many people don’t end up quite reaching vegan, which is what they set out to do. My goal was to just help one family, a hundred families, whatever, not have to go through what we had to go through. It should be a positive experience, and when you have kids, you want them to be happy and not miserable. You’re forcing this diet on them — or that’s what it feels like — but you want them to have the apple pie and the chocolate pudding you grew up with. So that’s why it was important to have this vegan cookbook.
Q. Bon Appétit is an advocate for sustainable practices. How does this affect you as a chef?
A. It’s better to use fresh ingredients because we have more control. We can control the sodium, and we can control the fat. We can customize the food for people as opposed to buying stuff premade. I’ve been in the cafeteria business for 20 years and I’ve watched its evolution. In the old days, it was a lot of premade stuff out of cans, boxes and rehydration. You don’t see that at Bon Appétit. We roast the tomatoes ourselves, we put in the olive oil and we put in the fresh herbs. It’s much more interesting for the chef and for the students.
We really go to the extremes for sustainability. From the seafood we purchase, to the cheese, to the cage-free eggs; we have so many standards that are very important nutritionally, good for the environment and good for people. It’s just so important. Not all we think about is the bottom line. It’s more expensive because of our standards, but it’s the right thing to do. Nobody wants to go home at night and feel bad that they could have done something better or done the right thing for people and the environment.
Q. What role do you think a dining hall plays within a residential community?
A. I was just talking with John Essigmann, the Housemaster at Simmons, about this. It’s actually bigger than a lot of people realize: food brings people together. When people are in cafeterias — and this is something Intel, where I work [as a chef in the cafeteria run by Bon Appétit], realized a while ago — there is actually a lot of collaboration happening. What they found out is that most of their employees do their learning when they physically sit down in cafeterias. Once people get into the field and they’re not in a classroom environment, they don’t have those kind of interactions anymore. But what is happening in cafeterias actually does give a really realistic, real-life scenario of that classroom experience where people can casually interact and learn from each other. People sit down in the cafeteria and talk with each other about what is going on during the day, what they’re learning, and they’ll draw information from each other. It’s a bigger picture than just eating. People may not realize that this is what happens when people get together: they eat and collaborate.
The new dining system here is more beneficial to everyone because it also allows students more access to food. They can get the nutritional meal that they need instead of just relying on snacks or cutting corners with their budget and not spending money. It’s a win-win. Students can get some good food, have a good meal, and have a good rest.
McCarthy will hold a lunch and book signing at The Howard Dining Hall in Maseeh Hall on Friday, Dec. 9, at 11 a.m.