A delicious interview with pro-wrestling, punk rock and heavy metal lover Natalie Slater
“Confidence is the best makeup,” says Natalie Slater, a 32-year-old home chef who recently became a cookbook author. Slater who is behind the successful blog Bake and Destroy was kind enough to answer a few questions for Global Looking Glass.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a 32-year-old food blogger-turned-cookbook author from Chicago, IL. I live with my husband Tony, who works in the skateboard industry, and our six-year-old son, Teno.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I’m not a chef, just a home cook. I worked in a professional bakery years ago, which is where I learned a lot of tricks I still use in the kitchen. But I’ve always loved cooking and baking ever since I was a kid. There’s something really exciting about taking a handful of ingredients and turning them into something completely different.
What does vegan food mean to you?
Vegan food, when done correctly, is every bit as delicious as non-vegan, but much better for you. It’s cholesterol-free, so it’s heart-healthy, and it tends to be much lower in fat. People opt for a vegan diet for different reasons − for some people it’s animal rights, for others it’s for their health. I can tell the difference between the way I feel when I’m eating vegan and when I’m not. I prefer the way I feel on a vegan diet.
How has your love of pro wrestling, punk rock, and heavy metal influenced your approach to cooking?
No one ever said, “The Ramones are my favorite punk band because of their precision musicianship.” Just like no one has ever said, “I love pro wrestling because I’m a perfectionist.” All these things I love so much – noisy music, low-brow art, pro wrestling they’re all about living in the moment. Letting loose, having fun − not worrying about the little stuff. That’s completely how I am in the kitchen. I just want to be happy when I’m in there, and I want to be happy when I sit down to eat. If a recipe stresses me out, or requires that I become fussy I get over it pretty quickly. I admire people who can sculpt tiny scenes out of vegetables and hand-paint portraits onto cookies. I wish I could do that stuff! But I’m too busy goofing off.
What is the philosophy behind Bake and Destroy?
When I started Bake and Destroy in 2006, I was working as a nanny and also caring for my newborn. I spent my mornings watching Martha Stewart on TV and then at nap time, inspired by Martha, I’d try to make something new. If she made brownies, maybe I would try making brownies with the same flavors as my favorite espresso drink. If she’d made a casserole, I’d make one too, only mine would taste like tacos because that’s what I like. I started blogging my adventures in the kitchen − strictly as a way for my friends and family to keep in touch. Pretty soon I was getting emails from people all over the world thanking me for doing something goofy with food.
Now that I’m approaching my sixth anniversary online, Bake and Destroy’s audience has grown and changed so much. It used to be mostly other tattooed, stay-at-home moms who were exchanging ideas with me. Now I get a lot more young people who are just learning to cook, or guys who appreciate the things that influence me and just like to keep up with what I’m doing.
As vegan cooking has become more popular over the years how do you stand out from other vegan cooks?
I’m a vegetarian with vegan tendencies, so I think I kind of walk a line that a lot of people are comfortable with. I’m sure it pisses some vegans off that I blog a lot of vegan recipes, but I don’t adhere to the lifestyle 100 percent. At the same time, I think my laid-back approach has turned a lot of people onto vegan cooking who would have otherwise never considered it. In fact, I know that’s the case because I get a ton of emails from people telling me they never would have tasted nutritional yeast or made ice cream out of coconut milk if they hadn’t heard about it from me because they trust me to only say something is good if it really is − not just because it’s vegan.
What should a vegan chef never do?
Every vegan chef I know is really committed, and super skilled. But if I could offer advice to non-vegans who are cooking for vegans, I would say taste everything you make. I’ve had so many bad vegan cupcakes from conventional bakeries whose attitude was, “It’s not great, but its vegan, so people will buy it.” Vegan food can and should be great. If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t expect vegans to eat it either.
What is the inspiration behind your sense of style?
I’m a bit schizophrenic style-wise. I grew up going to hardcore shows, so most of the time I fall back on jeans, Nikes and a hardcore shirt. But when I dress up, I’m pretty lady-like. I wear a lot of vintage-style dresses and ballet flats. I try to be conscious of my body type, which is curvy, and my age. But ultimately, I think if you feel really good in whatever you’re wearing, you’re going to look great.
What has been the biggest lesson you have learned pertaining to your cooking career?
I’ve learned a lot about the technical side of things over the years − how to cater to what people are looking for, how to title recipes in a way that helps people find them, things like that. If you make anything pumpkin, in a Crock-Pot or inspired by Dr. Who, people will go nuts for it.
How did your role as a guest judge on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars come about?
I was getting a lot of emails from TV producers for a while in 2008 and 2009. There was just a surge in reality shows about cooking and baking back then. I’d filmed a few months’ worth of a show centered around a bakery in Chicago. (I didn’t actually work there, but it turns out reality TV is pretty fake – so they had me pretend to work there for the show.) I’d spoken with a few producers about other shows. Anyway, one producer called me wanting to know if I could suggest any vegan bakers to compete on a new show they were filming called Cupcake Wars. I suggested a handful of people, and thought that was the last I’d hear about that show, when a few weeks later they called me and asked if I could fly to LA the next morning to be a judge. It was a once in a lifetime experience, and as the years have passed, I’ve learned to let go of some of the bitterness I initially had about the way I was treated there. They made me cover up all my tattoos and they edited everything interesting I had to say out of the pilot, so in the end I was just kind of sitting there, in a long-sleeve shirt, smiling and blinking like a dummy. It was a great opportunity that I think was kind of stolen from me because a few conservative producers were scared to take a risk. Still, I got to be on Food Network, and that’s pretty cool.
Can you tell me a little about your upcoming book Bake and Destroy: Good Recipes for Bad Vegans?
I never wanted to write a cookbook. I turned down a few offers over the years because it’s just not anything I ever wanted to commit to. But a cookbook author I really love − Julie Hasson gave my name to her agent, Sally Ekus, and after a few conversations, Sally convinced me to give it a shot. She took her time finding the best publisher for me – someone who understood my vision and my voice, someone who would let me hire the artist SEIBEI to illustrate the book, someone who wasn’t going to try and make me pose as a cheese pin-up model on the cover − and once we found the right publisher it all started falling into place.
What can your readers expect from it?
It’s going to be around 80 recipes, all vegan, and inspired by my favorite comfort foods. There are recipes for breakfast, entrees, snacks, side dishes, and of course, desserts. I really tried to use ingredients you can find in most grocery stores and I kept things simple so that a beginner cook can jump right in, and a more experienced cook can take my ideas and build on them.
What has been the biggest challenge when it comes to creating a vegan cookbook?
Finding time to do it all. I work in digital marketing, so I’m at the office 9-5 every day. Then when I get home my son has homework, we have to make dinner, clean up… when am I supposed to cook? I have a calendar that maps out what I’m doing every day until the manuscript is due Jan. 1 of next year. I’m cooking and testing and cooking and re-testing every single day. On the weekends, my husband takes our son out for most of the day so I can cook and write. I miss them both; I can’t wait to be done so we can hang out again!
What do you think will surprise people most about your cookbook?
That it’s actually a piece of writing, and not just a cookbook. Each recipe has a personal story attached to it, or some little anecdote beyond, “This is a vegan nacho cheese; eat it with your mouth-hole.” Some recipes are inspired by my grandparents, who are the two funniest people in the world, some are inspired by my favorite Cannibal Corpse songs, and others came about because I was trying to trick my son into eating broccoli.
(Photos courtesy of Natalie Slater)