Nadia Fragnito is a woman of many talents. A contestant on SBS’s ‘The Chefs Line’ and a renowned vegan chef, she has a vegan cookbook, runs workshops and even runs vegan cooking retreats! We were thrilled she agreed to have a chat and talk about her Italian heritage and how it has shaped her desire to show just how good vegan Italian food can be.
Tell us what first inspired your vegan journey
Nadia Fragnito: Growing up, I always thought about going vegetarian because the idea of animal cruelty really bothered me. But it never seemed like a real possibility. Then when I moved out of home, I guess I felt like I had the space and opportunity to make choices for myself. After 1 year living on my own, I decided to go vegetarian. A few months later, I borrowed a cookbook from my local library and read the truth about the dairy and egg industry. And I chose right then that being vegetarian wasn’t enough to stop the cruelty. So I went vegan. Later that year I had my 21st birthday party with family and friends. I was adamant that we serve mostly vegan food. I bet I had a lot of relatives wondering what those weird vegan sausages were!
You have been cooking vegan for 19 years, how has the landscape changed in that time?
I think it’s been 18 years. But yes, wow, it’s changed a lot. For starters, I didn’t know any other vegans or vegetarians for that matter. They just didn’t seem to exist! There wasn’t social media at the time, the internet wasn’t the resource it is today, so I didn’t have any groups to reach out to or any recipes to follow on YouTube.
It was quite a challenge to eat out too. That first year I went vegan, Borders bookstore on Chapel Street had 1 vegan cookbook. It included all these interesting ingredients I hadn’t heard of, like liquid smoke, kelp, and vital wheat gluten. I searched high and low for the ingredients and got ridiculously excited if I found one.
Being vegan at that time really helped me become a more creative cook because you basically had to make everything yourself instead of buying it off the shelf. There were many hits and misses in the kitchen, that’s for sure!