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Bringing vegan to the people

Heather and Jenny Goldberg, the sisters behind Spork Foods, are offering online cooking classes that teach vegan techniques.

December 09, 2010|By Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times

Seitan Wellington, it's what's for dinner this holiday season. At least it is if you're vegan, interested in becoming vegan, trying to balance your meat-heavy diet or just hanging around in the Spork Foods kitchen. Founded four years ago by sisters Heather and Jenny Goldberg, Spork Foods is a vegan food company that teaches cooking classes and revamps pantries with vegan and organic diet options.

And just in time for the food-saturated holiday season, the sisters, in conjunction with an independent film collective called Open Road Films, have launched an online series of cooking classes in order to teach their vegan techniques to as many people — in as many places — as possible.

Members pay $7.95 per month or $74.95 for a year and get access to one cooking class per month, plus seasonal and holiday bonus classes, of which the aforementioned seitan Wellington is one. The sisters also film the occasional "Out of the Kitchen Adventure," in which they roam the city and learn something new — or teach something new — about a vegan lifestyle.

On a recent Tuesday morning, the women, chipper in festive dresses that bring to mind 1950s homemakers, chat with their students while Open Road directors Casey Suchan and Denis Hennelly ready their cameras to film a special holiday episode. They're in their massive living-and-work space kitchen in West Hollywood, located directly above Salt's Cure butcher shop and restaurant and across the street from both a Fatburger and an Astro Burger.

And the woman next door to them owns Baby's Badass Burgers, says Heather, 32, referring to the popular gourmet food truck. "They say don't go where you're wanted, go where you're needed. We call what we do 'delicious persuasion.'"

Then she giggles and adds, "We want to film something where we go down to Fatburger and grab a few people, take them up here and teach them how to make a veggie burger. They'll be like, 'Oh my stomach doesn't hurt after I eat.'"

So strong are their powers of persuasion that both of their parents decided to go vegan in their 60s. "My weight is lower than it's ever been and I don't consider myself dieting at all," says their father, Eddie Goldberg, adding that when his daughters cook for a large event, he and his wife, Diana, come to their kitchen to help. "We're not proud; we'll get there and do anything they want."

Despite the women's commitment to veganism for environmental, health and animal-rights reasons, the sisters are not militant. In fact, about three-quarters of the people who take their classes and sign up for online memberships eat meat.

"Food is emotional for people; we don't expect people to just make the vegan choice," says Jenny, 29, who went to culinary school at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York after briefly flirting with a career in environmental law.

"She started to study for the LSAT and she became a raging [witch], so we realized she was on the wrong path," says Heather in the same chipper voice she uses to dish out nutritional advice in the cooking video.

During this class, her advice includes information that most medical doctors probably won't agree with about why sea salt is better than bleached salt (she claims it won't contribute in the same way to high blood pressure); how mushrooms are good for filtering out radiation ("Whenever Jenny and I fly we try to incorporate mushrooms into our diet"); how maple syrup can boost your immune system ("It has a high zinc content so it's great for preventing prostate cancer. Sorry for talking about that in a cooking class!"); and that you get garlic breath that won't go away because garlic's essential oils actually stick to your lung tissue.

While Heather narrates and performs certain cooking tasks, Jenny happily preps, chops and talks about what she's doing to make the pecan crescent holiday cookies, seitan Wellington and green bean casserole that are on that day's holiday menu. The women say they have always known they would go into business together and come from an exceedingly close-knit family. They have an easy back-and-forth that is part New Age sweetness and part "I Love Lucy"-style comedy.

When Heather brings out some shallots she turns to Jenny and says, "Do you feel like crying?" Jenny nods and begins to chop, tears springing to her eyes.

"Are you crying?" Heather asks.

"I'm totally crying, but it's all good," Jenny says. Heather immediately takes over the chopping duty and tears well up in her eyes.

"I'm crying, too," she says.

"I didn't want you to cry!" Jenny exclaims.

"You cry, I cry," Heather says with determination. They smile at one another while the class chuckles.

Later when they wrap the seitan Wellington — which is made from homemade seitan (a wheat meat analogue) and mushrooms — in puff pastry, Jenny tells the class to roll out the pastry (made with non-hydrogenated vegetable oil) very thin. "You don't want a giant chunk of pastry," she warns.

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