That approach was honed after years working in East Coast kitchens including vegan hot spot Candle 79 in New York and helping to reopen vegan restaurant Sublime in Florida's South Beach. He considers chef David Anderson of Madeline Bistro in Tarzana one of his mentors. His crossover into celebrity came when he partnered with rocker and animal rights activist Chrissie Hynde in opening the restaurant VegiTerranean in Akron, Ohio.
Although the fanfare surrounding Ronnen has been a boon for his business — his cookbook, "The Conscious Cook," became a New York Times bestseller and was repeatedly named one of the best cookbooks of 2009 — he's uncomfortable in the spotlight. At last month's Viva Las Vegan, a celebration of vegan food held at Wynn's resort, Ronnen, 36, had to be cajoled back onstage again and again during the demos and told repeatedly to look at the cameras and smile during photos ops.
"I hate the camera. I hate talking on camera. I'd be happy to never see another camera again," he later says, recalling Vegas.
It's his behind-the-scenes role as a guide and a teacher that excites Ronnen most. Trying to make a seafood stew? Sautéed oyster mushrooms can offer up a texture similar to the seafood that shares their name. The flaky texture of a crab cake is easily reproduced, he says, using fresh hearts of palm braised in seaweed. Looking for a smoky seafood flavor? Toast sheets of nori, grind them up and use it as a dusting or flavor accent. Eggless pasta is one of his specialties. He reaches for Gardein protein — he is a consultant for the popular vegan line of meat substitutes — whenever a dish calls for chicken or beef.