152 – The Multi Award Winning Vegan Chef Mark Reinfeld

Welcome back to the David Madow Lifestyle Show. This is the show were I help you live stronger, thinner, healthier, and happier. And actually a lot more! Welcome to this episode, it’s going to be a great one. Get comfortable wherever you may be. If you are a first time listener, I welcome you! I have to admit you are probably going to become addicted. If you are a long time listener, welcome back it’s great to have you!

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The reason I think it’s going to be a fantastic show today is because I have kind of a superstar guest with me. This is amazing! Let me explain. For those of you that have been with me for a while, you know that I spent 5 days at Vegetarian SummerFest held at the University of Pittsburgh in Johnstown, PA. It was an awesome experience and I did some episodes from there. But I have got somebody here with me today that I actually met there. You are going to love this guy. I am going to bring him right in! His name is Mark Reinfeld. He is a multi-award winning author. He is also the executive chef at Vegetarian Summerfest. He cooks incredible vegan food for a 1000 or so people. He also travels internationally conducting workshops teaching people how to become vegan and how to cook and prepare food properly. He’s just an all around great guy.

Dr. Dave: “So Mark are you with me? How are you doing? Welcome!”

Mark: “Hey David! It’s great to be on your show. And it’s great to connect again. It was wonderful meeting you at SummerFest.”

Dr. Dave: “It was a blast Mark! You were like a true superstar there. I can’t believe they let you walk around without security.” [Mark laughs in the background] I mean it! When I saw you for the first time and you were walking around and you didn’t have escorts with you, I was thinking that people were going to be coming up to you and getting your autograph, and shaking your hand, getting pictures, and asking for recipes. This was a true event. First of all I want to congratulate you. How many years have you been doing this is a row being the executive chef at SummerFest?”

Mark: “This is my 5th year.”

Dr. Dave: “Wow! How did you score that gig? That’s an amazing gig!”

Mark: “It was a great opportunity and I definitely pushed myself beyond my comfort zone when I accepted. I tend to say yes to things and then figure it out once it happens. I had experience in a restaurant setting For a big event, we would do maybe 100-200 people. And this was a peak of about 750 people at SummerFest. So I just applied and sent them some recipes. I took the dive and it’s definitely gotten easier over the years.”

Dr. Dave: “I just want to say coming from me, I notice a lot of things. The food was delicious. There were 2 actual cafeterias where you could eat. I usually went to the quieter smaller one downstairs because I like to have a little more space. The one upstairs was just packed. The food was amazing. But I can’t even imagine what it takes to prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 5 days for 700 plus people. It was an amazing thing. So I just wanted to congratulate you. the quality of food coming out of your kitchen was just amazing, Mark. It did not go unnoticed.”

Mark: “Thanks man! Thank you. Thank you. It’s definitely an honor to provide the food for such an incredible event. And I encourage people who are interested in looking into it a lot of the top vegan educators, chefs, and authors are there. So I encourage everyone to experience it. And you may catch a glimpse of the wonderful Dave Madow singing Vegan on A Jet Plane which is worth the price of admission alone.”

Dr. Dave: [Dave laughing] “Worth the price of admission, I love it! I totally love that. I tell you if I come back next year, which I hope I do, I’ve got a new song that I am working on. It’s going to be amazing. But Mark let’s go back to basics a little bit. You’re a chef, you’re an author, you travel all over the world, people know you and you do a lot of teaching. Tell us about your becoming vegan. How did it happen?”

Mark: “In 1990, I was on a kibbutz in Israel and I started seeing animals in their natural setting. I had never really seen a baby cow before. They also had baby chicks there. And several experiences on the kibbutz opened me up to connecting with animals in a way that I didn’t want to eat them anymore. So that was my journey. Then I learned more about the dairy and ag industries and the environmental impacts and then the health benefits of a plant based diet. It’s been a journey since then.”

Dr. Dave: “So on the kibbutz did you actually see the animals suffering or you just saw animals walking around and you didn’t want to see any harm done to them? What was the extent of that?”

Mark: “Have you eaten your lunch yet?”

Dr. Dave: “Well, I have not eaten my lunch yet.”

Mark: “One of the tasks was that we had to bring the chickens from where they were and put them in crates. It was a very horrendous experience. I had been eating chicken 5-7 days a week. I won’t go into the gory details but the chickens did not go willingly into the crate. So it was a pretty hardcore experience. I worked hard in the process of eliminating that from my life.”

Dr. Dave: “You get it. I get it. But I just don’t understand how anybody would want to take part in or be responsible for the killing and suffering of these animals. Same with me Mark. As soon as I learned what was going on out there through reading, and podcasts, and videos my wife and I just one day said that’s it we’re not going to be involved in this anymore. I’m not going to do a meatless Monday and ease into it. We just said we’re out of this. We are never consuming another animal product again as long as we live.”

Mark: “Wow that amazing! Yeah, for me it’s a complex issue. There’s a lot of layers to peel through to get to that decision. Family traditions and senses of comfort and home and security. So parts of our being may be aware of it and the impact of the cruelty but other parts override it. So I think you were the low hanging fruit at that time. And you were able to make the change right away. So I congratulate you on that!”

Dr. Dave: “Yeah I mean it is complex. Most of my friends are not vegan. And same thing with a lot of my family members. So it is very difficult during holidays or when you get together for social events but I don’t make any exceptions. If I go to someone’s house and they’re serving something that’s not vegan, I may bring something of my own or eat ahead of time. I make no exceptions. That’s how strongly I feel about it. Tell me about becoming a chef. When did you decide to do that? Were you already a chef when you were in Israel at the kibbutz? Did you do that afterwards?”

Mark: “I was on the kibbutz in between graduating college and going to law school. I went to law school for a semester at NYU and it was during the trip that year I traveled through Europe. I was in Berlin when the wall opened, on the kibbutz in Israel, did a trek to Mt. Everest, was in the Indian Himalayas. It was on that trip that I became vegetarian then vegan. After a semester at law school, I realized that wasn’t my path. So I moved out west with whatever fit in my car basically. I started working in a health food store out there and that’s how my culinary career got started.”

Dr. Dave: “From a health food store? Let’s take a step back and talk for a minute or two about that because I have been doing this podcast, The David Madow Lifestyle Show, for about 3 years now and I talk about healthy eating and moving your body. I talk about all the good stuff. But, what you just said struck a chord because one of the things I talk to my listeners about all the time is happiness. And doing what we want to do in our lives. And you went to law school for a semester and somehow during that semester you realized that was not for you. You couldn’t see yourself being a lawyer or doing that for the rest of your life. And you decided to take a step back and work in a health food store.”

Mark: “Yeah I didn’t know at the time what the plan B was, I just knew that year of traveling I spent really cultivating this sense of joy and freedom. I was feeling alive and the wonder of it all. So after a semester of law school I had a glimpse of what that path would have been and at that point I wasn’t happy. It’s cliche to say follow your dreams but it’s actually, I think, when you do tune into that and it’s guidance it takes you in the direction that you need to go. So I didn’t know what my plan B was but I just knew that when I got to California that I always loved cooking. So I just started out and after a few years I branched off and formed a consulting service. And then wound up opening a restaurant in Kuwai. And then my career as a cookbook author occurred then as well. So when I left law school I had no idea what the next phase was going to be at all.”

Dr. Dave: “So can you ever now look back and wonder what would have happened if you would have just stayed with the program? I don’t know maybe there was some family pressure. What do you think would have happened in your life and you had stayed with the program and became a lawyer? Wearing a suit everyday and going into courtrooms. What would your life be like?”

Mark: “I think that’s a great question. Challenging to project. I think there probably would have been that voice in my head that was saying you know this isn’t for you. There’s something else. So making that decision of just following my dreams in that way has been very fulfilling to know that I listened to that part of myself.”

Dr. Dave: “So I am going to take just a 15-20 seconds out and I am speaking right to my listeners. Listen if you’ve heard this before. You’ve heard me talk about it. You’re hearing Mark Reinfeld talk about it. You’ve got to follow your dreams. You’ve got to listen to the inner voice or listen to your heart if it’s telling you something. I used to practice dentistry for 13 years and the inner voice in my head told me that it’s a great profession and I had a great practice but that I was not going to be doing this at 55, 60, or 70 years old. I had another direction that I was going in. I listened to that voice just like your story. I love it! So congratulations!”

Mark: “Yeah for me at that time there was really no path to follow so I was like in the bush with my machete kind of forging a path. [both laughing] It’s been an amazing journey and one of the most deeply satisfying things. That decision and that intention to listen that part of myself.”

Dr. Dave: “Well if I can say this from just observing you, and we just met at Vegetarian SummerFest for the first time, you seem incredibly happy. There’s not a question in my mind. You just seem like you got it going on. You seem like a nice modest guy and that you have figured out how to live your absolute best life ever. So I applaud you. I really think you’re doing great work.”

Mark: “Aww thanks man!”

Dr. Dave: “Yeah you’re welcome! You’ve got this book that just came out, Healing the Vegan Way. Talk to me about that a little bit. What made you write that? What’s it about?”

Mark: “It really explores the healing qualities of plant based foods. I always like to say that plants have the capacity to heal and transform our lives. I’ve always been interested in the healing quality of foods and there’s over 200 recipes and I have really strong expert testimonials from the leading plant based medical doctors and dieticians many of whom you probably heard at Vegetarian SummerFest, Dr. Greger, Dr. Klaper, Brenda Davis. They gave really concise expert testimony and I included 200 recipes that show you how to work with the plants. There’s a nutrient chart showing what plants provide what nutrients and the parts of the body they are good for. So it’s pretty comprehensive. I feel really happy with how it turned out. And it goes over some of the major conditions people can prevent and reverse with a plant based diet such as heart disease, diabetes, certain forms of cancer, high cholesterol. You know the list.”

Dr. Dave: “Oh sure sure! I’ve got a lot of listeners, a lot of people that listen to this show in particular and a lot of them are plant based vegan already. But a lot of them aren’t Mark. Speak to the people that are kind of listening with a lot of curiosity. They are not sure. There’s a lot of social and family pressures out there. There’s a lot of reasons out there why people just don’t want to do this. Speak to those people for a few minutes. Why should they really consider leaving the standard american diet (SAD) and entering the world of this beautiful wonderful multi-colored plant based world?”

Mark: “Yeah technicolor living. [Dave laughs] I like to describe as there’s 3 different doors you can go through when you are interested in becoming plant based. One of the health and medical door, the one of the environmental or political door, and one is the ethical and rights doors. Usually it’s one of those main reasons that inspires people to eat more plants. All the doors lead to the same room and once you get into the room you can learn about the other reasons. So whatever your sensitivity is, so if you’re health isn’t what you like it to be there’s just an incredible amount of evidence showing that plant based foods are the way to create optimal health. I am a proponent of every little bit counts So if you have a meal a week or a day a week of plant based, you are going to start to see the benefits. If you tend to be environmentally inclined, if you do the research, you’ll see that a plant based diet is really the most sustainable way that we can feed ourselves and ensure a livable future for humanity. Those are the two main reasons. And then if you just start looking at animals differently. Like look at your cat or your dog and if you feel a connection to them you could allow that to extend to other animals as well.”

Dr. Dave: “Yeah when we visit these farm sanctuaries we see that all animals are just full of love. They are smart and they just want to live their lives like we want to live our lives. Mark, I know when I was at SummerFest there was sort of a buzz phrase going around a lot that I heard and I wanted to ask you a little bit about this. The phrase is food activism. People were talking about that. Describe what food activism is and if you want to go into a little bit of detail with it feel free to.”

Mark: “Sure, thanks! I love framing things in that way of referring to this as food activism. Some people would join the Peace Corps or Habitat for Humanity as a way to affect positive social change. For me, empowering people to prepare plant based cuisine that tastes amazing is another form of activism. All the information is out there as to why eating more plants is good for us. The key factor is having that taste good. Because if it doesn’t taste good, the information isn’t going to go very far. So that’s why I love teaching people and empowering them how to prepare plant based food that tastes incredible. You’ve probably heard the saying, if you give a person a piece of tofu you could feed them for a day but if you show them how to bake the tofu you can feed them for a lifetime. Or some variation of that expression. It really is empowering to see people take their health back into their own hands and the benefits to the environment and creating a peaceful world. So that’s why I like to use the phrase food activism.”

Dr. Dave: “And you know some of the things you can do with food. People think that eating plant based or eating vegan is very boring or dull and that there are a lot of things you can’t eat. But I’ve gotta tell you something and I haven’t told many people this because I am not a dessert person but your desserts that you prepared at Vegetarian SummerFest, they were addicting. My wife kept going back for more and more and of course I would eat off of her plate sometimes [Mark laughing] There was some chocolate cake that was plant based. I don’t know whether the desserts are the healthiest things in the world but I know there’s no animal products and they’re absolutely better than eating the typical pies and desserts that people eat after a meal. I love them! I had to kind of put the brakes on a little because I know you just can’t eat too much of that stuff. But some of the foods and even your main meals are so tasty. People look at me and say Dave, I know you can’t eat _______. It’s not that I can’t eat _______, it’s that I choose not to eat ________. I don’t want to eat bacon. I don’t want that stuff. It’s not that I can’t eat it.”

Mark: “Yeah that’s the big myth. It’s not that we can’t eat it, we choose not to. For me, just because you make the decision doesn’t mean you need to give up flavorful enjoyable meals. That’s why I do feel that it’s crucial to be able to say that we are not depriving ourselves of anything. We can create any flavor we want to. And now with the world of plant based cheeses and desserts that are on the cutting edge of the revolution. There are amazing flavors and a lot of people don’t know that they are plant based. I particularly enjoy that.”

Dr. Dave: “We certainly are not depriving ourselves of anything. I am not walking around hungry, trust me. The food we eat is absolutely delicious. And I can say that and you can say that Mark. I like to say to people that I have been on both sides. I was an omnivore for most of my life. I’ve done it both ways. So if anyone out there is listening and you haven’t tried this yet, you can’t really speak to it fairly unless you give it a try. There is no turning back for me. I feel better than I have ever felt in my life. And not only that I’m proud that I am saving some animals.”

Mark: “Yeah it’s fulfilling on so many levels. Once you try it your body tells you to keep going.”

Dr. Dave: “Yeah it certainly is. There’s no way to turn back. There’s really none. I know a lot of people might be listening to this and saying you know this sounds good and you’re a chef but I am not really sure what to cook at home. What am I going to do? So do you have any quick tips or simple you can give my listeners so that they can prepare some easy tasty meals at home?”

Mark: “Sure yeah. I work with people that have no experience in the kitchen all the way up to people who are certified cordon bleu chefs. I’ve worked with people of all skill levels. And it’s really a lot easier than people think. You just have to keep persisting and not being hard on yourself. There’s a psychological component of just being gentle with yourself as you experiment and know that you do have the capacity to create food that tastes really good. So the psychology I think is really important. The two things I encourage people to do when they want to get started is 1) be more creative with your salads. Find new veggies to put in your salad. And also try green smoothies where you’re mixing up different fruits and different greens. That’s a way to just get your palette used to these flavors. And then things like making spice blends. I encourage people to make a moroccan blend, an ethiopian blend, mexican, italian, indian, etc. And then you keep these spice blends on hand. Even sprinkling a spice blend on some rice or quinoa you’re going to take it to the next level. The books that I put out, The 30 Minute Vegan series are geared towards people that are just starting to work with vegan foods. The meals are done in 30 minutes or less for most of them.”

Dr. Dave: “Unbelievable! You asked me earlier in the show if I ate yet and no I didn’t eat yet. You are making me very very hungry. [Mark laughs] I just love this stuff. I can’t talk about it enough. Mark, you’ve got several books out there. If anybody wants to learn more about you or about your books, what’s the best way they can do that?”

Mark: “Through our website at www.veganfusion.com. You can sign up for our newsletter. We send out free recipes and news about events, and when I travel, and training. I also have vegan fusion certified trainers. I know you met Kelly and Madelyn. They call themselves the fusionettes. They have an event coming up in Maryland in September and so there’s constantly new events being put on the calendar.”

Dr. Dave: “That’s great. I want you, my listeners, to make sure you go to www.veganfusion.com to find out about what Mark is up to and find out more about his books. And I really invite you to come next year to Vegetarian SummerFest because I am sure Mark will be there and I will be there too. It’s basically a 5-day fun filled time where you see some of the best speakers, the best experts on the planet talking about being plant based. They’ve got vendors there. It’s like a summer camp almost. It’s amazing! And not only that you will get to experience and taste some of the most delicious vegan food on the planet. I guarantee that. Mark what’s next for you?What do you have coming up over the next few months or a year? What’s going on in your future?”

Mark: “Well I am doing more of these trainings. I have some training scheduled here in Denver. I am doing a new workshop based on the book Healing the Vegan Way. That will be offered in Portland. And we have an online culinary class for people who can’t make it to an event. It’s a 10 part program where you can learn the basics, download the training manual, and there’s videos up there. It’s all available on the website.”

Dr. Dave: “Well congratulations for everything you have done. You’ve accomplished quite an amount of stuff and you’ve got some great stuff coming in the future. Mark, I can’t wait to see you back at Vegetarian SummerFest, if not before.”

Mark: “Yeah let’s definitely meet up before. It was great meeting you. And I loved giving you that brief glimpse into the kitchen.”

Dr. Dave: “Oh yeah you remember that. That made my day. It was just incredible. [Mark chuckling] I asked Mark, I said how do you prepare food for all these people? And Mark was kind enough to say hey come on into the kitchen, let me show you what’s going on. It was amazing so thanks for taking time out of your busy life to spend time on The David Madow Lifestyle Show. I invite you back anytime.”

Mark: “I’ll take you up on that.”

Dr. Dave: “Believe me I would love to have you back. And I am not just saying that. We will absolutely have you back in the very near future. Thanks so much. I appreciate it!”

Mark: “Thank you David! And I wish you the best of luck in everything that you do.”

Dr. Dave: “To my listeners, see you next week on Monday. Until then, have a fantastic week!”

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