An Interview with NGI Alum Dustin Harder, Creator of The Vegan Roadie

NGI grads open restaurants, work as private chefs, write books and blogs, and spread the health-supportive cooking message all over the world. Chef's Training Program alum Dustin Harder (CTP 235) is about to embark on a fantastic journey and he needs our help.

Dustin’s project is a web series called “The Vegan Roadie.” His aim is to show vegans and the “vegan curious” that it’s possible to maintain a plant-based lifestyle while on the road, by seeking out vegan and vegan-friendly eateries and creating simple recipes with produce found at farmers’ markets. In each episode, Dustin will talk to restaurant owners and chefs across the country and visit local markets. Episodes will end with a "5 Ingredient Challenge," in which Dustin will create a dish in his hotel room with only five ingredients bought at a local market. In conjunction with the series, Dustin will maintain a website (launching September 2014) as a resource for people to find plant-based establishments as Dustin tours the country "livin’ la vida vegan."

The project’s Kickstarter campaign (be sure to watch the video – it’s hilarious!) will help fund travel expenses for Dustin’s cameraman and production assistant and will run through September 6. We hope you help back this project – any little bit will help!

We had the chance to sit down with Dustin and discuss the inspiration behind his project. Here’s what he had to say:

What is the mission of The Vegan Roadie?

The mission of this project is to create a roadmap across America for vegans and people who are curious about plant-based food. I want to eliminate the intimidation factor around it and show it’s not something to fear. I also want to highlight places for vegans to go when they’re on the road.

The idea for the project was initially born because I travel a lot for work. I became vegan in 2009 and in doing so, it became clear to me how difficult it is to maintain a vegan lifestyle on the road. My choices were somewhat limited and that prompted me to come to Natural Gourmet Institute and take the Chef’s Training Program so I could better equip myself with inspiration for how to maintain my new lifestyle.

Why do you feel people are afraid to try vegan food, whether while traveling or at home?

There’s always that stigma behind it that we’re not getting all the nutrients we need as vegans. Everyone’s question is always, “Where do you get your protein?” And other people, like my mother, are just terrified of tofu. She just won’t try it! There’s this built-up thought that veganism is some hippie form of living and anyone who does it is just eating twigs and berries, and there’s so much more than that to offer. On a culinary level, people are afraid of different ingredients because they’re not familiar with them. I want to tell people, “Look, you weren’t familiar with flour when you were a baby and then it was in the first recipe you made and then it was there. So you can use a different type of flour or other ingredients - you just have to familiarize yourself with them. Before you know it, it’s in your fridge or your cupboard all the time.”

How did you end up combining travel with veganism?

I am a theatrical dog handler by profession and do regional, Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. I’m doing a national tour starting in September, which is why I’m going on the road and have this opportunity to do something with the culinary education I’ve gotten. I was an actor before and now I’ll get to be on a show, so I’m excited to put it all together – acting, food and travel. It’s a fun package.

How do you feel NGI was instrumental to shaping this project?

I was inspired by every single instructor at NGI on so many different levels. One of the best things was said by Anthony on our first day. He said, “You’re probably really confused today and you’re going to be even more confused on the day you graduate.” And it was true! They give you some many elements at this school, and they’re not saying you have to do this or that. They encourage students to take the information and go where it leads them.

I had an idea to write a blog when I was a student. Watching cooking shows, I realized there just isn’t a cooking show like this that exists. I want people to have fun like they do with Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives,” and see how easy it is to enjoy vegan food. If I can make a balanced vegan meal in my hotel room, then you can absolutely make it at home. The skills I learned in school are going to help me talk to people more confidently about what they’re cooking at home and offering up in their businesses.

What will the structure of the series be like?

I will visit vegan and vegan-friendly establishments and talk to the chefs about their food, and why they do what they do. Then we’ll prepare their most popular dishes and taste them. If they have a macaroni and cheese dish, hands down, I am definitely trying it! That’s kind of my sub-quest as a vegan, to find the best macaroni and cheese at a vegan-friendly restaurant. Then I’ll visit a local farmers’ market, pick five ingredients, and take them back to my hotel room to make a vegan meal. The recipes will be simple and be listed on the website so people can make them at home. In a nutshell, I want to show people where to find great vegan good on the road but also how to prepare it in a hotel room or at home.

Fellow grad Ashley Madden will be helping you with the series. What will her involvement be like?

Ashley is a pharmacist and a certified holistic nutritionist, and she was in my class at NGI. She’s going to be doing a weekly vlog with me and we’ll tackle one subject at a time. We’ll be talking about protein, late-night eating, calcium, stuff like that. We’re trying to make it so people are not intimidated by this lifestyle but interested in it and can see the whole picture broken down into a short portions. I’m so glad to have her on board because she can talk about nutrition for days!

If “The Vegan Roadie” goes as well as you plan, what do you hope to do next?

It would be mind-blowingly awesome and amazing to get picked up by a network. Of course, that’s always in the back on my head. But the big picture right now is to bring this information to the world so people can get a taste for it. Not like Yelp, where you read reviews but still have question marks in your head, but to actually take people inside restaurants and talk about the ingredients they use; not overwhelm people with information but get them excited about plant-based food. Whether people will go full-on vegan or eat one vegan meal a day or a month, I’d feel really good about everything I’m doing. My goal is to get people excited, willing and able to try it and switch out one meat dish. That would be the end game.

This story was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center at the Institute of Culinary Education.

Add new comment