We sat down with Ryan Shepard, head chef at The Vegan Rhino (@theveganrhino). Ryan shares how he found joy in switching to a plant-based kitchen and gives advice for everything from cooking vegan breakfast to veganizing your favorite recipes. Scroll to the end for his tofu fajita scramble recipe.
David: Could you talk us through your journey to veganism?
Ryan Shepard: Absolutely. In 2017, I started to think about how to live more sustainably. I was watching Alaska: The Last Frontier, which isn’t a vegan show, but it does make you think about sustainability. I watched “What the Health?” that summer, and the idea that we were being misled and there was a more beneficial way to live was a huge revelation to me. I transitioned to being fully vegan in two weeks.
David: Wow, that’s a fast transition. For those looking to make a similar transition and questioning how to veganize recipes, what advice do you have?
Ryan Shepard: It’s a lot easier than you think. Start with your favorite recipes and find the substitutes for vegan ingredients. If you’re making oatmeal with milk, make it into a vegan breakfast by substituting the milk for oat milk and the honey for agave. If you’re baking with eggs, use a flax egg, applesauce, or another substitute. Google is your best friend here.
Start with what you know, then other things will become easier for you. You can expand into other cuisines, adding a little here, removing something there.
David: You’ve touched on breakfast, and I have heard a lot of pre-vegans asking about an alternative to eggs for cooking vegan breakfast. With the current trend toward high-protein, low-carb foods, what would you recommend?
Ryan Shepard: A good vegan breakfast could be tofu scramble with avocados, adding some leafy greens and nuts to really pack a punch. Lunch and dinner can include zucchini noodles, cauliflower rice, or chickpea pasta. Black bean burgers in a lettuce wrap will also be high-protein.
Me personally, I avoid oils, so my secret is using a lot of water broth, vegetable broth, and lemon juice instead of oil.
David: What’s been your favorite part of cooking in a vegan kitchen? And of being vegan more generally?
Ryan Shepard: I love recreating my favorite foods in their vegan form. People don’t always know what vegans eat – the age-old “do you only eat leaves?” – and cooking allows me to show that I eat the same foods. The tastes may change a little since we’re avoiding the animal fats that pack a lot of the flavor in non-vegan cuisine, but your taste buds adjust, and you get to experience what real food tastes like.
In terms of being vegan generally, I like doing something I know is right. I’m not causing harm just because of taste, and that grounds me when people I know try to talk about the taste of bacon and what I’m allegedly missing out on. They send me photos of bacon; I send them of cute pigs. I also love educating people, especially by sharing food and letting others try it.
David: That’s a great way of letting others explore veganism! Last question. What are The Vegan Rhino’s future plans?
Ryan Shepard: Our next step is really to keep growing, with a focus on a YouTube channel. I want to have videos where I teach people to cook, whether that’s flambéing or chopping, or showing four ways to make brussel sprouts. That’ll extend beyond veganism, helping people become more aware of how they’re cooking and helping them become better chefs.
Tofu Fajita Scramble Recipe:
8 oz. extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1/4 cup filtered water
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 red pepper, sliced thinly
2 scallions, chopped
3/4 tsp. Himalayan Fine Pink Salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
3/4 tsp. turmeric
Garnish with cilantro, optional
- In a skillet on medium-high heat, add mushrooms, onion, and red pepper. Drizzle the lime juice as needed and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes.
- Crumble the drained tofu over the pan and add the seasonings, water, and green onions. Cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes.
- Serve immediately and garnish with cilantro and/or green onions.
- Chef’s tip: Add a cup of chopped kale and sauté before adding the tofu.