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Charlotte chef goes from meat to vegan. And back.

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  • Chef Alyssa’s Tips

    We asked Gorelick for a few tips for health-conscious cooking:

    • She likes to roast vegetables like cabbage and carrots and save them to mix with raw vegetables, to get a mix of textures.

    • Hemp seeds are a great source of plant-based protein. She adds them, along with other seeds, to vegetable dishes as a substitute for meat.

    • She believes eating fruit throughout the day, especially when paired with animal protein, can cause bloating. She usually eats fruit on an empty stomach or just in the morning.

    • She uses olive oil for salads, not for cooking, because it oxidizes and causes inflammation. She uses unrefined oils, like coconut, grass-fed ghee and palm oil, and fats to roast and cook with, and saves olive oil to mix with vinegar or lemon for a dressing.

  • Spiced Carrot Salad

    From Alyssa Gorelick, Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen.

    6 large carrots, peeled and sliced thick

    1 1/2 tablespoons grass-fed ghee (see note)

    2 tablespoons ground cumin

    2 teaspoons smoked paprika

    2 teaspoons ancho chile powder

    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    Himalayan pink salt to taste

    10-12 Swiss chard leaves

    1/4 cup hemp seeds

    1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds

    1/2 lemon

    PREHEAT oven to 425 degrees (use convection, if available in your oven).

    PLACE the carrots in a large bowl with the ghee, cumin, paprika, ancho chile powder, cinnamon and salt and toss to coat.

    COVER a baking pan with parchment paper, then spread out the coated carrots and roast 10 to 15 minutes, until the carrot slices are charred on the edges. Remove from oven and cool.

    SEPARATE the stem from the leaves of the Swiss chard, dice the stem and set aside. Chiffonade the leaves by stacking the leaves, 5 or 6 at a time and roll, then slice.

    TOSS all ingredients together and finish with a squeeze of lemon. Add any other vegetables you like to bulk up the salad and add texture.

    NOTE: Ghee is a shelf-stable clarified butter that is easy to saute with, because it doesn’t burn as easily as butter. Gorelick prefers ghee from grass-fed cows. Look for it at health-focused supermarkets.

  • Turkey and Herb Frittata

    From Alyssa Gorelick. She likes to make this on a Sunday morning, then reheat the remaining slices for the next few days. It even packs well in a container to eat on the go.

    8 eggs, preferably locally raised

    1 tablespoon coconut oil

    2 spring onions, sliced

    1/2 pound (8 ounces) ground turkey (she uses East of Eden Farms)

    8-12 ounces fresh spinach

    2 teaspoons ground aleppo pepper

    Himalayan pink salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

    3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, rosemary and oregano

    1 ripe avocado

    CRACK the eggs into a bowl and whisk. (Tip: To make the eggs whisk more smoothly, Gorelick uses a fork to carefully remove the chalazae, the little white bit that is attached to the yolk.)

    PREHEAT oven to 325 degrees. In a 12-inch nonstick ovenproof skillet, heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, then add the turkey, season with salt and pepper and cook until browned.

    ADD the spinach and cook until it is just wilted, then pour in the eggs, aleppo pepper and fresh herbs.

    COOK until the eggs turn golden brown on the bottom to create a nice base crust for the frittata. This will take about 5 minutes; check by lifting the edge with a rubber spatula. Place the pan in the oven to finish cooking. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until just set.

    TURN the frittata out of the pan. Cut into slices and top each slice with a little avocado.

  • Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen

    Alyssa Gorelick’s cooking classes range from $55 to $65 and are usually held on Wednesday and Thursday evenings at Atherton Market. Details and newsletter:

Alyssa Gorelick has a confession to make.

Sitting in public, at a coffee house in Plaza Midwood, she even leans in and lowers her voice a little when she talks about what happened to her.

What happened was … meat.

Yep, protein. Eggs. Chicken. Beef. A little pork now and then.

For most of us, this is a daily event. Eating meat isn’t a world-shaking lifestyle choice.

But we’re not Gorelick. That would be Alyssa Gorelick, former chef of Fern, one of the first seriously vegetarian restaurants in Charlotte. Gorelick wasn’t just a vegetarian chef. She was a vegan, someone so meat-averse, she didn’t eat cheese and eggs.

What would make a vegan chef put down her fork and pick up a drumstick?

“It comes down to lifestyle,” Gorelick says.

And Alyssa Gorelick’s lifestyle changed.

Going the chef way

Gorelick, 29, didn’t set out to be a vegan-turned-meat eater. She didn’t set out to be a chef, either.

Raised in a family from upstate New York who moved to the South when she was 4, no one in Gorelick’s family was all that interested in cooking. Her family kept kosher, though, and she knew vegetarians through the Jewish group Havurah, rooted in early 1960s counterculture groups. Many people avoided meat because kosher meat was so expensive.

As a teenager, she realized she loved to cook. She fell even further in love with cooking at South Mecklenburg High School, where she took the popular culinary arts program taught by Mary Doby.

She ended up at the Art Institute, where Joe Bonaparte was running a small but intense cooking program, and then worked for chef Paul Verica at the Club at Long View. That’s where she got exposed to the farm-to-fork, sustainable-agriculture movement taking root in 2004.

“Working with him was the first time I saw New Town Farms (of Waxhaw) and Sammy Koenigsberg and all the local stuff.”

She ended up at Halcyon, Flavors of the Earth, at the Mint Museum, which was opening a sister restaurant that would be totally vegetarian.

Gorelick got the spot as Fern’s executive chef. Learning to cook with things like chia seeds, she started reading and teaching herself about nutrition.

“At Fern, I was able to make food I loved and really understand,” she says. “When you’re vegan, you need vegetables to not be overcooked,” so you get the most nutrition from them.

“The balance of nutrients, not just flavor, is what needs to be on the plate.”

Getting the meat out

Working in restaurant kitchens is tough and stressful. In her mid-20s, Gorelick got interested in running, both to get time to herself and to improve her stamina.

She worked her way up to half-marathons, then switched to intense circuit training that includes boxing.

She also started to refine her diet, getting rid of meat and dairy and making the jump to vegan. Reading and teaching herself about the food she cooked at Fern make her get serious about nutrition.

She wanted to make food that was both healthful and still indulgent – what she calls “good chef-driven food.”

“Sometimes when you get into (health-focused) food, it’s nutrient-driven, not chef-driven. Those kinds of foods are being made by fitness instructors or nutritionists,” not chefs, she says. She appreciates what they’re trying to do, but food that’s focused only on health can be boring.

About 18 months ago, she left Fern. Casting around for a way to use her skills, her boyfriend, Andrew Wilen, came up with the answer:

Teach. A marketing specialist who works with Charlotte Center City Partners in SouthEnd, he saw the interest in how to use local ingredients.

He and Gorelick put together Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen, a cooking school that uses space in the Atherton Market to teach classes.

Getting in front of people made her nervous at first. But she found out that she loves to teach small cooking classes.

Classes are a way to build community, “to teach people how to eat well and be healthy and cook with local ingredients.”

Putting the meat back

About six months after leaving Fern, Gorelick started to notice something. She was working out hard, doing yoga and circuit training. But she didn’t feel great.

“I didn’t have enough energy,” she says. “I was hungry a lot.”

She could sense she needed something. She started by adding eggs.

“And I felt great.” So she started doing more research into protein sources and the need to balance her diet. And she started to eat meat again.

Yes, it’s a little embarrassing to admit, she says. She knows as much as anyone about the value of a vegan diet. But today, she feels stronger, faster and leaner.

“My food is sustaining me,” she says.

She knows that some people will criticize her return to meat. But she’s focused on nutrition in a very personal way.

“It’s natural to eat meat,” she says. She understands the objections to factory farming, She doesn’t support that either. She buys local food, and that includes humanely raised meat, she says.

These days, her diet is a combination of everything she believes in. It’s mostly organic, almost entirely local. It has a lot of vegetables, a little meat and a lot of eggs.

It also has a lot of room for variety. She’s cooking for the Bacon & Brews Cruise-In on June 29 with 16 other chefs. As a judge at a recent food truck contest in SouthEnd, she didn’t hesitate to sample everything offered, including pork tacos.

“If I wasn’t a vegan, I wouldn’t be the chef I am today. I learned to build great flavors with vegetarian ingredients. Knowing how to build flavor without meat is something I focused on.”

Today, she feels like she’s doing what everyone should do: She’s listening to her body.

“My diet sustains my lifestyle,” she says. “I have the best of a vegetarian diet and pull the best from a meat-eating diet. I still like to think about the plate and the balance of the plate.

“Our bodies need all of that together.”

Purvis: 704-358-5236
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