A personal chef is like a life coach for your belly. If it seems like an out-of-reach luxury item, let us introduce you to Davionne Dobson, proprietor of Remnant Affairs Catering. Meals made by the local vegan chef and caterer are a gift of substance for the whole body.
In the business for about a year, Dobson is on a quest to help everyone from single moms to corporate clients feed their friends and loved ones healthy and hearty meals, sans meat.
New Times recently caught up with Ms. Dobson to talk shop about comfort foods, mock meats, starting your own business and an imagined dinner party with Paula Deen.
NT: How did you get started in vegan cooking? Was it more for ethical, animal rights reasons or general health?
Dobson: I have always had a love for food and eating and cooking healthy yet hearty meals. I primarily began to cook this way for health and spiritual reasons; making this type of food can't possibly be fully enjoyed without continually aiming for proper balance of good diet and nutrition, exercise, and most important of all - a healthy spiritual grounding. Our senses have become over-stimulated, which makes it difficult for most people to even begin to appreciate eating a simple, healthful diet minus meat and animal products. The change in diet must start with a change in the overall mindset and attitude--the appreciation and total acceptance of the change will follow naturally over time. It is not without its challenges, but as with anything else in life, it is a learning and growing process that requires much patience and practice.
NT: Tell us about your catering company. When did it get started?
Not much to tell as I am extremely new to the scene and still in the infancy stages of growing and building the business. As is true with most chefs and caterers, I started amongst my friends and family, who all knew that I have been striving to make changes in my lifestyle and diet. I love taking hearty comfort foods and other familiar favorites and making a vegan sensation of them. Living here in South Florida, I like to capitalize on using and incorporating ingredients from the different cultures that exist in our midst. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I also enjoy inventing quick and easy recipes on the lighter side that can be prepared by the average home cook. The main thing is that I am willing to learn, grow, evolve and share with others whatever I learn along the way - and this is what helped me to decide to take it all to the next level. I like to work and partner with other caterers and chefs, as this is how I learn new tricks of the trade while at the same time gaining exposure in the marketplace.
NT: People might assume that breaking into vegan catering is a pretty niche market. How has the response been so far?
I believe there is plenty of room for expansion into this market on all levels; however, my best response thus far has been from other chefs and caterers that get requests for vegan foods and baked goods from their consumers. It is slow going only because I am brand new to the market with limited exposure thus far; however, I do strongly anticipate that all this will be changing very soon!
NT: Are there a lot of vegan events?
I'm still very new to this community and exploring; there are a number of events, many off which don't necessarily interest me; however, I believe there is a greater need than what may be apparent, especially concerning people who really desire to make changes in their diet and don't know where/how to start. Believe it or not, cooking classes for the home cook and persons seeking to make basic dietary changes with simple recipes are still what I find to be the biggest opportunity for the vegan chef/caterer. I would like to see my own business expand into this arena more as I love to teach and share what I am learning along the way.
NT: Do you have a signature dish?
Not necessarily; but I do get a lot of requests from folks who know me for my vegan cheesecake.
NT: What's the most common food item that you get requests to veganize?
Mostly baked goods and, of course, meat substitutes.
NT: What's your take on mock meats? Totally unnecessary item or easiest way to sway a carnivore to veganism?
As long as they are made with fresh, natural ingredients, they're great; however, most of us starting out get sucked up into the trap of the canned or frozen preservative-filled pre-packaged "quick fix" substitutes that are just as bad for your health as is regular meat. We're all guilty of indulging in this bad habit! As far as carnivores are concerned, none that I have encountered have ever been enthusiastic about what they call "mystery" or "fake" meat. Therefore, when I share dishes with friends who are exploring, I usually don't tell them that meat substitutes are included in the meal - especially when concealed well within pasta dishes, which I find to be the most appealing types of introductory dishes for folks new to this territory. It's usually is a pleasant surprise.
NT: What are the five staple items a vegan chef must always have in their arsenal?
The key is keeping meals as fresh and simple as possible for maximum flavor results - as far as savory dishes are concerned, I achieve this through the use of fresh herbs and produce, a variety of spices, nuts, legumes, grains, and my one of my favorite mainstays - nutritional yeast flakes. Cheese is a very hard habit to kick - but it adds that distinct exquisite flavor as well as nutrients every vegan needs.
NT: Say you're called to cater an intimate affair for notorious meat eaters like Bizarre Foods' Andrew Zimmern and southern cooking queen Paula Deen. What's on your menu for the night that would leave them both totally satisfied?
Incidentally, I love both of them and their shows! Being a southern girl & a fan of hearty eating myself, I would stick with what I know and do best and definitely keep it "down-home soulful": Chicken fried 'steak' with brown gravy & sauteed onions, Mac and 'Cheez', collard greens, and some potato salad on the side! For dessert, I might throw in a vegan hummingbird cake or a slice of sweet potato pie.
NT: Who would your dream client be?
I don't have a dream client; however, I am very content with working with anyone ranging from working moms looking to feed their families inexpensive healthier, simpler meals to other caterers and chefs and small business owners in the health industry who have a vested interest in improving the diet and lifestyle of their clients and themselves.
NT: What was your first introduction to vegan cooking? Do you remember your first meal?
Yes, a friend who was a seasoned vegan invited me for lunch at her home one day; I was still eating meat on a daily basis at that time, but very interested in coming off of it. She served a simple meal of brown and red rice, a meatless loaf made with nuts and grains, and a garden salad with tasty homemade lemon-garlic dressing. I fell in love and wanted more! I was definitely bitten by the vegan bug that day, and it has been a wild roller coaster ride ever since.
NT: There is a common misconception that vegan cooking has to be time consuming and expensive. How do you help to nix that idea?
Anything can be complicated if you don't enjoy what you're doing. The key is using good ingredients on sturdy equipment and preparing ahead as much as possible. Mass-produce what you like and freeze and store for convenient use. And as far as the expense - it really doesn't have to be expensive unless you get stuck on pricey meat substitutes. I consider it a life investment--a preventative measure towards good health. Just think of how much you will save by staying out of the hospital and it more than makes up for the output of expenditures. Once you've explored the dishes that you and your family enjoy, it's not complicated at all. If you like to eat heartily like I do, stock up on nuts, beans and grains. There are several great websites and cookbooks with recipes galore! Use these as reference tools to make up your own family favorite recipe archive. I also like to make up a special mixture of grains and seasoning blends on hand that can be kept in sealed containers for ease of use at any time to create a flavorful homemade burger or loaf. And always make use of fresh produce, which will keep you healthier longer.
NT: What is your favorite dish to cook?
I like to eat and feed my family and friends ordinary food with extraordinary flavor. A simple, yet flavorful hearty lentil stew tops my list! Even good ol' beans and rice suits me just fine, with a simple salad on the side and some of that simple homemade dressing I learned to make thanks to my friend.
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NT: What's your advice for people looking to delve into a plant-based diet?
Don't focus on having meat or the need to create some sub-standard substitute for it--you will fail if you stay fixated on this issue. Start by educating yourself first which takes time. Then, follow through by changing your diet through slow elimination of animal products - I know very few people who succeeded by going at it cold turkey. Also, remain true to yourself and what you enjoy; it is possible to eat heartily without the meat and animal-based products. Keep in mind the fact that there are many products on the market now to help the average home cook, and there are several ways to veganize just about everything you ate as a non-vegan. The key is to explore and venture out of your usual comfort zone. When making the transition, give yourself room to explore and don't be afraid to ask questions, check our new cuisines and/or try new ingredients; most important of all, allow yourself to keep the training wheels on the wagon for as long as you need to feel comfortable with your new diet; don't panic when you do fall off the wagon; just dust yourself off, get back on and keep riding.
** A website is in the works. There is no set price range for catering events. Menus are customizable based on event and desired cuisine. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org***