PLANT-BASED CHEF CADDY CABRERA “THE PRODUCTS TALK TO ME”
PLANT-BASED CHEF CADDY “THE PRODUCTS TALK TO ME”
Caddy is a Dominican plant-based chef living in the United States. Through her projects, she inspires people to have a more conscious and healthier lifestyle with her recipes, workshops, and tips. In 2018 she participated in the Latin Masterchef in the USA, in which she achieved the top 5.
Caddy, what was your motivation to be a chef, a plant based chef?
My first motivation is health, seeing food as medicine, but the final goal is happiness. That’s what we all want. The act of cooking itself makes me happy but also cooking for others. In the end, cooking is an act of love. I cook happiness because this is what inspires me and what I feel when I share it with others. Cooking is therapeutic too. I started cooking seriously after the birth of my son. The kitchen became my happy place to relax and reconnect after a long day. But my love for cooking has always been there since I was a little girl. I grew up in the countryside. Surrounded by nature. For me, food was not a market or a supermarket. It was going to the backyard and pick tomatoes, lemons, squash, eggplants, peppers, plantains, cassava, guava, papaya, and many others. My grandma inspired me. She knows a lot about plants and since I was so curious, I was always with her, helping around. She made me feel important and taught me about natural cooking and loving and respecting nature.
How long have you been a plant-based chef? How were your beginnings?
I’ve been a plant-based cook all my life, but I started seriously 6 years ago. When I was a child, meat was not popular at home. My sister has always been vegetarian, and later my grandma and my mother became vegetarians too. So, our meals were 90% plant-based. After the birth of my son, I became more conscious about food. I wanted to have a healthier life and live longer to be there for my son as much as possible. Also, I wanted to teach my son to eat healthy at a very young age. My son is a picky eater, but he loves broccoli, for example, cucumber, peppers, zucchini, and many other veggies. I studied Architecture but rediscovering my passion was like connecting the dots. Both Cooking and Architecture are forms of art that involve measuring, proportioning, shaping, designing, assembling and composing. I started using colors, combining flavors and creating with plants, and plating them creatively. I’m a self-taught cook and I started experimenting at home and taking online classes. I used to send my sister photos of my meals daily and after a conversation over the phone, we reflected on the idea that it would be great to share my plant-based recipes with people and families out there and this is how Cadittas’ Kitchen Lab was born to spread happiness through plant-based food and empower people to transform their lives by adopting healthy eating habits. If I had to define what I do, I would say that it is a plant-based creative healthy cuisine where color is the main character. In 2018, I auditioned for Master Chef Latino in the USA and I made it to the top 5.
How do you introduce your plant-based cooking in your health journal?
Plant-based cooking is the heart and center of everything I cook. Even though I plan some of my meals, I love cooking by improvisation too. I go to the markets to look for good products and I make sure I have many options in my pantry so every time I open my fridge, I get creative and I cook something delicious and new. I learned from my mother to cook as naturally as possible and to seek balance in flavors, but above all to respect the product. Products “talk to me” in a good sense. So, I embrace healthy eating as a means to unleash the imagination by playing with colorful and flavorful ingredients full of nutrients good for health.
What’s your experience with meats substitutes?
I don’t like the word “meat substitute”. When you fall in love with plant-based eating you don’t need to substitute anything because the vegetable kingdom has it all. We have learned that meat is an essential ingredient, but it doesn’t have to be that way. However, I do understand that some people need meats substitutes and I think is a great way to start this journey. But I’m not obsessed with it. I see plant-based cooking as a blank canvas to unlearn some old habits and get inspired by playing and having fun with plant ingredients.
What are the pro and cons of working with meats substitutes?
Every day more people are becoming aware of how their food choices impact the environment and their health and this is something positive. “Meat substitutes” are so popular now. The good side is that meat substitutes are a step forward in the right direction to reduce our footprint in the environment and they can help people to eat less meat. But are they healthy? There are many meat substitutes highly processed and high in sodium, saturated fats, refined oil, sugar or GMO, etc. I do believe the best meat substitutes are those we can make ourselves at home with whole foods. The origin of food is so important as well as the way we cook it.
How can you communicate the approach of innovative beeing a sustainable plant-based chef to others?
I grew up in a family that did not waste food and I was taught from a very young age to reuse everything. This love and respect for nature live in me. I’m very tied to the earth. And this is another core value of my cooking. My approach is a nature-driven food culture, where cooking benefits one’s health, the environment, and the whole planet by buying smart, reusing leftovers and reducing food waste. I promote a colorful and diverse plant-based cooking with an eco-conscious perspective. I share many recipes with leftovers and promote using what we have in the pantry. This message is a constant in the recipes I post, and I live by this principle.
How can people start a plant-based diet?
First, people need to be aware that self-love and self-care also imply eating healthy. Eating vegetables and fruits is one of the best ways to improve our health. I know many people have limiting beliefs about veggies and some don’t even like them. But I’ll recommend starting one step at a time by recreating family recipes or favorite ones. Perhaps, including a plant-based menu two or three times per week, until they get used to it. Fortunately, nowadays we have many resources available on blogs, Instagram, Pinterest or even apps that can be of great help for cooking ideas. Once the family falls in love with veggies, it’s easier. Veggies are much more than salads; we can create limitless delicious and colorful dishes.
What is the biggest myth about cooking plant-based foods that you encounter?
A lot of people see veggies as bland food. But the imagination is limitless. Cooking veggies is a lot of fun because we can experiment with new ingredients and play with the freshness, colors, flavors, textures, and fragrances using different cooking techniques: ferment, age, dry, marinate, among many others, to create incredible flavors. I think we need to become adventurous eaters and make meals a celebration of life. Color is a key part of my cooking not only because behind each color there are plenty of nutrients, but it also influences how we perceive taste and can make meals more appealing.
What are your current projects?
I’m working on different projects right now.
Cooking Together: It’s a holistic and healthy plant-based Gastronomic experience. It’s more than a cooking workshop; it is a sensory and emotional experience that seeks to inspire and connect people with food, others, and nature.
HEA Talks: it’s a health initiative that brings together Chefs, Nutritionists, Health Coaches, Yoga Instructors, Fitness Trainers, and Wellness Specialists to inform, motivate and empower communities.
I’m working on the development of various natural products for children, especially for those with lactose, gluten, and nuts intolerance. I’m also working on a cookbook, where my roots will be very present.
I’m planning to release on May my e-book “7-Day Delicious Morning Habits”
Those are interesting projects, tell me more about HEA TALKS, what’s the main objective?
HEA is a series of inspiring talks of 20 to 25 minutes/each by professionals and experts in different areas of health that not only focuses on knowledge but also aims to motivate and empower people to take action, set health goals and achieve the best version of themselves. HEA Talks aims to create healthy communities with the following goals:
EDUCATE: An informed person takes control of his/her health, is more aware of the consequences and is more open to working on prevention. Also, he or she shares their knowledge with family and friends.
MOTIVATE: A motivated person is proactive and becomes an agent of change by transmitting their optimism to others. Also, they will have better health, exercise more and eat healthier.
EMPOWER: An empowered person makes more informed decisions regarding their health and takes action to improve it.
COMMIT: A person committed to their health is constant and strives to lead a healthy lifestyle.
..thanks for the interview Caddy!