Q: How did you fall in love with cooking? Your Italian roots and large family play a huge role in your life. Is it difficult to be a vegan in a family with a lot of varied tastes and in a food culture that involves eating so much meat?
A: I was first bitten by the food bug as a little girl watching my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother whipping up huge Italian Sunday dinners. These early childhood cooking experiences along with growing up in SoCal — backyard garden and all — truly shaped my food philosophy. The thing I love most about cooking is sharing the love. Food is life, food is love, and when you are able to share that with others, it’s a pretty special thing.
I tell everyone that for me, cooking was a survival tactic. Imagine a family dinner with 25 different dishes on the table and your only option is the salad. It kinda stinks. That’s what got me cooking at such an early age. (I went veg at 8). Turns out the rest of the family was quite interested in eating the food I was making, hence began my lifelong journey of cooking veggie food for meat-eaters.
Q: You were also a model for many years, which seems incongruous with someone who loves food! Did you find your love for food to be a conflict or a natural fit with the requirements of modeling? How has modeling influenced your self-image?
A: There is constant pressure when you make your living in front of a camera. I didn’t let it take over my life. I feel like the healthiest thing I ever did was to throw out my scale. I have not weighed myself in years and it’s so liberating! Women tend to get stuck on a perfect number but in reality, your weight isn’t always reflective of good health. There are plenty of thin models in questionable health. “If you feel good, then you’ll look good,” is my motto, and at the core of that is what you consume.
Q: How and when did you decide to make the transition from food blogger to full-time professional chef and vegan personality?
A: About a year ago I made a conscious decision to take what was really just a passionate hobby to the next level. I poured myself into the community instead of confining myself to the kitchen. That meant branding, PR, appearances and a lot of travel. The results have been incredibly rewarding and the journey so far, exhilarating. And I’m only just starting!
Q: How would you describe your style? What role does fashion play in your life?
A: Fashion plays a huge role in my life! It’s also a big component of my brand. I’d probably describe my style as ‘vintage Hollywood’ meets ‘girl-next-door glam’. I adore Lauren Bacall, Grace Kelly and, of course, Marilyn. Even if I’m wearing one of my signature aprons on stage, I am styled head-to-toe beneath it. Whenever possible, I wear eco-licious lines. Right now there are so many designers engaged in Ethical Style. If Karl Lagerfield can take fur out of his closet, imagine what the rest of us can do. I encourage others to be on trend by ditching fur and leather. My favorite shoes in the world right now are by Melissa Shoes. Her lines, which feature Gauthier, Wu and Westwood to name just a few, are not only ethical because they’re vegan, but they’re also 100% recyclable! How eco-chic is that?
Q: How do you see your future?
A: I see myself happy, healthy, and continuing to spread the veggie love!
Leslie is a healthy-cooking advocate and Vegan Chef blogging at LeslieDurso.com