Dishing with… Craig Vanis, Head Chef at Veggytopia

I am on a career change process, so I am fascinated by people who have had success changing careers into the culinary world or by people who have just always lived it and love it. So in this post I am going to start a project whereby I’ll be talking to people who help me indulge in that fascination. Let’s call it “Dishing With…” My first “target” is Craig Vanis.

Just about anyone who meets Craig Vanis is bound to come to the conclusion that he is someone you want to get to know. I first met him at an open house for The Natural Epicurean where he talked about his career in food, his experience at the school, and generally gave the attendees the impression that they could achieve their food goals, no matter how lofty. Wanting to dig deeper, I decided to meet up with Craig for coffee and get to know him better.

As background, Craig is currently the head chef at Veggytopia, a vegan meal delivery service here in Austin. He has worked at Beets Cafe, as well as done work with raw and vegetarian food in Houston. He’s a graduate of The Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts and an all-around nice guy. I visited him at the Veggytopia kitchen and he seemed to do a great job directing traffic and keeping his team moving on task.

Here’s what we talked about:

Mike Lyons: What were you doing before you came to culinary school at The Natural Epicurean?

Craig: I went to school and had a short career as an engineer. The schooling was fine but I didn’t really enjoy the jobs at all. Towards the end of my school, I started learning more about food, why we eat what we eat, how it comes to be, and how food affects us. And the more I learned the more I knew that’s where my passion was. And the more I felt I had to do something. I wasn’t doing enough. I felt this urge to be doing more. In February 2009 my entire department got laid off and took that as the greatest day of my life. I said I’m just going to do jobs I want to do from now on. In April 2009, I walked into a cafe that was opening, right off the street. I got into sweeping and painting right away. By July I was managing the kitchen, had my own menus out, and was running the show.

ML: Had you been doing a lot of home cooking before that?

CV: Absolutely. I had cooked and was passionate, but that was my first restaurant job.

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