TrunkSpace: When and why did you start cooking and what people have been the biggest influence in your life with regards to your culinary journey?
Chef Dix: Growing up we only had a few channels on our television and one of them was PBS, which regularly played cooking shows like Julia Child’s. Watching them cook was always like magic to me – I loved how you could combine ingredients together and make something delicious. From a young age I was cooking for my family and myself and experimenting with different flavors and recipes. Even though my dad didn’t really cook, one of our favorite activities was going to different restaurants. He was always up for trying anything so I was exposed to great cuisine from around the world at a very young age.
TrunkSpace: What style of cuisine do you enjoy creating the most and why? And what would you consider your signature dish?
Chef Dix: Right now I’m trying to perfect classic comfort food dishes that most people in the United States grew up eating. I like to keep my recipes simple by keeping them under 30 minutes and using only a few easy-to-find ingredients. My signature dish right now is probably my creamy garlic pasta. People write me all the time to tell me how much they love that recipe and it still blows me away every time!
TrunkSpace: It’s been said that food is the gateway into a culture, that it identifies a history, family and a region. What do you feel your food says about your culture and history?
Chef Dix: I was raised in a small California town surrounded by orchards and strawberry fields so I would definitely say that my love for fresh ingredients is tied into the way I cook. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a fruit farmer and my mother was raised farming, so our family has a lot of history there. My father grew up in Los Angeles, regularly eating cuisine from around the world, so I think I’ve mashed all of our shared experiences together to create recipes that represent a modern take on fresh, global cuisine.
TrunkSpace: Looking through your colorful and delicious social media posts, we found ourselves getting very hungry. (And we had just eaten lunch!) Then we noticed that your vibrant food was also vegan. While we’re not exclusively vegan, we do strive to find more and more plant-based meals in the TrunkSpace office. Do you have any tips for those folks looking to introduce some vegan options into their diet?
Chef Dix: There are so many amazing vegan options available today, that weren’t there even just a few years ago. A great way to start introducing more vegan food into your diet is to start by just switching out dairy milk for your favorite vegan version like cashew or oat milk, or ordering the vegan dish at a restaurant. I find that people are often pleasantly surprised at how tasty vegan options can be. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try a few different options before you find what you like. Sometimes people are quick to dismiss vegan food because they’ve had one bad experience, so my biggest advice is to stay open-minded and don’t be afraid to try more than one brand or dish.
TrunkSpace: Some folks hear “vegan” and think it’s all flax seed and nutritional yeast. While those have their place, what would you tell the skeptic, non-vegan believers out there to help them understand what eating plant-based really means? And how to get flavor and variety into your cuisine?
Chef Dix: The great thing about veganism is how versatile our cuisine is. As a vegan you can have everything from raw food to cooked food and junk food. Cooking vegan really is just as diverse as non-vegan cooking in that way. I try not to put myself into a box when it comes to my veganism. I always say as long as it’s vegan I’ll try it! Vegan cooking just like non-vegan cooking gets so much flavor from fresh herbs and spices. I really think vegan chefs are masters of spice. I’ve never met a vegan that didn’t have an overflowing spice cabinet!
TrunkSpace: It can be particularly difficult to find vegan options when traveling if you don’t know where to look. You have a vegan-friendly travel section on your website, and we thought it was brilliant. Can you share some of your traveling tips for those looking to get a decent vegan experience while abroad?
Chef Dix: I’ve found that traveling while vegan is much easier than most people assume. Eating vegan abroad often takes you off the beaten path, where you get the opportunity to dine with locals and get a real sense of the areas culture. I’ve had amazing meals that were handmade for me in shacks by the beach in Mexico and gone into the rainforest to eat fresh coconut ice cream in Hawaii. My biggest resource for finding vegan and vegan-friendly dining abroad is definitely the Happy Cow app and a strong sense of adventure.
TrunkSpace: We’re whacky about Halloween here at TrunkSpace, and we noticed a post on Instagram you shared about vegan candy options for trick or treaters. Can you tell us a bit about how to shop for vegan sweet tooths?
Chef Dix: I’m crazy about sweets also and there’s so many different types of candy that are accidentally vegan. Vegan.com has a great list of accidentally vegan-friendly candies that you can find at just about any store. You mostly want to look for candy without milk and gelatin in the ingredients. Some of my favorite vegan sweets are Twizzlers, Sour Patch Kids and Jolly Ranchers.
TrunkSpace: With the advancement of technology, a lot has changed in the food industry. Growing up, we don’t remember ever seeing vegan cheeses, hot dogs or even the variety of produce that is available in grocery stores now. How do you think this has changed over time and what do you think is next in the future of plant-based diets?
Chef Dix: Things have definitely changed a lot since I first became vegan over 10 years ago. Back then, vegan cheese was just horrible and never melted. Today, there are companies like Miyoko’s that make artisanal vegan cheeses that truly taste just as amazing as their dairy counterparts. The future is definitely headed towards much more realistic vegan substitutes. There are a lot of ground-breaking products that are just now coming to the marketplace and changing how we view vegan food. Things like vegan eggs made from bean protein and vegan sashimi made from algae are already here and eventually I don’t think you’ll be able to tell the difference between plant-based dairy and meat and their non-plant based counter parts.
TrunkSpace: What do you find the biggest reward is for maintaining a vegan lifestyle?
Chef Dix: The biggest reward is definitely knowing that I am contributing the least I can towards harming animals and our environment. Food is a powerful thing and I definitely feel like every time I eat I am making a conscious choice about my ethics. For me, going vegan has really changed my outlook on life. I can honestly say it’s one of the best decisions I ever made.
TrunkSpace: What do you feel like the biggest challenge is in eating a balanced vegan diet?
Chef Dix: I’m always excited to try all of the amazing new vegan products that seem to be constantly coming out, so for me, it’s about balancing wanting to try new things with trying to eat a well-rounded diet with fresh fruits and vegetables. Since I cook a lot it’s not hard for me to make healthy choices but when I eat out I do tend to indulge a lot more. For me, a good lifestyle is having occasional indulgences like a super decadent dessert, but balancing it out with the things that keep me feeling good throughout the day.
TrunkSpace: For those home cooks out there or perhaps the aspiring chefs, if you could give them one tip, what would it be?
Chef Dix: My biggest piece of advice would be to not be afraid of experimenting with food. Try new flavors and spices that you’ve never had before. You might find that you really enjoy stepping outside of your box.
TrunkSpace: If the Monopoly guy showed up with a blank check one day and asked you to create your own vegan restaurant, what would that look like?
Chef Dix: It would probably be a thatched hut on the beach with a few hammocks, swings for chairs and palm trees swaying in the wind. Of course, this would be a vegan beach hut, where we would use regional fruits and vegetables, make our own hot sauces from scratch and donate a portion of our profits to local animal charities. Oh, and we would play tacky beach music all day long for ambiance! (Laughter)