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In the kitchen with Heather Klein, Twin Cities Vegan Chef Challenge champion

Discover the origins of Root to Rise’s winning Jackfruit BBQ Wingz.

The winner of the 2020 Twin Cities Vegan Chef Challenge was Heather Klein, chef and founder of Root to Rise Kitchen. Her winning dish featured jackfruit wingz, and challenge voters adored them! We asked Heather about her inspiration for the wingz, and she said she wanted to create something that was as satisfying as fried chicken, but healthier, vegan and gluten free.

Heather came up with the recipe herself. She first discovered jackfruit in 2015 when she needed a whole food, plant-based option for pulled pork for a wedding catering client. Jackfruit has remained a staple in her cooking ever since. The wingz are her favorite way to have jackfruit, but she also uses it in a vegan version of eggrolls, in soups, tacos, and on BBQ sandwiches.

When testing out her jackfruit wingz recipe, she first had her uncle, Rich, who had recently transitioned to a vegan diet, try them. Heather was looking for someone to compare and contrast the wingz to drumsticks. Rich’s advice? Go for the smaller wingz instead of drumsticks because that way you get more crunch. From there, the Jackfruit Wingz that the Twin Cities came to know and love were born.

Root to Rise Kitchen offers various dishes, so how did Heather choose which dish to use for the Vegan Chef Challenge? “I wanted something fun and gluten free. I was considering the jackfruit wingz or a fried banana blossom with chips, and this won out in the end,” she explained.

Heather made the switch to a vegan diet in 2015. At the same time, she transitioned her catering company to 100% vegan and started Root to Rise. Eventually her catering company and Root to Rise merged into one.

The jackfruit wingz are available at the Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market, so go try them if you haven’t already!

CAA and Cookie Cart: A Sweet Partnership

Mentoring youth in the spirit of plant-based living

Cookie Cart is a youth employment program in the Twin Cities that provides teens 15 to 18 years old with meaningful work, life, and leadership skills through paid work experience and training. Work experiences have typically happened in Cookie Cart’s community bakery, however, this year’s stay-at-home requirements meant that youth have been working mostly virtually. In this time of distance learning, the organization remains committed to providing work experiences for their students, and CAA has played a vital role in providing those experiences.

After COVID hit, youth told Cookie Cart leaders that they wanted to spend the summer focusing on health and wellness skills. Tamuno Imbu, CAA’s community organizer, reached out to partner with them. Tamuno provided online plant-based cooking courses (and free ingredients for youth to participate), trauma response support in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd, and a broader context to plant-based eating through an online farm sanctuary tour and screening of the movie The Invisible Vegan, which focuses on veganism in the African-American community.

In the course of this work, Tamuno met with youth online twice a week to coach outreach skills and identity-building, while Cookie Cart program educators taught customer service skills, interpersonal skills, and critical thinking. Both Tamuno Imbu and Laura Matanah from CAA mentored youth working at the Camden Farmers Market to be in community and find their voice in an in-person, outreach setting. CAA volunteer, Yosan Worota, joined Tamuno to facilitate conversations on social media marketing strategies. Youth have been paid by Cookie Cart for their participation in all of these classes and activities.

As you can imagine, the youth we engaged through this partnership are extremely curious and anxious about what the future holds for them. CAA is excited to develop a partnership that will allow these young people to learn about the world of animal advocacy and explore what it means to have a plant-based lifestyle. 

More recently, CAA partnered with Cookie Cart to create a new, 100% plant-based cookie, and we’ve been teaching youth about Marketing and Sales as part of the development of this new menu item. After multiple flavor considerations, a sprinkle cookie was tried and tested. We featured the Vegan Sprinkle Cookie at the Camden Farmers Market and the Northeast Farmers Market in Minneapolis and are currently working on keeping it in their cookie lineup. 

The Best Dish in 2020 Twin Cities Vegan Chef Challenge: Jackfruit BBQ Wingz

Minneapolis-based Root to Rise Kitchen impressed voters and earned top honors in this year’s challenge.

Chef and founder of Root to Rise Kitchen, Heather Klein, is the official Twin Cities Vegan Chef Challenge winner. Heather was awarded a $250 cash prize and trophy, presented at a special awards ceremony at Camden Farmers Market on September 12.

To create her award-winning “wingz,” Heather wraps marinated jackfruit in rice paper, fries them in avocado oil, and serves them on a stick. They’re paired with sweet coconut jade pearl rice, Thai basil-marinated vegetables, and mango/pineapple salsa. You can find Root to Rise’s Jackfruit BBQ Wingz at the Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market.

Twin Cities Vegan Chef Challenge diners gushed about the flavor, creativity and presentation of the plant-based wings. Some of the comments that came in:

  • “Heather’s food is consistently delicious.”
  • “So amazing….no words.”
  • “Legit the best thing I’ve had in a while.”

Runners up included Namaste Cafe, the double-dish winner whose two dishes scored second and third, and Reverie, who was the featured classic winner. These were awarded based on diner votes.

The Twin Cities Vegan Chef Challenge encouraged area chefs to offer plant-based dishes at their restaurants throughout the month of August, and diners had the opportunity to cast online votes for their favorite dish, Additional awards were given based on diner comments and committee members’ experiences at the restaurants. Throughout the metro area, 12 dining establishments at 16 locations, each with takeout and delivery available, took part:

  • Namaste Café, Hennepin in Uptown | Double-Dish Winner: 2nd and 3rd Place for their two dishes, Chiya Chili Potatoes and Raw Jackfruit & Bamboo Shoot Curry
  • Reverie, South Minneapolis, Powderhorn | Winner: Featured Classic
  • The Naughty Greek, 2 locations in St. Paul | Winner: Outstanding Handheld Dish
  • Avocadish, Dinkytown avocado bar | Winner: Magnificent Medley Dish
  • Weinery, Cedar-Riverside | Winner: Best Kept Secret
  • Parkway Pizza, 4 metro locations | Winner: Outstanding Use of Local Ingredients
  • Shish, Grand Ave in St Paul | Winner: Sophisticated Spicy Dish 
  • PLNT BSD (Plant Based Bowls), Downtown White Bear Lake | Winner: Nutritiously Dense Decadence
  • Tiny Diner, E 38th St/11th Ave, Minneapolis | Winner: Fresh and Flavorful Dish
  • Book Club, Penn Ave, South Minneapolis | Winner: Fabulously Filling Dish
  • Heather’s, 52nd St/Chicago Ave, Minneapolis | Winner: Remarkably Colorful Dish
  • Red Wagon Pizza, 54th St/Penn Ave, Minneapolis | Winner: Brilliant Bean Fusion

The 2020 Twin Cities Vegan Chef Challenge was the biggest challenge yet, garnering a lot of public attention. Here’s a look at the numbers:

  • 337 diners voted this year.
  • 101 posts were shared on Instagram and Facebook.
  • 600+ weekly engagements on social media.
  • The challenge was covered by 17 media outlets, including 3 network news channels.

Volunteer Shout-Out: Lillie Gardner

Meet Lillie Gardner, our social media volunteer for the Twin Cities Veg Fest and Bridges of Respect

Read about her start with CAA, all the ways she has helped out, and what keeps her going.

How did you get involved with CAA?

I got involved with CAA after moving back to Minnesota (my home state) following many years on the East Coast. I was a new vegan and I wanted to get connected with the vegan community in the Twin Cities, so I signed up to volunteer at Twin Cities Veg Fest. From there, I learned about CAA’s Bridges of Respect humane education program and began helping out with classroom visits and social media.

What does your volunteer work entail?

While my volunteer roles with Twin Cities Veg Fest have been varied—everything from zero waste to transportation!—I’m currently the social media coordinator for Twin Cities Veg Fest and for Bridges of Respect. This year, social media has been especially important because it’s one of the only ways we have of connecting with people. Twin Cities Veg Fest would have been happening this month and it’s hard not to gather, but CAA has been working on other initiatives like “Veg Up the Market” with Camden Farmers Market and online cooking classes with Tamuno Imbu. Part of my job is making sure these events are promoted to the Twin Cities Veg Fest community and beyond.

What do you love most about volunteering?

It’s wonderful to connect with other veg-friendly people, and I love being part of an organization that is working to make a better world for animals everywhere. Plus, volunteering with CAA means you always have connections to amazing food!

When you’re not working on CAA activities, what do you like to do?

I’m a piano instructor and writer in St. Paul. I write for animal rights as a fellow with Sentient Media, and as a creative writer I write everything from fiction to screenplays. When I’m not teaching music or writing stories, I’m usually reading a book or taking my diva cat, Ava Gardner, for a walk.

What advice would you give to new vegans?

Stay true to yourself and your values. Our society is designed to encourage you to not be vegan, and sometimes it can feel difficult to stick with what you’re doing—especially if the people around you aren’t understanding or aren’t vegan themselves. Talking with other vegans and connecting with animals can be validating when you need some extra support. (Luckily, we have a few great farm sanctuaries around like Spring Farm Sanctuary, SoulSpace, and Farmaste!) Above all, with yourself as much as with others, be patient and be kind.

October Eats | Vegan Recipe Club

October’s recipes are here! This month, we’re cracking open Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s 2013 classic cookbook, Isa Does It. Start your oven and ready your chopping board…you’re in for some hearty and delicious dishes.

From the publisher: In Isa Does It, the beloved cookbook author shares 150 new recipes to make weeknight cooking a snap. Mouthwatering recipes like Sweet Potato Red Curry with Rice and Purple Kale, Bistro Beet Burgers, and Summer Seitan Saute with Cilantro and Lime illustrate how simple and satisfying meat-free food can be.

The recipes are supermarket friendly and respect how busy most readers are. From skilled vegan chefs, to those new to the vegan pantry, or just cooks looking for some fresh ideas, Isa’s unfussy recipes and quirky commentary will make everyone’s time in the kitchen fun and productive.

You can download this month’s recipes here.

Isa Does It, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. New York: Little, Brown and Company. 2013.

Main recipes:

  • Babushka Borscht, page 41
  • Quinoa Caesar Salad, page 61
  • Tempeh Meatballs & Spaghetti, page 119
  • Banana Berry Scones, page 267

Optional recipes:

  • Red-Hot BLTs, page 96
  • Roasty Soba Bowl, page 192
  • Sesame Tofu, page 239

Vegan Recipe Club meets Tuesday, October 20, on Zoom.

Questions? Email info@exploreveg.org or message us on Facebook.

September Eats | Vegan Recipe Club

September’s Recipes are here! This month, we’re exploring recipes from Bryant Terry’s latest cookbook Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes.

From the Publisher: Food justice activist and author Bryant Terry breaks down the fundamentals of plant-based cooking in Vegetable Kingdom, showing you how to make delicious meals from popular vegetables, grains, and legumes. Recipes like Dirty Cauliflower, Barbecued Carrots with Slow-Cooked White Beans, Millet Roux Mushroom Gumbo, and Citrus & Garlic-Herb-Braised Fennel are enticing enough without meat substitutes, instead relying on fresh ingredients, vibrant spices, and clever techniques to build flavor and texture. 

The book is organized by ingredient, making it easy to create simple dishes or showstopping meals based on what’s fresh at the market. Bryant also covers the basics of vegan cooking, explaining the fundamentals of assembling flavorful salads, cooking filling soups and stews, and making tasty grains and legumes. With beautiful imagery and classic design, Vegetable Kingdom is an invaluable tool for plant-based cooking today.

You can download this month’s recipes here.

Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes by Bryant Terry. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2020.

Main recipes:

  • Caramelized Leek and Seared Mushroom Toast, page 57
  • Roasted Sweet Plantains, Pecan, and Millet Salad, page 150
  • Smashed Peas and Creamy Cauliflower, page 28

Optional recipes:

  • Roasted Sweet Potato and Asparagus Po’boy, page 75
  • Grilled Spring Onions with Lemon-Thyme oil, page 60

Vegan Recipe Club meets Tuesday, September 15 on Zoom, from 6:30-7:30pm.

Questions? Email info@exploreveg.org or message us on Facebook.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2020 - Tuesday, December 8, 2020

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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

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