So You Want to Be a Vegan Chef? Here’s How.

Should you go to plant-based culinary school… if you want to become a vegan chef? Here’s what’s necessary (and what’s recommended) for this career path.

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May 4, 2022 8 min read

Sauteeing quinoa fried rice. Savory kimchi dumplings. Buddha bowls bursting with kale, chickpeas, and tahini. If you’re passionate about plant-based foods, you could consider making that interest into a career.

With record numbers of people eating plant-based diets, you might find yourself in good company among other pioneering vegan chefs. Here are some reasons to consider this career path and what the journey could look like for you.

This article is specifically tailored to those looking to become plant-based chefs. For a comprehensive guide on becoming a chef, read this one.

What Does a Vegan Chef Do?

In a nutshell, vegan chefs prepare dishes that are free of animal products. This might take the form of working within a dedicated plant-based kitchen. It could mean cooking specific vegan menu items – appetizers, entrees, or desserts – in a restaurant that otherwise serves animal products. It may even look like being a private chef for a vegan client.

There are plant-based food trucks and plant-based delivery services. There are research and development professionals who find the best recipes for plant-based meat substitutes. So many options exist in the world of plant-based culinary arts that vegan cooks and chefs should never feel limited.

Lauren Lewis“I’d say the biggest misconception is that it’s limiting or bland, when in fact, I think that it opens us up to an entirely new set of ingredients because you start to look a little more closely at what’s growing in the world. It’s endless – the bounty is really endless.”*Lauren Lewis, Private Chef And Plant-Based Enthusiast

The Rising Demand for Vegan Chefs

According to Statista, 14% of U.S. consumers follow a meat-free diet. Plant Based News claims that “veganism is no longer niche,” citing a 123% rise in vegan-specific job roles over the course of a 2020 study.

From Meatless Mondays where consumers go meat-free for a day to the flexitarian lifestyle that relies on plants and incorporates animal products very sparingly… the plant-based lifestyle seems to be here to stay.

Smiling chef using a digital tablet in the kitchen beside vegetables

This may be welcome news for aspiring vegan chefs. As more and more plant-based restaurants crop up and traditional restaurants look for vegan and vegetarian menu offerings, plant-based chefs could find themselves with a wealth of opportunity.

Rip Esselstyn“Look for the opportunities, because they should be everywhere. Hospitals, if they’re intelligent, will be doing stuff for their menu planning. Restaurants, food trucks, personal services, athletes that are looking to eat better are looking to fuel themselves with this high-octane fuel… All these start-up food companies are looking for people to help them with product development. How can they make this lasagna that meets these standards? How can they make this waffle mix or this soup? It just goes on and on and on.”*Rip Esselstyn, Founder and CEO of PLANTSTRONG

How to Become a Vegan Chef

There’s no playbook for how to become a vegan chef, but there are a few steps that may benefit you as you embark on this career path.

Get a Plant-Based Education

While no credential, degree, or diploma is necessarily required to work in a plant-based kitchen, getting an education can build foundational knowledge that may prepare you to become a vegan chef.

Culinary school is for everyone – vegans and vegetarians, too. Your personal diet choices have no impact on your ability to succeed in a plant-based culinary school like Escoffier – where you’ll find that all recipes in this curriculum are plant-based.

Many programs offer online cooking classes as well, which may provide much-needed flexibility for those with busy work schedules or family obligations.

A man is looking at a recipe on his tablet while in the kitchen

An education from a reputable institution like Escoffier can provide you with extensive knowledge of plant-based substitutes and recipe modifications, menu planning and design, and foodservice operation management. Plus, getting the chance to interact with experienced Chef Instructors and like-minded peers can provide you with a forum to ask questions and explore emerging trends.

What Are the Differences Between Vegetarian, Vegan, and Plant-Based?

While these three diets often get lumped together, each has a unique definition.

Vegetarian: A diet that includes no meat, but may include animal products like milk and eggs

Vegan: A diet that includes no animal products, including meat, eggs, dairy, and honey

Plant-Based: A diet that prioritizes plant-based ingredients like vegetables, grains, and nuts; may or may not include animal products

Hone Your Skills With Experience

Once you have an education under your belt, it’s time to get (plant-based) cooking. Many vegan chefs start their experience while they’re in culinary school – whether through a full- or part-time job in a plant-based kitchen or as part of an internship or externship.

The only way to get really good at something is to practice, practice, practice… and having the option to observe others working these skills can help too. You might learn about sautéing veggies and proteins in culinary school, but observe your boss steaming her tempeh before further preparing it for a final dish.

By picking up useful tips, getting guidance on your technique, and working with a team to create plant-based masterpieces, you can be better prepared to work your way up to a vegan sous chef or executive chef position.

Plant-Based vs. Vegan

The terms “plant-based” and “vegan” can often be used interchangeably, but they’re not exactly the same.

  • Plant-based is a blanket term that could refer to vegans, vegetarians, or even those who want to limit their consumption of animal products without avoiding them completely.
  • Vegan means a diet or lifestyle that completely eliminates animal products like meat, seafood, and dairy. Some vegans may eat animal byproducts, like honey, while others totally eliminate them – including in clothing, cosmetics, or household goods.

Earn Additional Culinary Credentials

While you likely will always be learning about new tools and techniques in the world of veganism, there may come a time you feel you’ve grasped the art of plant-based cooking.

There aren’t many plant-based credentials just yet, but the demand for these may grow as the number of vegan chefs does.

Shane Witters Hicks, Escoffier Boulder Graduate“By adopting a more plant-centric diet, you’re going to be motivated to be more creative, or you’re going to be forced to investigate ingredients that you never thought you’d cook with. And as a result, I think it’s actually kind of an expansion of your culinary capacities to cook plant-based.”*
Shane Witters Hicks Private Chef, Plant-Based Enthusiast, and Escoffier Graduate

Fortunately, continuing education and certification opportunities exist within the larger culinary world, such as those from groups like the American Culinary Federation, the World Association of Chefs’ Societies, or The Retail Bakers of America.

If you’re interested in building your credibility among the plant-based culinary community, you might consider earning an additional credential from one of these professional organizations.

Listen to The Ultimate Dish Podcast Episodes Featuring Plant-Based Chefs & Culinarians

Find a Plant-Based Program That Meets Your Needs

Seeking an education on becoming a vegan chef? A great place to start looking would be a plant-based culinary school.

There are a variety of plant-based and vegan cooking classes out there, but if you’re wanting a well-rounded education, you might consider getting that diploma or degree. Escoffier’s programs in the plant-based culinary arts can help prepare you to launch a meaningful career in plant-based cooking.

Rip Esselstyn“The greatest thing that we can do to reduce our carbon footprint and reduce carbon emissions is eat a plant-based diet (and prioritize) sustainability and kindness to all these animals we share the planet with. I really believe that over the next ten years, we as a country will be plant-forward.”*Rip Esselstyn, Founder and CEO of PLANTSTRONG

Students can discover the craft of plant-based culinary arts, examine farm-to-table principles, and complete a hands-on externship that may help them network with industry professionals. Reach out to us today to talk through your options for financing your education.

Explore other articles about plant-based and sustainable lifestyles:

*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.

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