Podcast Episode 31

PLANTSTRONG CEO Rip Esselstyn: Not All Plant-Based Foods Are Created Equal

Rip Esselstyn | 49 Minutes | February 22, 2022

In this episode, we chat with Rip Esselstyn, founder and CEO of PLANTSTRONG, an organization that is helping people lead healthier lives through plant-based nutrition. Rip is a New York Times Bestselling author, world record holder, professional triathlete, former firefighter, and sought after public speaker.

Rip Esselstyn spent a decade as one of the premier triathletes in the world. He then joined the Austin Fire Department where he introduced his passion for a whole-food, plant-based diet to Austin’s Engine 2 Firehouse in order to rescue a firefighting brother’s health. To document his success he wrote the national bestselling book, The Engine 2 Diet, which shows the irrefutable connection between a plant-based diet and good health. He is featured prominently in the documentary Forks Over Knives.

Listen as we chat with Rip about his journey to PLANTSTRONG and the truth behind plant-based food labels.

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Notes & Transcript


Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. In today’s episode, we’re speaking with Rip Esselstyn, founder of Plant Strong, an organization that is helping people lead healthier lives through plant-based nutrition. Rip is a New York Times bestselling author, world record holder, professional triathlete, former firefighter, and a sought-after public speaker.

Join us today as we chat with Rip about living a plant-based lifestyle and how he empowers people to take control of their health.

Good morning, Rip. How are you?

Rip Esselstyn: Hey Kirk. You know, I’m in Austin, Texas and things are going to get up to 70-something today. I swam this morning. Had a big bowl of oatmeal with fruit on top. I’m ready to talk to you.

The Game Changers Documentary

Kirk Bachmann: You’re ready to go. You look great. We are so honored, even a little nervous, to have you here today. I am really, really, really excited. A few more blushes though. Plant-based for 33 years, right? So I’ve heard about that bowl of cereal that you have every day for 33 years. I read yesterday that Game Changers is the most-watched documentary on television. Is that true?

Rip Esselstyn: Yeah. It now has more eyeballs on it than any other documentary ever, with over 100 million now, to date. That’s pretty cool.

Kirk Bachmann: Congratulations! It’s amazing. We saw the premier here in Boulder. The theater was just filled with athletes going crazy. It was really, really, special. Watched your TedX. Again, I am so excited to chat today. Over the weekend my family and I drove about five hours out, five hours back, visit my folks up in the mountains. We listened to a couple of your podcasts. We listened to Dr. Ornish and we listened to Mr. Dan Buettner and the Blue Zones, which fascinated my kids, by the way. They’re like, “Let’s move to Costa Rica! Let’s go to Costa Rica.”

Here’s what I love about the podcasts is that they seem to have this subtle theme of helping others. It’s not really in your face, it’s a little bit evangelistic, but it’s just very subtle. You used the word nudge. Just kind of a nudge. “Here’s some cool things to do in your kitchen with food. Here’s some cool things to do with your pantry. Here’s some cool things not to put on your counter when you want to change your environment” is the approach you took.

With that as a backdrop, Rip, to kick things off today, where does your story begin? It’s fascinating, with being plant-based and the message that you’re sharing with so many. How did it all start?

Rip Esselstyn: Yeah.

Kirk Bachmann: We’ve got time.

Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Rip Esselstyn: As you said, I’ve been after this for 33-plus years, and it all started back in Cleveland, Ohio with my father and his really ground-breaking revolutionary research at the famed Cleveland Clinic going back to 1984. That’s where it all began.

Kirk Bachmann: Are there some really memorable or powerful moments in those 30-plus years that you’ve been on this plant-based journey that really stand out? That really helped you define, “This is it. This is what I’m supposed to do.”

Rip Esselstyn: Yes, absolutely. I look back to when I made the transition and when I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, and that was in December of 1986. I started eating this way in January of 1987. By September of 1987, I had qualified to be a professional triathlete. I had gotten my pro card. I was fueling myself this way. I really started “evangelizing” the lifestyle starting in about 1988. My father already had some really profound evidence showing that you could not only halt but also reverse heart disease.

I’m looking for some really key moments as you phrased it in your questions. One would have to be when we had this little bet to see who had the lowest cholesterol when I was at Fire Station Two. That was the genesis for my whole first book, “The Engine Two Diet.” I had no idea that a bet could literally lead to where I am today. That’s kind of the way the dominoes fell and the way the dots connected.

And then writing my first book, that was huge. All the work and the effort that went into that and the pilot study with 62 people, and finding a publisher and going on the morning shows, Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS Morning Show, all that stuff. Then that leading to me getting this offer to be a healthy eating partner with Whole Food Market stores. Then becoming this healthy eating ambassador and spreading this message of hope and happiness. Then that leading to being involved in documentaries and me launching the Plant Strong podcast in 2019. And now this new brand that I’ve pivoted from Engine Two to Plant Strong.

To me, Kirk, the theme that as I’m stringing this all together is like from one thing to the next, I’ve had to overcome certain fears that I had. Who am I to write a book? Who am I to be a healthy ambassador? Who am I to do a podcast? Who am I to be involved in documentaries? All that stuff. Eventually, you just have to go, Why not me? Let’s go for it. Take that leap of faith and let the chips fall where they may.

What I’ve discovered along this journey is you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone. It’s so easy to not get out of your comfort zone and play it safe in life, but ultimately that’s not where the big growth comes. The big growth comes when you’re scared shitless and you don’t know if you’re going to succeed or fail. It’s like that Teddy Roosevelt quote. You know what, I may fail miserably, but at least I’m in the arena with the sweat and the blood and the tears.

Kirk Bachmann: I showed up.

Rip Esselstyn: And I’m swinging and I’m showing up.

A Firefighter’s Heart

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. Speaking about being scared, just to go back to the firehouse. That got a little personal? That was one of yours, one of your teammates that had the elevated cholesterol there. It became really personal very quickly.

Rip Esselstyn: When I got out of the fire academy, I went to Fire Station One. It’s the Animal House of all the fire stations. Literally, it is. It’s in the heart of the downtown. There’s two engines, a ladder, an EMS vehicle, so at any one point in time, there’s typically 18 guys in this firehouse. You’re sleeping in these open dorms, and the tones always going off. It’s fair to say it’s a pretty big testosterone fest. But I was there for about five years, and I decided to make the move to Fire Station Two. That’s when me and a couple of guys that I worked with at Fire Station One, we went together.

You said it was personal. This particular individual, J.R., we had been together for five years at Fire Station One, then we went to Two together, then we had this bet. His cholesterol came back and it was 344 milligrams per deciliter, at the age of 33. We quickly found out that he had a family history of men in his family dying before the age of 50 from heart attacks. So he was literally the next one in line for a fatal heart attack. I dragged him aside and said, “J.R. You don’t need to go down this path. There’s a better way. Look at my father’s research. Look at how I’ve been fueling myself as a professional triathlete.” He was like, “Let’s do this.”

As a group of firefighters at Fire Station Two – this is starting in 2003 – we started with one meal. Then that one meal led to two meals. That led to every meal. We’d come in at noon and get off at noon the following day. Eventually, it was lunch, dinner, breakfast, and then lunch before we left. He also embraced this when he was home as well. That’s when he got the staggering 146-point drop in 28 days.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s the key. Took the good habits home when he was off for 48 hours.

Rip Esselstyn: Not just at the firehouse.

A Student of Life

Kirk Bachmann: Just a great, great story. A legacy story.

Rip, I was going to mention that switch to a plant-based lifestyle about four years ago. I trained for years as a chef. My father is master pastry chef by German standards, came over here in the ‘60s. For much of my career, I worked with animal proteins, in hotels, our family restaurant, the bakery. Plant-based cooking and a plant-based lifestyle came to my life, my family, more recently. My training as a chef, I would always say, “Help me find my voice as a cook. As a chef, as a manager, as a leader.” But now I find myself learning again. And I truly believe as an educator as well, people are at their best when they’re learning. They’re curious and they’re persistent about gaining more knowledge. This is a tough question: do you still enjoy learning? Is that still part of your repertoire every day?

Rip Esselstyn: I love it. That’s one of the reasons why I started the podcast. Every week, I get to interview somebody, whether it’s a scientist, a physician, a chef, an athlete, about all the reasons they decided to go plant-based. I’m constantly learning from my guests. When you do your due diligence and you do your homework and you read their books do everything you need to do to make sure that you go in prepared for your interview. You’re constantly learning, constantly growing. I don’t ever want to get mired in this place where I feel like I know it all because I always want to be a student of life. I think that’s something that will serve me well in this lifetime.

Kirk’s Plant-Based Journey

Rip Esselstyn: Let me ask you a question. What inspired you to make the transition and up your game and go into plant-based?

Kirk Bachmann: Great, great question. For me, and I’m getting a little personal as well, 40 years ago, believe it or not, I had a kidney transplant. My father donated the kidney. My father is still doing great; he’s 85 years old. I’m doing great. 40 years ago was experimental surgery at a university hospital and all of that. As you age a little bit – and I like to exercise and all that – but I started to notice my blood work was changing a little bit. My doctors were saying, “Hey, how about thinking about adding some plants to your diet.”

Then around that same time, I was hanging around with some of my older colleagues and stuff that had already moved to a plant-based lifestyle. I met Derek and I met Ken and I met some other folks. I knew how to cook! It was just a matter of being disciplined. To your point – and I can’t make this stuff up, Rip – within a six-month time frame, I took maybe not a hundred points, but it took a lot of points off of my cholesterol. And I felt different. I wasn’t ready to run a marathon, and I wasn’t interested in running a marathon. I just wanted to feel great so I could be a good father and a good leader here at the school. For me, there was no turning back. My wife had been vegetarian for many years, so it was an easy fix. For me, I got a little scared. I got a little scared and I got comfortable just living my life. That fear made me make that change and make it quickly. I’ll never go back.

Rip Esselstyn: Do you have one kidney right now?

Kirk Bachmann: I have one kidney. That’s correct.

Rip Esselstyn: What’s interesting is animal protein is very, very hard on certain organs, specifically the kidneys and the liver. Something about the sulfur-containing amino acids that are much more elevating in animal protein really make the kidney…

Kirk Bachmann: The kidney work harder.

Rip Esselstyn: Work a lot harder, exactly. The fact that you’re transitioning or already have embraced a plant-based diet is very smart, and your kidney will thank you for that.

Kirk Bachmann: 40 years, and when I talk to my physicians, they don’t really have any data. I don’t know if I’m the longest living recipient of a kidney, but I’m probably pretty close, for the records that they keep. I’ve never felt better. No changes for me.

So films like Game Changers, I know a lot of people were probably charged up during that film. I cried during that film. I couldn’t believe how powerful it was. Scott, the long distance runner…

Rip Esselstyn: Scott Jurek.

Kirk Bachmann: He was in the crowd and when he came up onto the screen, the crowd went crazy. Just crazy. It’s a good community to be a part of. 100 percent.

Rip Esselstyn: It’s the best. It absolutely is the best.

Rip’s Father’s Legacy

Kirk Bachmann: Well said. So your father. I’ve listened to Caldwell [Esselstyn, Rip’s father] a lot on YouTube and such. Prolific physician and researcher. Researcher. That’s key. He founded the Heart Disease Reversal Program at the Cleveland Clinic, as you mentioned. He wrote the New York Times Bestselling guide “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.”

Rip Esselstyn: Right here. Here it is.

Kirk Bachmann: There it is. Absolutely changed the world. He’s also one of the original promoters of a whole foods and plant-based diet, right?

Rip Esselstyn: Yep. I think if you were to go back and look at it, there was William [Walter] Kempner, there was Pritikin, there’s Ornish, there’s McDougall, there’s my father.

Kirk Bachmann: Great names.

Rip Esselstyn: There is also John Robbins, Diet for a New America.

Kirk Bachmann: As a child, was there some influence? You started a plant-based diet a little bit later when you were a triathlete and such. Growing up, was there an influence around taking care of yourself?

Rip Esselstyn: Absolutely. It was interesting because I always watched my father and he would always be reading diet and nutrition. He had this insatiable thirst for it. I can tell you, in our house growing up, we ate just like everybody else. The one thing that my parents did not allow in our house was white bread or soda pop. But otherwise, almost everything was fine.

That all came to a screeching halt in 1984 when I he started his research at the Cleveland Clinic and he, to my mother, said, “Listen, Anne, if we’re going to ask these initial 22 patients to eat a whole food, plant-based diet with no meat, no dairy, no processed refined foods, then we need to do it as well.” They started that. I was off at college, but when I would come home at Christmas, Thanksgiving, summer time, this is how they were eating. I was so excited for them, for the research my father was embarking on.

A lot of people ask, “Did you revolt and rebel against this?” No. I’ve always loved and adored and respected my father so much, so I was just like, “Let’s do this.” He basically took one day a week off his surgery schedule so he could do this research. He got approval from up above. Every Tuesday when I was home, I would see him be in the kitchen. He’d be on phone calls and he would be calling each one of his patients because they would come on Mondays, they meet with him, they go over their food journal with them. He’d draw their blood, he’d do a complete lipid panel, weigh them, blood pressure. He called them with the results the next day. It was always super exciting because everybody’s numbers were just dropping off a cliff. He was like, “You’re doing great. Keep it up.” Or he’d have to say, “There’s something a little bit amiss here. Let’s talk and figure out what exactly is going on.” But he held their hand for five years. He saw them every other week for five years.

Kirk Bachmann: Isn’t that something?

Rip Esselstyn: He was not going to let these patients slip through the cracks. He felt confident enough after five years that he then pushed it back to once every month for the next five years.

Kirk Bachmann: Which is still a lot!

Rip Esselstyn: Exactly. But these patients knew in their heart that they had an amazing cheerleader and somebody that was not going to let them go. He’s a stern taskmaster, but there’s a lot of love behind it all, too.

Rip, The Healer

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. I love that.

I don’t believe you studied medicine formally like your father did, but in many ways when I hear you speak, you’re a healer in your own right. How’s your father responded to your work?

Rip Esselstyn: That’s nice of you to say that. He’s a big cheerleader of what I’m doing. The great thing is I’ve been able to – starting in 2010, I started throwing these seven-day immersion programs with Whole Foods Market’s sickest, unhealthiest team members. They had to medically qualify because their numbers were so bad for Whole Foods to basically subsidize them going. Since 2010, I’ve probably hosted 20 of these for close to 2000 Whole Foods team members. The beautiful thing is, every time I’ve run one of these, I invite my mom and my father to join. We’ve had the privilege of working together now for 10-11 years. Every time I throw one of these, they join me. For a number of years, I would throw three or four weekend events. They were always invited; they always came as well. We’ve kind of hand-in-hand been able to work together to really get this message out to as many people as possible.

He doesn’t lather a lot of false praise on people. He never has. But he, in his own way, has made it very well known to me how proud and happy he is of what I’ve done and how I’ve contributed to this space.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s beautiful. Just working with your parents, with your family, is pretty rewarding, right?

Rip Esselstyn: Oh yeah.

The Blue Zones Theme

Kirk Bachmann: I remember back in the day when we had a family restaurant. My father did the pastry and I did the cuisine. We didn’t always see eye to eye, but we were making it happen together. It was a beautiful time.

I was fascinated by the conversation with Dan Buettner about the Blue Zones. I caught the one piece, the acronym LIONS: Loma Linda, California; Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Sardinia, Italy. I didn’t know this, but these five cities are cities where people tend to live longer. What was most fascinating to me is that it was really about one’s environment, their surroundings, that made a difference. I think we both believe, from what I’ve heard, that finding one’s purpose in life is really, really important.

Tough question: do you believe that a plant-forward diet can help people find a healthier purpose? To get there, are their surroundings and their environment really that important?

Rip Esselstyn: I don’t know. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that by going plant-based, it will be easier to find your passion or purpose in life, unless that passion and that purpose is somehow intertwined with plant-based.

Kirk Bachmann: Okay.

Rip Esselstyn: If that’s the case, then absolutely. I think the thing that Dan has been able to do with the Blue Zones and point out is that when your environment is conducive to this, whether you’ve got to walk and commute two miles to get to work. You’ve got gardens everywhere. You have all this social engagement because you’re plugged into this club, this church, this five o’clock whatever. When the healthy choice is just a natural, easy choice, then that’s the best way for it to just kind of happen. You don’t have to go out of your way and work your ass off for it to happen. I think that’s what he’s found is one of the themes in every one of the cities that you mentioned, from Loma Linda to Sardinia, Italy.

Then, I think, the extent that we can do that here in our lives is very meaningful and helpful. For example: every morning – six days a week, I swim with a master’s team. I’ve been doing that now for over 25 years. It’s a group of guys and gals. We support each other. We cheer each other on. There’s a certain level of accountability as well.

I live in a house with my wife and my three kids, and everybody is plant-based. That’s the only choice we have in our house. It’s not like we have a house divided and one side of the refrigerator are the animal products and the dairy and the other side’s the plant-based. That, to me, is really nice. We live in a community where we have community centers. You can walk to the pickle-ball courts or to the swimming pool or the basketball. All that is kind of natural and easy.

I think the extent to which you can make all that stuff very natural and easy is going to be hugely beneficial for you. And I also understand that not everybody has that luxury in America right now. So I would tell you, if that’s the case, figure out what you’ve got to do, and make it happen. I know for a lot of people it’s going to be an uphill battle. That’s okay, too, because you’re worth it. You’re worth it. Your health is worth it. For a lot of people, this isn’t going to be easy, but it’s going to be worthwhile. You will thank yourself in five, ten years.

Writing The Engine 2 Diet Book

Kirk Bachmann: Speaking of worthwhile: your first bestselling book, The Engine Two Diet, although it includes recipes and meal plans, it’s really more than a cookbook. It’s essentially a life-saving guide and how to change your habits to save or improve your life. Really, really powerful. Was that the intention when you set out to write that book?

Rip Esselstyn: That’s a really good question because when I decided to write the book, it was just going to be about what me and some of the guys at the firehouse decided to do. Then have some recipes. But I decided that I’ve got to show the efficacy of eating this way, so I want to do a pilot study – much like my father did with his heart patients.

So I was able to get 62 people within two weeks that agreed to eat this way. I got a medical director on board. I got a laboratory where we could check blood, do blood draws venously through the vein. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that for the most part healthy people would get these kind of dramatic results in weight loss, in total cholesterol drop, in LDL, in triglycerides, in fasting glucose. It set the stage for the book. It made me so confident that this is the way to do this.

So after I had written the book and we were trying to come up with a title for the book, that’s why the subtitle, Kirk, is the Texas firefighter’s 28-day save-your-life plan that will burn away the pounds and lower cholesterol. But going into it, I had no idea what it was going to be. Sometimes when you’re diving into a recipe and you don’t exactly know how it’s going to work out. Intuition guides you a little bit. It worked out better than I ever could have imagined, that first book. So happy with it.

Food Labels Can Be Deceiving

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. Fast forward. When you look at the marketplace today, obviously plant-based is not a trend. It’s here. There’s a lot of information coming at us. Plant-based offerings, meatless products. Any advice for the consumer to have confidence in knowing that what they’re buying is actually healthy for them?

Rip Esselstyn: There is a ton of plant-based products that are littering the shelves of every grocery store right now. I would say that probably 90-95 percent of those are not healthy products. They’re plant-based, but they’re loaded with the second, third, or fifth ingredient is probably some sort of oil. They typically have gobs of sodium in them. All kinds of sugar. A lot of these dogs and burgers and nuggets and cheeses are loaded with soy protein isolates and concentrates. They’re not actually a whole food.

I would tell you to do just a couple things. One is you want to check the ingredients and make sure that the ingredients don’t have more than three different types of sugar. If you can, make sure that there’s no oils in there. Actually, that’s about it with the ingredients.

With the nutritional facts panel, I would tell you to look and see how much fat is in this product. If it’s over 25 percent of the calories are fat, you want to be careful with that one and maybe leave it on the shelf. The other thing is sodium. Our guideline is we want the sodium to remain in a one-to-one ratio. This is a guideline. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but a one-to-one ratio. If the calories are 180, we want the milligrams of sodium to be 180 or less. There’s not too many products that fit that bill, there.

Then the last thing is going to be the sugars. With the new label guidelines, companies now have to list how many grams of added sugar are in the product. That’s really, really helpful. I would tell you you want to make sure there’s no more than four to five grams of added sugar that’s in that product. That’s a rough [idea].

If you get either my first book or my third book, I have a whole chapter on how to read a label and how to become a label reading ninja warrior, because they are really sneaky right now with all these new products.

Eating Plant-Based is Economical

Kirk Bachmann: So education is an important piece of it.

Some objections that you hear to plant-based diets: they’re hard to maintain. People have to reorganize their pantry. My options are limited or expensive.

Rip Esselstyn: I would tell you that this is not expensive. This is actually the most economical way to eat on the planet. When you look at it, it’s really just peasant food. It is bananas. It’s potatoes. It’s rice. It’s beans. You don’t have to go to Whole Foods Market and an organic red bell pepper at $5.99 a pound in order to make this lifestyle work for a second. If you want to do organic, that’s fine. If you want to do conventional, by all means, conventional. Don’t let organic versus conventional get in your way. You can do frozen. I find frozen is super economical. You should see our freezer at home. We’ve got stacks and stacks: different green leafy vegetables, berries, black-eyed peas, rice, quinoa. It’s pretty phenomenal now what you can get frozen just for the convenience factor.

When it comes to variety, there are thousands of different types of beans, fruits, whole grains, vegetables. If for some reason you’re getting bored, I’m going to put it on you. It’s a lack of imagination. You could probably ask Kirk here and all of his different chefs at Escoffier and I bet you they’re finding that plant-based opens up a whole new vast cornucopia of plant-based delectability that we never realized was even there.

It’s a matter of perceptions and letting people realize that this is the most economical, healthy, and variety-paved way to eat on the planet. More and more people are realizing that’s the case.

The Draw of Firefighting

Kirk Bachmann: Super great advice. I’m going to come back to that in one second. Before I forget, I wanted to mention I was actually born in Chicago. Grew up there before we moved to Colorado. Two of my lifelong childhood friends became firefighters in downtown Chicago. I’m just so curious; you went from being a professional athlete to a firefighter. How did that happen? I don’t want to wrap up today without knowing the answer to that.

Rip Esselstyn: That’s interesting. I had been doing this triathlon gig for almost a decade. I was 33 years old. I had been doing it since I was 23, and frankly, I was thinking, “You know, what’s my next move going to be?” I had some triathlete buddies. They weren’t professional, but they were age-groupers, and they were firefighters here in Austin. They said, “Rip, you know, firefighting is a pretty amazing job. You go to work. Usually four to five people on the crew. It’s kind of like a big slumber party. During that slumber party, anywhere from five to 15 times, the tone goes off and you have to go on medical calls or water rescue calls, or make a fire or lifting assistance.” I was like, “Wow!”

So I actually went. You can spend a day at one of the firehouses. You have to fill out the paperwork and then you can go. So I spent a whole day at Fire Station One, going on calls, hanging out at the house. I was like, “This…

Kirk Bachmann: …is cool!

Rip Esselstyn: This is cool. This is a dream. For somebody like me that spent the last decade just gallivanting all over the globe, swimming, biking, and running, I needed a little bit of an adrenaline-pumped next move, and so firefighting fit that bill perfectly. I was fortunate enough to get on with the Austin Fire Department in 1997.

Kirk Bachmann: Wow! Giving back. It’s kind of the them of your life. Giving back. The stories that my buddies tell me: it’s not just fighting fires, it’s helping people.

Rip Esselstyn: You know what I have discovered is that the brotherhood and the sisterhood of firefighters throughout the world, there is such an amazing bond there. Almost all of them have these huge, wonderful, magnanimous hearts. They are just the salt of the earth, a wonderful tribe of human beings. I will always be a emergency first responder of sorts. So grateful for the 12 years that was a firefighter for the city of Austin, and the relationships that I made, and everything that I learned along the way.

Plant-Based Opportunities Are Vast and Growing

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. I love it.

So here at Escoffier over the last year, we’ve been kind of busy. We launched an online plant-based diploma and associates degree, and we also launched a diploma here in Boulder, on ground, for residential students who don’t want to go to school online. That launched in September. Both programs have been wildly popular. Great, great students with unbelievable questions and curiosity.

Because this little chat that we’ve had today will be pushed out to a bunch of our students, upwards of 10,000 students, what advice would you give to students or, even more specifically plant-based culinary entrepreneurs for whatever they want to do: make a restaurant better or create a food truck. What’s Rip’s few words of advice? No pressure.

Rip Esselstyn: I think that if you are going down this path and you’re at Escoffier because this is something that resonates with you and you have a passion for, then you definitely are going to be riding that wave, that plant-based wave, and it is cresting and it is about 50 feet tall. You could not be in a better place in a better time in history.

You mentioned it, Kirk, but between most restaurants realizing that they’ve got to have some pretty kick-ass plant-based options because this is the way this world is heading. If you’re entrepreneurial and you want to start a food truck or a restaurant or something like that, or a food delivery business or service. In Austin, I have people all the time saying, “Can you point me to somebody that makes whole-food plant-based meals?” There’s nobody! To me there’s all kinds of gaps and openings right now.

But everybody eats. When you connect all the dots and you realize that in 2022 we’ve got record levels of obesity, record levels of chronic Western disease, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s. Almost all of these are manifestations of us eating unhealthy American food: the meat, the dairy, the processed refined foods. Let me figure out exactly where I wanted to go with that, because it was good!

Kirk Bachmann: It’s opportunity. There’s opportunity out there.

Rip Esselstyn: And the opportunity, it is nutty. But between what we’ve got going on right now with our health, between what you’ve got going on right now with the fact that mother Earth is crying for help, and the greatest thing that we can do to reduce our carbon footprint and reduce carbon emissions is eat a plant-based diet, sustainability, 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. I think Malcolm Gladwell says that the tipping point is when you get to ten percent. If I’m not mistaken, we’re approaching eight percent right now of people in America right now that basically are self-proclaimed vegans, plant-based eaters. This is happening, and it’s happening fast.

Look for the opportunities, because they should be everywhere. Hospitals, if they’re intelligent, will be doing stuff for their menu planning. Restaurant, food trucks, personal services, athletes that are looking to eat better are looking to fuel themselves with this high-octane fuel. It just goes on and on and on.

Kirk Bachmann: Great advice. Really, really appreciate that.

Rip Esselstyn: Then the other thing, Kirk, that I completely left out is what I’m doing right now, is all these plant-based products. Like I mentioned, most of them right now are unhealthy. For example, we’re looking for people to help us with product development. I would imagine that 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? All kinds of opportunities.

Rip Esselstyn’s Ultimate Dish

Kirk Bachmann: Great, great opportunities.

Rip, the name of the podcast is The Ultimate Dish. If I had to ask you, what is, in your mind, the ultimate dish? It can be a specific dish. It can be who you’re dining with. In your world, what’s the ultimate dish?

Rip Esselstyn: Can I tell you two?

Kirk Bachmann: I’d love two.

Rip Esselstyn: I’ve got two. The first would be what I start every morning with. It’s named after myself. It’s the Rip’s Big Bowl of Cereal. It is four different whole grains that I mix together. It’s rolled oats, it’s Ezekiel 4:9 nuggets. It is Uncle Sam’s wheat flakes, and it’s also bite-sized shredded wheat. I take those four, mix them together, throw in a little bit of ground flaxseed meal, chia seeds, walnuts, and that’s my base every morning. To that, I will add either mango, banana, grapefruit, pomegranate seeds – they’re not called pomegranate seed, what are they? Pomegranate arils or something like that.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s right. That’s right. Very good.

Rip Esselstyn: But the beautiful thing is always is changing because depending on the fruit that I put on top of it and what I’m feeling like that day. Kiwi, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries. It’s absolutely endless. That’s one of my ultimate dishes.

The other ultimate dish, there’s a variation of it in every one of my books, and it’s the Raise the Roof Sweet Potato Lasagna that everybody loves. This is a dish that we make almost every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, every big holiday. It is the cleanest, tastiest lasagna that I’ve ever had. It recreates itself really easily and really well. It is the bomb. Absolutely.

I’ve got to have a third, because this third ultimate dish is…

Kirk Bachmann: Full podium.

Rip Esselstyn: This is just rice and beans extravaganza. It’s brown rice. It’s black beans, and it’s a big heaping thing of brown rice, and on top of that I will throw almost a cup and half of black beans. Then on top of that I will put water chestnuts. I will put really finely cut kale, tomatoes, bell peppers, green onions, avocados, salsa, and then a little bit of low-sodium tamari. I could eat that every night for dinner. It’s low cost, high color. It hits every one of your taste buds. I love it. And I love the simplicity of it, too.

Kirk Bachmann: I absolutely love it. Hey, Rip, this has been so much fun. You are the first one to give us three ultimate dishes.

Rip: I couldn’t help myself.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. I love it.

We have a school in Austin, a residential school, so I come down now and again. I don’t think I want to challenge you to a swim off or a run, but I’ll come cook with you.

Rip Esselstyn: Cook off!

Kirk Bachmann: I’ll come cook with you any time, Rip.

Rip Esselstyn: I would love that.

Kirk Bachmann: I so appreciate the time. Thank you for everything that you’re doing out there.

Rip Esselstyn: Kirk, thank you to you and Escoffier, and all the things you guys are doing in the plant-based world now. Thank you for making that leap into plant-based. It is so worthwhile. For all your listeners out there, more plants. Plant Strong is where it’s at. Give it a go.

Kirk Bachmann: Well said, Rip.

And thank you for listening to the Ultimate Dish podcast brought to you by the August Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links and other resources. You can also browse other episodes and subscribe.

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