Podcast Episode 90

Why “Rainbow Plant Life” Founder Nisha Vora Ditched Law for Food Blogging

Nisha Vora | 42 Minutes | August 29, 2023

In today’s episode, we speak with our guest Nisha Vora, a lawyer turned foodie and full-time blogger behind Rainbow Plant Life.

In this interview, Nisha outlines her journey to mastering vegan cooking at home through flavorful vegan recipes, entertaining cooking videos, and tips for making a vegan lifestyle easy. She also shares how she began to build a thriving social media presence, garnering over 1 million subscribers on YouTube and 700k+ followers on Instagram.

Listen as Nisha talks about landing her first cookbook deal, becoming “plant curious,” and how she was able to find success after pivoting careers.

Watch the podcast episode:

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Notes & Transcript


Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. Today, I’m speaking with Nisha Vora, a lawyer turned foodie and blogger behind Rainbow Plant Life, a once side hustle turned full-time job. With one visit to her beautiful site, you’ll see that her main mission is to help you master vegan cooking at home through flavorful vegan recipes, entertaining cooking videos, and tips for making a vegan lifestyle easy.

On top of running a successful blog, Nisha also maintains a flourishing social media presence, garnering over one million subscribers on YouTube, and 700,000-plus followers on Instagram. But it doesn’t stop there. Back in 2019, she published “The Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook,” featuring healthy, delicious, everyday cooking with more than 90 nutritious recipes. She’s currently working on her second cookbook.

Nisha’s work has been featured across leading publications, including CNN, BuzzFeed, Forbes, Glamour, Women’s Health, Elle, Food 52, Refinery 29 and more.

Listen as we chat about Nisha’s decision to leave her job as a lawyer to pursue her passion, and key tips for launching a successful food blog.

And there she is! Good morning. I’m completely out of breath!

Nisha Vora: That was a long intro. Thanks for having me.

Kirk Bachmann: My goodness. My goodness. How are you?

Nisha Vora: I’m doing really well. Thanks, how are you?

Kirk Bachmann: I’m perfect. If I was any better, I’d be you, I think.

Nisha Vora: That’s a good place to be. I’m very happy and very grateful for all I get to be.

Kirk Bachmann: Well, you’re in San Diego. I’m in Colorado. Typically, the sun shines every day. It’s been a little rough, but you’ve had your weather challenges in San Diego as well, I understand.

Nisha Vora: We have. I sound like the biggest baby when I talk about how it’s not perfect weather here, because it’s fine. We’re fine. But it’s not as sunny and warm as it typically is, so we’ve been struggling and crying, and trying to pick up the pieces of our shattered lives because the weather isn’t perfect.

Kirk Bachmann: You’re spoiled in San Diego.

Nisha Vora: We are.

A Vegan’s Trust

Kirk Bachmann: My sister went to San Diego State University, and that’s where she met her husband and the whole bit. You’ve got the sea breeze, the sun, and a lot of great restaurants. In fact, that’s a great place to jump into your vegan background. Is it a thriving vegan scene in San Diego?

Nisha Vora: It’s very easy to eat out vegan here. I think most restaurants have at least an option or two that’s not just a garden salad or french fries. It’s very easy. I would say there are a few restaurants that I really like that are high quality, but I used to live in New York City, so I’m a bit spoiled on that end in terms of the quality and the innovation. I think it’s perfectly nice, but as someone who is spoiled, it’s maybe not Tier One. It’s Tier Two, in my opinion.

Kirk Bachmann: I have to ask about your level of trust. My family skews plant-based. Boulder’s pretty good with that, at least open to it. Lots of options. But I do have friends who are very cautious when they go out to restaurants of what’s really going on behind that door. Are they really preparing this the way I think they are? Are you pretty comfortable with that?

Nisha Vora: I’ve learned to become comfortable, just because if I want to live a relatively normal social life where when I go out to eat, it’s not always because I think I’m going to have the best meal of my life. It’s more because it’s an opportunity to see friends or to go on date night. I don’t want to feel anxious the whole time, and think, “Oh, are they really using chicken stock instead of vegetable stock?” That ruins the point of going out.

I always tell the server that I’m vegan and that I don’t eat any animal products. Usually servers know what that is, especially in 2023. If there’s any sort of hesitancy, I say, “That means no animal products: no butter, not dairy, no cheese, no yogurt, etc.” I’ve had generally positive experiences where servers are very like, “Let me go double check. I’m pretty sure this is vegan, but let me go double check.” That makes me feel more confident and comfortable. I just try to be as normal about it as possible, otherwise you feel a lot of anxiety and that ruins the dining out experience.

Food in the Cities, at Home, and Abroad

Kirk Bachmann: I love that response, too. It’s super appropriate. It’s the idea of not living your life being suspicious. Going to have a good time, sharing, breaking bread with your guests, and a feeling of community.

I know that you lived in New York for most of your life, Brooklyn.

Nisha Vora: Actually, I grew up in California, but I lived most of my adult life in New York.

Kirk Bachmann: Oh, you did grow up in California! In the same area?

Nisha Vora: No. I grew up in a really small town about three hours north of San Diego called Barstow. If anyone has done the L.A. to Las Vegas route, you have stopped over for gas and fast food in Barstow. That’s pretty much what it has and what it’s known for.

Kirk Bachmann: We talked about it a little bit before the show started, but ever interested in moving back to the East Coast?

Nisha Vora: Yeah, maybe. Specifically New York City. I think New York City is such a magical place in terms of the culture, the vibrancy, the food culture, the innovation. Sometimes I do miss that lifestyle and that pace of living. My partner and I tinker and toy with the idea of moving back. My parents and my sister both live in San Diego, so that’s the biggest draw for me here. We’re kind of figuring out, “Is there a way to be bi-coastal? Is that a possible world we can navigate and live in?”

Kirk Bachmann: This day and age you can, right?

Nisha Vora: Yeah.

Kirk Bachmann: I was just at the restaurant show in Chicago over the weekend. One thing that I really noticed – I’m not sure what the scene’s like in San Diego, but I will say this – Boulder’s had its challenges with staffing and the restaurant industry in general. But boy, the minute you walk into the city of Chicago – and I’m sure New York’s the same way – there is a culture of hospitality that just blankets you. It was almost a little stunning. “Wow, there are a lot of servers here! The food’s coming out really, really fast.”

Nisha Vora: Yes, absolutely.

Kirk Bachmann: It was nice. When it comes to travel, for me, the older I get, I’m comfortable popping into Chicago for a couple of days, but I can’t wait to get home. I miss the home-cooked meals, the family and all of that. How about you? Do you like to stay around the house, or are you a traveler?

Nisha Vora: By nature of my work, I’m mostly at home because I’m always working on something at home, but I do love to travel. I’m not someone who feels like after a few days I need to get back. As we evolve our business, I would love to integrate more long-term travel into it. Maybe I spend a few months in Bali and learn how to –

Kirk Bachmann: How about that?

Nisha Vora: I went there last year and took a vegan cooking class. I got to experience local Balinese food, and it was amazing. I would love to be able to do that on a more regular basis. Obviously, the last couple of years, travel abroad has been a little bit harder. I would love to incorporate more travel into my life. My partner and I actually did a six-month backpacking trip. That really stoked that love and passion for travel. And not just vacation traveling: traveling and learning new places and immersing yourself, for sure.

When It’s Worth the Best Version

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. What I also love is that I read, as it relates to your cooking philosophy. I kind of want to unpack it a little bit. You said, and I quote: “You’re worth it. You deserve to eat really good food that doesn’t compromise on flavor. You deserve to eat the best version of your favorite food.” To me, the best part of that is “the best version of your favorite food.” Has food and cooking become too complicated for some? This sounds like keeping it simple is the important thing, but this idea of the best version of your favorite foods: what do you mean by that?

Nisha Vora: I think, especially in the vegan world, you have to recreate some of your favorite foods from childhood, from your culture, whatever it might be. I think that if you really want a shepherd’s pie or a bolognese or mac and cheese, whatever it might be, that you deserve to make the best version of that. Maybe that mac and cheese doesn’t have six different vegetables in there masquerading as mac and cheese. Maybe it is a truly indulgent mac and cheese that reminds you of those comforting feelings. Maybe it’s not the “healthiest” thing to eat, but maybe you don’t eat it all the time. Fine.

There is a tendency in a lot of vegan spaces to be like, “How many vegetables can I shove into this? How can I make this the healthiest dish possible?” I think that if you are already starting with vegetables and legumes and whole grains, and things that are so good for you, I just don’t think it’s necessary to make the healthiest version of something because you’re not going to enjoy it as much. It’s not going to satisfy that same craving that you’re looking for when you want a mac and cheese or when you want a bolognese, or whatever it is. Maybe that’s not how you eat all the time, but when you’re trying to make a specific dish, I think it’s worth it to take a couple of extra steps or to lean in a little bit into the comfort zone, or to lean in to, “maybe it is worth going to get that specialty ingredient that is typically used in this recipe that maybe is a little outside of my comfort zone.”

I think that’s kind of my philosophy. If you want to eat a certain recipe, I think it’s worth it to make the best version of it possible.

Kirk Bachmann: No, I love that. What you mentioned, shepherd’s pie. I think that’s so interesting. In my case, it’s that “last meal.” It took us a long time to figure this out, but in my home, this idea of long, slow-roasted onions, and then lentils that are essentially braised in mushroom stock, takes the place of the traditional lamb protein. Then, of course, some potato puree on top, and we’ll finish it in the oven, bake it. We still call it shepherd’s pie, but it’s really onions, lentils, with potatoes.

Nisha Vora: I have a similar recipe on my blog and it’s so good. So comforting.

Leveling Up with Seasonal Produce

Kirk Bachmann: It’s super, super easy. As I was thinking about chatting with you. I’m not going to call anyone out. I dined at a restaurant back in January, and when I was preparing for this, it brought back this memory. “Oh my gosh! Those green beans on the menu.” In January. Which is fine, but for me, as a chef, and probably for you, it’s so much easier to think about beets or leeks, or celery root, or kale. Something that’s in season somewhere.

In a related question, I’m really curious how you feel about using fresh and seasonal ingredients in terms of this idea of yielding the tastiest food, the best version with the best flavor.

Nisha Vora: Absolutely. I try to prioritize seasonality as much as I can, especially in recipes where that vegetable or that fruit is an anchor that is so important. If you’re making a shepherd’s pie where everything is getting cooked down in the oven, maybe it’s less important that the carrots are super seasonal. You’re going to have this really hardy meld of flavors.

But if you’re making a broccoli “steak.” I’m putting “steak” in air quotes. You want that to be the best broccoli. It’s going to taste so much better. That’s the star of the show. Or if you’re making a tomato salad. You want to be using late summer heirloom tomatoes if you can. That’s going to be so much better than a February beefsteak tomato salad, which I wouldn’t even bother eating.

I try to prioritize it as much as possible. I am a little too blessed living in California because we have so many things in season at so many times. Strawberry season here is nine or ten months, which is wild. Sometimes it’s a little tricky to be like, “Fennel is in season,” and people are like, “No, it’s not.”

Kirk Bachmann: It’s in my backyard, yeah.

Nisha Vora: I try to prioritize that as much as possible. In my YouTube videos, I’ll often talk about one of the easiest ways to level up your cooking without doing any extra work is to shop seasonally. Your produce will just taste better, sweeter, fresher, and that alone, without changing any seasoning, without taking any extra steps, will just make your food taste better.

Why Meat is Still in the Name

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. I’m pulling a lot of TikTok quotes out of here. “Level up your cooking.” I love that.

I was talking to a friend of mine. He and his brother have a really cool company called Wicked Healthy. It’s plant based. Chad and Derek. I was talking to him at the restaurant show, actually. They were introducing a line of plant-based seafood. I said, “Why is it that you go to the grocery store and it’s ‘chicken-less fingers.’ Why are we still using the protein nomenclature?” I think some of that’s changing. It used to be very difficult to find plant-based products. They were down THAT aisle, and you had to go to Whole Foods and it was behind this. Obviously, that trend has changed.

But Chad made a really interesting comment. He’s been vegan for a long time. He said, “No one’s suggesting – it’s a personal choice. Some people love the flavor of proteins, whatever it is. It helps with muscle memory. Or a comfortable narrative.” Do you believe that’s changing? Five years from now, will we just call things what they are? These are chickpeas and red onions.

Nisha Vora: That’s a good thought exercise. I hope, in the sense, that I love cooking with things like chickpeas and lentils and tofu and tempeh more so than things like TVP or more processed things. Not because I’m the biggest health freak, but because I think it’s so exciting to take this very simple, budget-friendly whole food and be like, “What can I turn you into?”

I do think it’s nice to have the labels as “burger” or “sausage” for people who are plant-curious, maybe new to this, know that maybe they should be eating less animal products, either for health reasons or environmental reasons, or for animal cruelty reasons, but don’t really know what it’s like, or see it as this hippy-dippy thing where you just eat granola and salads. I think it’s nice to have that familiar language for them to feel like, “Oh, it’s not that different.”

But I do think that in the future, it would be nice if we didn’t have to call everything a label that already exists. I don’t think we’re quite there yet. Recently, I had someone come and do work on my house, and I had some leftover chickpea tacos that had a cilantro pesto and these spices on them. I asked the guy that was there, “Do you want some tacos? I have leftover tacos.”

He was like, “Chick-a-pea. I’ve never had a chick-a-pea.”

I was like, “Never?” He was calling it “chick-a-pea,” which I thought was so cute.

He was like, “What is this? This is so good.” For folks like that, I think having the familiar labels makes it a little bit easier to understand; you’re not going to be sacrificing that much. You’re going to be able to enjoy the familiar textures and flavors that you do enjoy and that you’ve grown up with. But I don’t think we’re quite there yet, to be like, “Chickpea link,” instead of sausage. What is a chickpea link? People have no idea what that is.

Kirk Bachmann: But the taco, familiar term. He tries it. Noelle and I will be over for those later after the show.

You said another very interesting comment. “Plant-curious.” It’s interesting. A lot has to do with where you are in the country, too. I did my undergraduate work at the University of Oregon, otherwise known as Hippie-ville, right?

Nisha Vora: Yeah. You probably had lots of access to ingredients.

Teaching Herself to Really Cook

Kirk Bachmann: It was very common. It was just sort of the way a whole population of people ate in that part of the country, in Eugene, Oregon. It was a super comfortable thing. Some of that is just finding its way across the country. I think it’s important.

I want to segue to talk a lot more about you. Your story is incredibly fascinating, lots of layers, especially when it comes to career transitions. You became a lawyer – this is so interesting to me – to save the world, is what you’ve said. But now, in a very serendipitous way, you’re saving the world through food. Not to put too much pressure on your shoulders. But I do love that.

Let’s go back a little bit – a little time traveling – to your childhood. Let’s just start with cooking. When would you say that your love for cooking began? Did your mom inspire you in the kitchen? I know you cooked a family meal at the early age of sixteen, which is incredibly stressful, a great accomplishment. Take us back. When did this all start to come together?

Nisha Vora: My parents are from India. They’re immigrants from India. My mom cooked home-cooked Indian food probably six nights a week. I was exposed to a lot of other food because after school, we would go get fast food, or we would eat Lunchables. Just not great food for lunch and after school. I had a 50 percent home-cooked, vegetarian, Indian diet, and then a 50 percent standard American processed diet.

I think by the time I was 14, I thought, “I’m kind of tired of eating this really junky food, and I want to learn how to cook for myself, in addition to the stuff that my mom makes at home.” I was looking for something different, more varieties, better nutrition. I just started learning how to cook by watching the Food Network.

Kirk Bachmann: Oh wow!

Nisha Vora: My dad would Tivo – DVR, I’m aging myself – record those shows with that technology. I’d watch them after school. I was very academic. I always did well in school. I really liked school. I really approached learning how to cook with the same mentality. I would take notes. I would pause. “Okay, this is how you do this. This is why you saute the onions this way.”

On the weekends, my mom would maybe go to the mall, and I would be like, “Drop me off at Barnes and Noble.” I would just sit in the cookbook section and read cookbooks. I sort of started to learn foundational things, and then started applying them in the kitchen. That’s when I started to really fall in love with it.

I really fell in love with it as a way to feed my family and my family friends. My best friend’s family, who lived nearby, we would have these feasts, we’d call them. It was basically like Thanksgiving, but any time of the year. We would do this a few times a year. As you mentioned, I cooked my first Thanksgiving meal at 16. I just started to see the light and joy in people’s eyes as they would eat the dishes I made. That brought me so much joy. That’s how I started to fall in love with cooking.

As I got into school, I didn’t have as much time for cooking, but when I did do it in college and law school, it was that same joy of experiencing other people eat[ing] your food and feeling so happy and grateful. The camaraderie of eating together, which I really loved.

Kirk Bachmann: Again, I’m going to dive into a couple things you mentioned. It makes me think a lot of different people I’ve met over time feel really good if they limit their drinking, for example, or just completely go away from it. Or if they change their diets, or they exercise a little bit more, they feel good. Even at a young age, when you started to realize, “Hey, I’ve got to move away from these prepackaged foods that are so readily available to everyone,” did you feel better? Did you already notice that it manifested itself in a unique way that you just felt great at 16? Because you decided to eat a different way?

Nisha Vora: I think you feel pretty good at 15, 16 regardless. So I don’t know so much about that, but I do know that it was so fun to start learning this new skill and this new way of, not fending for myself, but being able to provide food for myself and being able to provide it for my family and friends, which was really exciting.

Law: Excitement to Disillusionment

Kirk Bachmann: You fell in love with cooking and baking, but you still made the decision to become a lawyer. And not just any lawyer: you went to Harvard Law School, graduated – major accomplishment. I should say congratulations. That’s really amazing. But you’ve mentioned that corporate law was soul-crushing. I’m curious why you initially chose that path for your life career.

Nisha Vora: As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in an Indian immigrant household, and education was always the anchor of our lives, the forefront thing. My parents never pressured me, but I loved school. I loved the academic environment. I wanted to go to university. I wanted to go on to graduate school. Those were things I valued and really wanted to do.

Then when I was in college, I did an internship at a legal services office in Oakland, California. I went to school in the Bay Area. I was basically working with low income immigrant women who were the victims of domestic violence. We were using this specific legal provision on the books to help them get legal status so they could leave their abusers. It was this very concrete way that I could see, “Wow! I’m using this law as this very specific tool to help people who need help the most. I really want to do that with my life. I want to use the law to improve people’s lives and to make a difference in their lives, and to make this world a slightly better place than it is.”

This is obviously a very idealistic 19-year-old speaking, so I went on to law school. I loved law school. I loved the academic rigor. I loved the debate environment of what are good ways to approach social problems. It was the actual practicing of law that was very depressing.

After law school, I went to work at a corporate law firm on Wall Street, which is never what I wanted to do in the first place, but was a high-paying job to pay some bills in a quick way. That was soul-crushing for many reasons. After that, my partner and I did a long backpacking trip, trying to figure out, “Who am I? What do I want? What do I want out of life?” I went back to law in the nonprofit space, which is where I thought I would work in a similar type of work that I had done in college.

It just became very clear to me that the law in the U.S. is very disillusioning. When I worked at the corporate law firm, I got to see how easy it was for big corporate actors, like multinational banks, to get away scot-free after they had done illegal things. Then, when I worked in the nonprofit space, I was representing low-income tenants, and the only thing they had done wrong was be too poor to pay their rent. Even though there were laws on the books to protect them, I saw how easy it was to twist those laws to evict them. It was basically just two very different worlds where the laws were being used in these very different ways. It just felt very disillusioning. That’s when the wheels started to turn. “Maybe this is not the way that I’m supposed to be helping people. Maybe this is not the career for me.”

The Courage – and Doubt – to Change

Kirk Bachmann: I’d love to move forward and use food as a metaphor, in many ways, of cleansing, or food as medicine, or a passionate career. I’m not sure where to go first, though. We can talk about your decision to go vegan, but maybe before that, could you weave in Rainbow Plant Life and how that came to fruition? I’m thinking of students – particularly online students – who make big choices to change their career. They’ve always had a love for cooking. It’s scary. They have to jump off that cliff. I’d love for you, if you could, to talk a little bit how difficult that decision was. What did you learn about yourself during that time, as well?

Nisha Vora: So many good questions in there. As I mentioned, I was feeling disillusioned and unhappy with the law. I knew that I wanted to do something else. Initially, I was just grabbing at things. I thought, “Maybe gardening is for me.” I tried out gardening. Not good at it. Did not enjoy it. I tried out coding. This is when coding boot camps became very popular. I spent like six months learning how to do basic coding. I was like, “I don’t think my brain is wired this way.”

Eventually, I was like, “I’ve always loved cooking. Why don’t I just lean into that?” So I started not even as an attempt to find a new career, but maybe this is just a fun relaxing outlet for me. I started posting photos of food I was cooking on Instagram back in 2016 when Instagram was a very different platform. It started to take off. People were inspired by what I was making or interested in what I was doing. I started to grow to the point where I thought, “Maybe this can be some sort of job. Maybe I can channel this budding Instagram account into a job of some sort.”

I wasn’t necessarily ready to leave law, in the sense of my mental state. I was like, “But I’ve invested so much into this career. This is who I am. I’m a smart, academic person. I’m not a creative person. But I’m also so miserable. So maybe we just see where this goes and maybe we can find a better, happier career than what we’re currently doing.”

So I used that as an opportunity to apply to a few food startups in New York City, where I lived at the time. There was a food startup that decided I was either smart enough or ambitious enough or creative enough. They hired me to do social media, recipe development, food photography, copywriting. Just a lot of different things. I started doing that in the beginning of 2017. Rainbow Plant Life was still in its infancy at that point, and I just continued to build it on the side, on the weekends, in the mornings before work and the evenings after work. It started to take off and continued to take off until, eventually, two-and-a-half years later, I was like, “I think it’s time to go full-time on my business.”

But those two-and-a-half years, there was a lot of self-doubt, for sure. Did I do the right thing? Did I just give up this really prestigious career that I worked so hard to get to and that my parents worked so hard to put me in the position to be in? One of the things I really struggled with was that I had always been smart. I could just introduce myself, “Hi, I’m Nisha. I’m a lawyer.” People would automatically know, “She works hard. She’s ambitious. She’s intelligent.” But once I was no longer a lawyer – “Hi, I’m Nisha. I work in food.” People would be like, “What? What do you do?” I would have trouble explaining what I did because there were so many random things I did, but also, I just wasn’t confident in my decision yet. There were a few years of being uncomfortable. In the back of my mind knowing I made the right decision. “I’m building toward something that’s useful and that’s going to make me happier and that’s going to make a difference,” but I hadn’t seen the results yet. There’s that uncomfortable period where you’re transitioning, where you haven’t “made it.” You’re not sure of yourself. There’s definitely some self-doubt and insecurity there.

The Vegan Invitation to Creativity

Kirk Bachmann: Such good advice. I appreciate your transparency in sharing that. So many of our students are faced with the same sort of, “Oh my gosh! Did I do the right thing? Am I going to be able to provide for my family?” Around this same time, you also moved to be completely vegan. I’d love, if you wouldn’t mind, sharing any evangelistic thoughts for those who are listening and who might be on the fence about completely changing. One of the first things we do with our students who are migrating to a plant-based world is we start with the pantry. Really simple. Let’s just see what you’re used to eating. Let’s put it all over here on this table. Then we’ll restock. Any advice for those who are feeling some hesitation to move in a different direction when it comes to the food they put into their bodies?

Nisha Vora: I think that there’s often a framing of going vegan or being vegan is a sacrifice of some kind. There’s a restriction of some kind. It’s a lot of take out and not adding back in. For me, being vegan, cooking vegan, has been the most rewarding and most fun part of my experience with food. There’s just so many creative things you can do when you don’t have to start with a chicken breast or a pork loin – I’ve forgotten the terminology at this point.

When you start with a chicken breast, you’re limited by what you can do with it, how you can safely cook it. Then, you usually say, “Now that I have my chicken breast, what do I want to add on the side? How do I want to build my meal around it?” But if you start with, let’s say, fennel. Do you want to roast it? Do you want to shave it thinly and make a salad? Do you caramelize it in a cast iron pan? Do you want to ribbon it? There are so many things you can do, and then you can think, “There’s a hundred different flavors I can pair with fennel? Do I like it with walnuts? Do I like it with oranges?” I feel like you have so much more creativity. In terms of students who are listening who are actually cooking for a living or seeking to cook for a living, I think it just makes you a more creative cook.

And for anyone who is just thinking about what they eat and not so much about their career in cooking or cooking for a living, I think it’s still really exciting. I personally feel so much more energized. I feel happier. I feel like every time I eat a meal, I think, “This is fun. This is exciting.” Once you stop thinking about it as, “Oh, I cannot eat chicken. I can’t eat pork. I can’t eat cheese. I can’t eat yogurt,” whatever it is, it’s more like, what can you add into your diet to make it more fun and exciting? I’ve loved cooking for a long time, but my diet is so much more interesting and so much more varied, and so much more exciting than it was before I became vegan. And I don’t say that lightly. I truly do think that I’m so much more creative in the kitchen now.

Jumping at the Chance for a Cookbook

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. So positive. It’s the glass half-full, right, coming at it from what’s possible versus what’s missing. Along these same lines – I think we need two or three hours. I have a lot of questions. We’re changing our lifestyle. We’re changing our career path. Then you transition into blogging and your first cookbook deal. One, I’d love to get a secret on the second cookbook. How do you do that? How do you transition into landing a cookbook deal? Lawyer, blogging, changing your entire career trajectory, and now a cookbook deal. Not that everyone’s going to be able to do this, but I think it’s fascinating. Did someone come to you and say, “Hey, let’s cook a book? Create a cookbook?” Or did this become a dream along the way?

Nisha Vora: I’ll start by saying I’ve been obsessed with cookbooks since I started cooking. I would spend hours looking in them. I think in the back of my mind, there was always a dream to write a cookbook. It happened very fortuitously. I was working at that food startup, still side-hustling, and publisher from Penguin, Random House. They have divisions. A division within there reached out and said, “Hey, we really like your vegan Instant Pot recipes. Have you ever considered writing a cookbook?”

Again, I’m still in that phase of feeling very insecure with a lot of self-doubt. What’s my worth? What’s my value? Am I providing value to others? Why am I doing this? So I was like, “You want me?” Very much imposter syndrome. “Are you sure, lady? Do you know? Are we talking about the same person?” On the other side of the coin, I was like, “Yes, of course. I will write this cookbook for you.”

I think one of the things that helped with that was I had developed a small niche in an area that wasn’t that saturated at the time. It probably still isn’t that saturated. I think that can be very helpful for folks that are looking to enter the blogging world or the cookbook world. Any sort of world that has a lot of people in it already, is to find a niche that is not supersaturated. But also, find a niche that you’re genuinely passionate about. If you think, “Keto-vegan is not supersaturated. Let me try that,” unless you’re truly passionate that are both low-carb and plant-based – which is very hard, by the way – you’re going to find that it’s not worth all the hard work unless you are truly passionate about it. Leaning into a niche, especially in a world where there is a lot of food content out there, and really honing your craft and honing your expertise in that craft can help you stand out.

The Evolution of a Social Media Business

Kirk Bachmann: Simultaneously, your personal, social media platforms started growing like crazy and continue to grow. You established yourself, as they say, an influencer. Did you anticipate this kind of growth? Or was it more, “Hey, I really enjoy doing this. I can make a living doing this. This is really fun?” I’m going to get into your business psyche here. Did you anticipate the growth? Did you plan for the growth? How do you sustain the growth? Again, trying to help our students understand all the things you’ve got to think about. Passion’s important, but I’ll get to some more business questions in a minute. Is this where you wanted it to go, or did that just kind of evolve?

Nisha Vora: I think it just evolved. When I first started posting on Instagram, this was a creative outlet because I was a stressed lawyer. I don’t think the word “influencer” existed then. When I heard it for the first time, I was like, “What is that?” Someone was like, “You’re an influencer.” I’m like, “What does that mean?” This was definitely not something I envisioned.

I think that’s okay. I don’t think you need to have a set business plan or a set mindset about, “Okay, I’m going to reach these benchmarks by such-and-such date.” I think that can add a lot of stress and can actually prevent you from starting in the first place. If you think, “Oh, look at all these creators who have millions of followers. I’m never going to be there,” I think that’s a really damaging way to think about it. I think that if you have passion for food, and a specific niche, and you are willing to work hard and willing to maintain, or create. Or cultivate a growth mindset – which is a term in psychology which basically means, “maybe I don’t know the answer yet or maybe I’m not good at this yet, but I can be good at it. I can work toward becoming good at it.” I think if you maintain a growth mindset, and you’re willing to work hard, and you’re excited and you have the passion, don’t let not knowing what your business will look like stop you from starting. I think a lot of people don’t ever start because they’re overwhelmed by all the less sexy stuff that can be very intimidating.

Education’s Role in a Nontraditional Path

Kirk Bachmann: At Escoffier, we have plant-based programs. We have wellness programs. We have a relatively new food entrepreneurship program. I’m curious what your thoughts are on how important it is to have that background, that education, in understanding how to run a business. In fact, do you feel that some of the skills you learned as a lawyer are impactful in running your business the way you do today?

Nisha Vora: I would have loved to have taken a class. That would have helped me become a better businessperson. I’m glad that those exist. I’m glad that you have those trainings and those skill sets that you’re teaching students, because running a business is hard. Most of us don’t naturally have the skill set to do it. For me, what has been helpful has been maintaining a growth mindset – “Okay, I’ll figure it out” – or if I can’t figure it out or I don’t want to figure it out, I’ll hire someone to figure it out for me. Having an educational background for that would be super helpful.

Being a lawyer, it has helped. I don’t think that’s the recommended path if you want to become a food blogger or a content creator in food. It’s an expensive, circuitous, non-linear path to take. But it did teach me to think really critically, and to be really analytical in a way I think that a lot of content creators probably aren’t. No offense to them, but it’s just not a skill that most of us are naturally born with. So when I plan out YouTube videos, I do bring that very analytical, critical thinking skill set to the table and think, “Okay, is this actually going to make a good video? What would make a more compelling introduction.” When it comes to recipe testing, my meticulous nature really comes in to make sure that what I produce, what I share, is a wow-worthy recipe. I think a lot of times people are disappointed in recipes that they find online or in cookbooks because it just doesn’t work as well as they thought it would. My meticulous, crazy kind of brain is like, “No, we’re going to make sure that it works really well.” Over time, my readers have come to trust that my recipes do, in fact, work really well. I’m not saying law school helped me do that, but it did give me the mindset to be like, “We’re going to approach this in a very specific, critical way.

Nisha Vora’s Ultimate Dish

Kirk Bachmann: Really good advice. Well said. I think it’s safe to say that, for you, congratulations. Choosing a somewhat unconventional route, leaving a very secure career really worked out in your favor. So we greatly appreciate you sharing that journey with us.

Before I let you go, the toughest question of all. The name of the podcast is The Ultimate Dish, so in your mind, Nisha, what is the ultimate dish?

Nisha Vora: Oh, that’s so hard. The ultimate dish.

Kirk Bachmann: Here’s where the law school skills come in. Thinking quick on your feet.

Nisha Vora: I’ll start by saying when I was traveling, we spent a month in Thailand. We took a few cooking classes there, and what I loved learning there and what I loved about all the food there is just the balance. The way they bring a little bit of sweetness, a little bit of savoriness, a little bit of spiciness – or sometimes a lot of spiciness – a little bit of tang, a little bit of bitterness to create really harmonious dishes. Not only the dishes are harmonious, but the entire meal is harmonious. If one dish is on the spicy side, then another dish might be on the cooling side.

I think the perfect dish to me has all of those elements of balance. I do love Thai food, so I would say maybe a fresh Thai papaya salad to start, followed by some sort of spicy Thai noodles in addition to a green or red curry. Probably green is my favorite, which is spicy, but also has the coconut milk to have the balance from the creaminess and the fat. Followed by Thai mango sticky rice.

Kirk Bachmann: Oh my gosh! And you had no prep for that. Can I just tell you, I got chills because you brought back memories of the papaya salad that sustained me through college in Eugene, Oregon. Let me tell you. I had to be careful, because sometimes it was super spicy.

Nisha Vora: Oh, yes.

Kirk Bachmann: Oh my Lord. Nisha, thank you so much for spending time with us today. Super great advice, passion, balance, and I think we’re going to do a good job of leveling up our cooking. Brilliant.

Nisha Vora: Thanks so much for having me on, Kirk. It was really lovely to chat with you.

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. Thanks so much.

And thank you for listening to the Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast, to find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links and other resources. And if you can, please leave us a rating on Apple or Spotify, and subscribe to support our show. This helps us to reach more aspiring individuals ready to take the next step toward their dream careers. Thanks for listening.

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