Being vegan gets a bad rap, especially among dudes. It’s tough to advocate any diet that doesn’t allow for the occasional juicy burger or sizzling strip of bacon. But Matt Holloway and Michelle Davis — the duo behind Thug Kitchen, a vegan blog turned cookbook series — are doing all they can to change the perception of veganism as an ostentatious, flavor-free lifestyle with a cadre of scrumptious, easy-to-make, meat-free recipes that use just as many f-bombs as they do alfalfa sprouts.
With Thug Kitchen’s latest cookbook, Party Grub, hitting stores now, we caught up with Matt and Michelle to discuss how they got started, their best recipes and the weirdest complaint they ever received.
First things first: you guys aren’t exactly chefs by trade, are you?
Michelle: Not at all. I worked in a grocery store for eight years. I was always a passionate cook at home and would help out any friends of mine who needed to cook for work or whatever. But nothing even close to fucking professional.
Matt: I’ve been a waiter, but outside of that, I didn’t know anything about cooking. I do cook now, obviously. But I don’t have any formal training or real-world experience.
Michelle: Our breakdown for work is that I do all the recipes, Matt does the photography and we write everything together.
How did you originally think up Thug Kitchen?
Matt: I met Michelle back in 2011 and was trying to go vegan at the time. Like most people, I had a lot of misconceptions about it. I thought it would be expensive and take a lot more time, and she told me, “Dude, it’s rice and beans, it’s the cheapest diet.”
Michelle: I was working at the grocery store and wasn’t making a lot of fucking money, so when people would say, “It must be so expensive,” it was like, where do you think I’d get disposable income from? You can still care about what you eat even if you don’t have a lot of time or money.
Matt: The more I got into it, we started to agree that all the recipes really sounded the exact same. I couldn’t identify with them at all. We wanted to take something that was still healthy but just send it in the other direction.
Michelle: And it had to be funny, because no one enjoys reading cookbooks. It had to be funny or no one would fucking read it.
When did it really blow up?
Michelle: At first, it was just a blog for us — to keep us from feeling sad about our jobs. It was honestly a fun hobby. In February or March of 2013, someone made a collage of all of our photos and put it on Reddit and our traffic exploded. A few weeks later, Gwyneth Paltrow put us in her GOOP newsletter and talked about us on Rachel Ray. Shit hit the fan after that and we could barely wrap our heads around it. It was both so exciting and terrifying.
Matt: It was really cool that people were paying attention to this little fucking thing that we did. We never knew that it would grow the way it has. We didn’t know what it meant. It’s not like you get a cheque from the internet for going viral.
How did you make it work?
Matt: It was dicey for a while. [Laughs.] We had no budget when we started. Everything was shot on my coffee table, and it was the same white plate every time. Then we realized people used props and shit and we thought we should probably try that.
Michelle: We wrote a book proposal and sent it around to a few publishers until it got accepted. Once we started working on it, we left our other jobs.
Focus on trying new foods as opposed to replacing everything you already love.
What were the best and worst parts about putting the book together?
Michelle: The hardest part was making sure we kept our vision of the book in perspective. We wanted to make everyone happy, but at the same time we wanted it to be what we pictured. A lot of publishers told us that they loved us, but they wanted us to write a book that wasn’t just vegan and that we needed to swear less. The publisher we chose was so supportive towards who were are.
You guys keep mentioning all the misconceptions about eating vegan, like how much time it takes and how expensive it can be. What’s one recipe from your book that you think would help dispel those thoughts?
Matt: In our new book, Party Grub, there’s a great recipe for baked ziti with spinach. It’s so simple and it’s so fucking delicious. Everyone loves a good ziti — it’s basically the traditional dish just without meat. You won’t even miss it, to be honest. When I told my friends that I was eating vegan, they asked how I could give up pasta and pizza. I still eat all that shit. I can just eat more of it now because it’s all plant based.
What’s your recommendation for holiday eats?
Michelle: Everyone loves a pot pie. You’re not drawing attention to yourself as a fucking hummus-and-baby-carrot-eating weirdo. As long as you have a really good flaky crust, no one is going to turn that down. You can put anything you want into it.
Do you ever get complaints because of the language you use?
Michelle: Since day one, people have given us a hard time about swearing. It was hard to find a publisher who didn’t want us to completely take it out. But it’s who we are, it’s been a part of Thug Kitchen since we started. That will never change. The weirdest complaint we ever got was last year when we sent out our Christmas card. We make something holiday-themed using veggies – this year it was a snowman made out of mushrooms – and we made a snowflake out of cauliflower. Someone actually sent us a message asking us to take it down because it was “sexually explicit”. How the fuck is that even possible? It was a snowflake! Made from a cauliflower!
What’s the easiest way for someone to become a vegan?
Michelle: Don’t try to give up meat completely if it’s a huge part of your diet. Give yourself permission to eat plant-based meals a couple days a week. Don’t beat yourself up if you want to eat chicken or red meat. It’s a process. If you use delicious recipes and make dishes that have flavour you love, you’ll want to eat them more and more. People who try to quit cold turkey, it doesn’t work.
Matt: People don’t think that they have to slowly transition. They decide to go vegan, then go home and throw everything with meat away. That’s a scary way to do it if you don’t know what you’re getting into. Focus on trying new foods as opposed to replacing everything you already love.