As a whole, American eaters are now much more health-conscious than ever before. Farmers markets and co-ops are gaining great popularity. Some vegetarian and vegan options are often found on many restaurant menus these days. Heck, even extremely-unhealthy McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast food chains have been practically forced, by national peer pressure, to now offer many salad and wrap options, and fruit has been added to the infamous children’s Happy Meal. But what do you do when you’re a vegan and too busy with work to cook all the time and pack a quality lunch? What if you need some vegan catering for business or family affairs and parties? What if you’re a vegan looking for some new bites instead of the same old, overpriced options at Whole Foods? After all, there are only so many fruits and vegetables one can eat before hitting the “Vegan Panic Button,” right? Meet Rachel Klein. Rachel has been a vegetarian since she was 5 years old and became a vegan four years ago. Rachel spent many years in the food industry and noticed that there weren’t many “middle-of-the-road” options for vegans, as there often is a great divide between fine dining and vegetarian fast food. So she set out to correct that by creating a business that brings delicious food right to vegans in the Greater Philadelphia area. Rachel now owns and manages Miss Rachel’s Pantry in Philadelphia, where she is also the head chef. This is definitely one healthy, delicious delivery service where one never ever orders “extra anchovies.” We caught up with Rachel to discuss her blossoming, small business and, of course, to share some (Vegan) Chocolate Covered Memories …
How did you find yourself in this niche of the food industry?
Well, I grew up a vegetarian in an omnivorous household. So I had to learn to cook at a
very young age, and my parents let me make things for myself. I took some kids’ cooking
classes at a few restaurants in the city. One was with Susanna Foo and another with
Joseph Poon. I think by 3rd or 4th grade, I was actually using the oven on my own.
Throughout high school and college, I worked in the service industry, serving and
managing in the Greater Philadelphia area. Since a vegetarian lifestyle is second nature to
me, it astounded me that there weren’t more options, and so I set out to create a business
that brings food right to people like me. In 2007, I was able to learn from and cook at the
kitchen at the vegan restaurant Horizons in Philadelphia. [NOTE: Since Horizons closed, the Horizons chef/owner team has since opened Vedge in Philadelphia.] Later that year, I
started my personal chef company, Miss Rachel’s Pantry.
What are your earliest childhood memories of food?
I remember being 3 or 4 years old, the evening after eating my first and only McDonald’s
breakfast sandwich, purchased for me by a family friend. I was staring at my belly in the
bathtub and wondering why it hurt. Isn’t that crazy? I never ate at McDonald’s again and
became a vegetarian when I was 5 years old. My parents never really took us to places like McDonald’s much anyhow.
Where does your love of food stem from?
Well, I have a complicated relationship with food. I love how it brings people together,
and I absolutely love putting flavors together. Yet I hate the guilt that we’re pressured to
have after eating anything but a salad, anything not labeled “low fat” or “low carb” and further body-image issues that can ensue. Really, I think the only type of “guilt” that should stem from food should come after eating an animal. In any case, I really love to eat and believe that dining brings people together and should be celebrated.
What foods remind you of childhood?
Tomato soup, kasha and bow ties, peanut butter noodles, breakfast for dinner and water
ice. Like most kids of the 1980s, we ate a lot of processed stuff growing up, such as canned tomato soup, for example. But when we went to visit my grandmom, she always made the best kasha and bow ties. That’s a Jewish dish, featuring starch on starch – yum! And on the weekends, my dad used to make me tons of peanut butter noodles, probably because he worried about me getting enough protein back then. My mom didn’t cook much, so many of our meals were very simple, and my favorite weekend lunches were Rita’s water ice and a soft pretzel.
Were you a picky eater as a kid? Any dishes that you loved eating as a child that you would never eat now?
I was the opposite of a picky eater. If it didn’t have a face, I was game. I ate everything
the grownups ate, and I’m very grateful that I wasn’t babied in that regard. My dad is a
journalist, who writes about food happenings, so I was exposed to so many types of
cuisines as a kid. I wouldn’t eat a lot of the processed stuff that we had as kids. Since becoming a vegan, I sure do miss those Morningstar Farms breakfast patties though.
What do you think of the modern food world? As a small business owner, what do you think about the popularity of online coupons, like Groupon, or the prevalence of food bloggers?
I think it is amazing to see the HUGE divide in dining, and the varied experiences that
people in different cultures and classes experience. For instance, in my circle, we have
the privilege of eating consciously and of eating fresh, whole foods. But so many people
are dependent on what’s in stock at the corner store, and way too many people list Olive
Garden as their favorite restaurant on Facebook.
I think Groupon cheapens restaurants and hurts small businesses. Don’t undersell yourself! As a small business, after taxes, insurance, high food costs (because we’re not cutting any corners), the profit on each dish is not enough to share with a coupon company. To obtain and keep customers, you have to offer a unique and wonderful experience. That should sell itself.
Finally, I strongly dislike the idea of foods being “trendy” and the blogosphere’s passionate love for obscure meat products.
What recipes do you want to share with us?
Here are two dishes:
My Spaghetti Scramble reminds me of my childhood because it’s so simple, comforting and satisfying.
My Coconut Bacon acts as a great topping for many dishes, including my spaghetti scramble, and is the perfect vegan substitute for bacon bits.
Rachel Klein grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and Bucks County. Rachel worked in the food industry in the Greater Philadelphia area for a long time, with stints at such places as: Maggio’s (Southampton), Azure Restaurant, The Pink Rose, Mugshots, The Bubble House, The White Dog Cafe, Marathon Grill, Essene Market and Horizons. Rachel also was a production assistant for a WHYY-12 Philadelphia cooking show. Rachel has been a vegetarian since she was 5 years old and a vegan for the last four years. In 2007, she set out to create a business, Miss Rachel’s Pantry, which brings food right to vegans in the Greater Philadelphia area, including the popular Lunch Club, where Rachel and her team deliver individual, delightful, vegan luncheon bags to homes and offices throughout Philadelphia Center City, University City and Temple University, currently available on Wednesday afternoons. For more information, visit: www.MissRachelsPantry.com