Every so often someone breaks out of the mold and shows up on the vegan scene that is built to last. At the tender age of 21, Jay Astafa is one of those people. Inspired, talented, handsome, humble, and (fuhgeddaboudit) from Long Island … he is the complete package.
In addition to working the family restaurant, being crowned Vegan Iron Chef, and catering nationally with his own company, he not only finds the time to compete on FoodNetwork’s “ReWrapped,” but he found time for an interview with me.
If you searched “Jay Astafa” in Google and clicked “images,” two things are abundantly clear: Jay knows how to cook and, Jay has fantastic hair. Ironically, two topics we cover in this interview. Without further delay, I present the exclusive Meaty Vegan interview with vegan chef extraordinaire, Jay Astafa.
MV: You ARE the Vegan Iron Chef. Do you think this event will ever be broadcast nationally?
JA: Vegan Iron Chef was a great experience. It was really fun going to San Francisco. In the future I definitely think there will be more nationally broadcasted television events geared towards plant-based cuisine. One of my dreams is to be on Food Network’s Iron Chef!
MV: You were also recently on the FoodNetwork show “Rewrapped.” Is there any stopping you now?
JA: I am so happy to have gotten the opportunity to be on national TV to educate America about vegan cooking. It was an absolutely amazing experience. This is just the beginning! I have so many things planned for the near future. I already have a boutique vegan catering company called jay astafa catering, which is going great. I’m starting to work on the beginning stages of writing a cookbook. I also have plans to start a cheese company. And if that isn’t enough, I want to open a tasting menu centric restaurant in NYC.
MV: Joey Fatone hosts “Rewrapped,” have you ever listened to anything by N’Sync, considering you were two years old when they were popular? What’s on your iPod right now?
JA: I probably have, but I vaguely remember their music. I haven’t updated my iPod in so long, so there’s nothing good on there anymore I usually listen to music on the radio, Pandora, or YouTube. I consider myself a fan of all types of music.
MV: You’ve been vegan for now seven years, are there any foods you miss from when you were a teenager? Are there any foods you have converted into vegan foods from your past?
JA: I don’t really miss anything. I can pretty much make anything I want vegan. The one thing that used to be my favorite is a mozzarella in carrozza, which my mom always made for me. It’s a grilled cheese with fresh mozzarella. It’s made using bread that is breaded with breadcrumbs. A few months ago I finally made this vegan, using my signature fresh cashew milk mozzarella. It’s so amazing! Ravioli has always been one of my favorite things, but I figured out how to make amazing vegan ravioli.
JA: Yes, NYC is so amazing! I haven’t tried Hangawi, but I heard great things about them. I always stop by Babycakes for cupcakes, when I’m shopping at Moo Shoes for vegan shoes. I’ve eaten at almost all the vegan restaurants in the city. Some of my favorite restaurants are Candle 79, Pure Food and Wine, and Dirt Candy. Pure Food and Wine has the best vegan desserts in NYC. Oh and also Cinnamon Snail, one of my favorite things from them is the Korean BBQ Seitan and all of their desserts are amazing.
MV: Who are your vegan mentors or other vegans you admire?
JA: The first vegan cookbook I ever got was Vegan with a Vengeance by the amazing cookbook author Isa Chandra Moskowitz. A few months later I got Veganomicon which is written by both Isa and Terry Hope Romero. Their books really taught me about vegan cooking, when I was just starting out. I also really love what Miyoko Schinner has done for the world of vegan cheese. I’m looking forward to her cheeses that are coming out this year. Another awesome vegan innovator is Joshua Katcher, founder of Brave Gentleman and The Discerning Brute. He makes amazing vegan future leather shoes. For mentors, NYC based vegan writer Nell Alk has been an awesome mentor for the past year of my culinary career. The vegan community is so great, and it’s full of inspiring people.
MV: You have fantastic hair. Do you think this is a result of a plant-based diet?
JA: Thank you! Well, all vegans have cool hair, right?
MV: If we opened your refrigerator right now, what would we find?
JA: Let’s see. Currently I have some leftovers from a dinner party I catered earlier in the week. Things like my vegan ricotta, cultured Parmesan, cashew milk mozzarella, homemade butter, and cashew cream. There’s also some leftover carrots that I cooked sous-vide. Oh and I also have some orange juice, almond milk, and soy milk. I have this product called Magic Vegan Bacon Grease, that everyone’s talking about. I still haven’t used it yet. I usually have kale in the fridge, but I’m all out today.
MV: I’ve heard you have plans to one day open a vegan restaurant. If you could have it anywhere in the world, where would you open it and why?
JA: Yes I do plan to sometime in the near future. I’m planning to open it in NYC, because it’s the culinary capital of the world! I just love the creativity and energy of NYC. It’s been my dream for so long to have a NYC vegan restaurant, hopefully that will happen soon. For now people can eat my food at my family’s restaurant 3 Brothers Pizza Cafe on Long Island, where I’m the vegan Executive Chef. We have a whole vegan Italian comfort food menu! And with my catering company I am able to travel to most major cities to cater events.
MV: If I were coming over for dinner tomorrow, what would you make?
JA: I would make an amazing multi course tasting menu for you! I would start the dinner with some hors d’oeuvres like my buttermilk fried cauliflower with purple potato salad, mini bbq pulled jackfruit tacos, and arancini. Then I would serve some crostini with ramps & cherve. I would also serve my caprese with my signature fresh cashew milk mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, and aged balsamic. I love making fresh pasta dishes, so I would serve you two pasta courses. First one would be a ricotta gnudi with English pea puree and eggplant bacon. I would also serve my asparagus and ricotta ravioli with homemade butter and cultured cashew Parmesan. People always go crazy over that ravioli! I’m a big fan of making vegetables center stage. One of my dishes that celebrates that is my steak spiced grilled carrot with parsnip puree, creamed kale, tempura onion rings, and horseradish creme fraiche. After all these courses, we would move on to a cheese plate with rosemary cherve, cheddar, aged cashew cheese, and blue cheese. I would end the tasting menu with a perfect spring panna cotta with strawberry-rhubarb compote.
I hope I didn’t get you too hungry!
Jay, you know you did … and I am right now getting in the car and heading to Long Island!
Check out Jay’s vegan pizzas and award-winning cuisine, watch for his upcoming book and NYC restaurant, recruit his incredible catering talent for your next vegan event, and, admire his hair. Oh, that hair.