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Austin chef Chad Sarno teams up with bestselling author Kris Carr to make vegan cooking sexy

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com
“Crazy Sexy Kitchen,” co-authored by Austin chef Chad Sarno, hits bookstores this week.

Even though he’s been a vegan since he was 18, Chad Sarno isn’t interested in pushing a meat-free agenda on anyone else.

As a kid, he had bad asthma, often carrying around as many as five inhalers to get through the day. Someone suggested that he stop drinking milk and eating cheese to see if it helped. As soon as he quit dairy, he says, he didn’t have to use the inhalers anymore, and he hasn’t turned back since.

For more than a decade, he traveled throughout Europe opening and consulting “plant-based” restaurants in Istanbul, Munich and London before moving to Austin about four years ago to take a job as the lead culinary educator and research and development chef for Whole Foods Market’s Health Starts Here program.

“Since I started, (awareness about animal-free eating) has grown exponentially,” he says. Restaurants were still putting chicken broth in polenta and calling it vegan, and there were maybe a few dozen vegan restaurants of note around the world, he says. “Now, there’s a couple in every city.”

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the nutritional science, and Sarno has realized that it’s his job to help translate that medical message into a language that eaters can understand. Sometimes, that’s through online videos or cooking classes; other times, it’s through recipes that demonstrate how to put into practice a healthy eating philosophy that might otherwise seem daunting.

Through the years, Sarno has contributed to a number of cookbooks, but the launch this week of “Crazy Sezy Kitchen: 150 Plant-Empowered Recipes to Ignite a Mouthwatering Revolution” (Hay House, $29.95) marks a departure from the others.

Instead of simply developing recipes on behalf of or advising the authors whose names appear on the cover, Sarno gets co-author credit and a photo on the front with Kris Carr, the New York Times bestselling author who gained fame through her 2007 documentary, “Crazy Sexy Cancer.”

Carr’s “massive cult following” will likely boost Sarno’s reputation as well, but he’ll be happy if he can just spend a little more time kayaking on Lady Bird Lake with his young daughter than living life on the road.

He’s also having fun building an online community called Wicked Healthy Food with his brother, Derek, another Health Starts Here research and development chef who lives in Austin. The brothers make videos and share recipes to promote the idea of eating healthy 80 percent of the time and eating “wicked” the other 20 percent. “Whatever wicked you want to fit in there is up to you,” he says. “You have to find the balance.”

Acknowledging that people don’t want to be preached to, especially when it comes to what they eat, has been one of Sarno’s biggest lessons. “The most important thing is to meet people where they are,” he says. “No one wants to be on a diet. A diet is what you can’t eat. We’re just saying that health is a priority. It’s a lifestyle, not a diet.”

He also knows the power of marketing is all in the message. “A lentil loaf won’t sell it,” he says. “At the end of the day, health is sexy. That’s how we can sell it.”

French Toast with Amaretto Crème