Occupation: Vegan cooking instructor, cookbook author
Home base: Dallas
If you don't already know when you meet Christy Morgan that she's a vegan, it won't take long to figure out.
There's the most obvious sign: The petite chef, with her hip black bangs and dark-framed glasses, has a slender physique. Vegans avoid not only meat but also dairy -- butter, cheese, ice cream. You know, the fattening stuff.
But aside from her physical appearance, Morgan -- whose professional alias is "The Blissful Chef" -- is one of those people who feels her mission so strongly that she oozes it. Becoming vegan changed her life profoundly, and she's on fire to share what she has learned.
She's doing that via cooking classes, private consulting and a new cookbook, Blissful Bites (BenBella Books, $19.95), with recipes that she boasts are different from any other.
"I'm known for taking something [that] meat eaters grew up eating, like fish tacos, and doing my own convincing version," she says. "I use other ingredients, keeping in mind that meat dishes are seasoned in a certain way. It's not so much the piece of flesh. It's the seasonings and the way it was cooked."
One of her main points is that anyone, vegan or not, should enjoy vegan food.
"I do teach people how to cook vegan, and that's important to me, but I want to reach everyday eaters, too," she says. "Everybody can benefit from eating more plant-based foods. I also want to encourage people to get back into the kitchen. For my generation, cooking is a lost art. Most people are not raised cooking next to their grandparents and parents. I like to give that back to people."
She's currently teaching a weekly class at the Dallas Farmers Market, where she demonstrates technique, then feeds students what she has cooked. They come for different reasons. There's the mother and son who share an intolerance of gluten. There's the young woman who rescues dogs and loves animals. There's the two gourmand buddies from North Dallas who ooh and aah over Morgan's "scrambled eggs" made of soft tofu.
Mia Bissette has become a regular at Morgan's classes and appreciates the way she's able to take a potentially confusing process and simplify it.
"You look at her recipes and think, 'I've got time to make that,'" Bissette says. "And as you often do with this kind of thing, you end up making friends with other people in the class. It draws a really nice crowd, and I think that's a reflection of who Christy is."
As Morgan does a how-to on brown-rice sushi rolls, a tiny streak of perfectionism slips out. The texture of the rice isn't exactly the way she likes it, and she's struggling to suppress her dissatisfaction. It's the same perfectionism that often accompanies idealism.
Her conversion to a vegan diet was characteristically decisive. She grew up in the Mid-Cities eating steak and potatoes, and then one day saw an animal cruelty video. She changed her diet overnight. She took classes on vegan and macrobiotic cooking at a culinary academy in Austin and moved to Los Angeles, where she worked as a personal chef and cooking instructor for four years.
By the time she returned to North Texas in 2010, the local vegan scene had begun to thrive. Vegan restaurant Spiral Diner now has two branches, and meet-up groups get together monthly for drinks, pot-lucks and karaoke nights. The University of North Texas opened the country's first vegan student cafeteria, and the Texas State Veggie Fair, held at White Rock Lake in October, drew more than 3,000 attendees from all over North Texas.
Morgan feels like she returned to North Texas at exactly the right time.
"People used to be dismissive of veganism," she says. "Now every major city has a vegan restaurant, and a lot of nonvegan restaurants offer vegan food. There's all this press, and celebrities like Bill Clinton who've brought attention to it. I talk to meat eaters who have tried vegan food and been amazed by it."
Find out more on The Blissful Chef website.