Pingala Café Chef Trevor Sullivan on Going Vegan | Grilling the Chef | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Pingala Café Chef Trevor Sullivan on Going Vegan


Julia, Mabel and Trevor Sullivan - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Julia, Mabel and Trevor Sullivan

Chef Trevor Sullivan

  • Age: 28
  • Restaurant: Pingala Café & Eatery
  • Location: Burlington
  • Restaurant Age: 2 years
  • Cuisine type: vegan
  • Training: none in the culinary field
  • Select experience: Line cook, kitchen manager and "I'll cover your shift" guy, the Skinny Pancake, Burlington (2008-2010); breakfast chef and front desk, Willard Street Inn, Burlington (2010-2011); line cook, Church & Main (2010-2011); morning sous chef, Essex Resort & Spa (2011-2012)
  • What's on the Menu? Fresh-pressed juice, avocado toast, mushroom Philly, tofu rancheros

Trevor Sullivan is a man with a million projects. The 28-year-old owner of Pingala Café & Eatery has plans that go well beyond his vegan café in Burlington's Chace Mill: He's considering opening a new restaurant and recently put in a bid to take over the soon-to-close Bluebird Coffee Stop in downtown Burlington.

At Pingala, Sullivan has recently managed to secure a liquor license for the eatery, which now serves beer and wine. Last week, he rolled out a revamped menu, adding new items and tweaking old favorites. As if that's not enough, he and his wife have an 8-month-old daughter named Mabel. Seven Days sat down with Sullivan over hash browns and crêpes to catch up on his current projects, talk vegan cooking and hear how he combines his busy schedule with being a new dad.

SEVEN DAYS: Where did you grow up, and how did your family eat back then?

TREVOR SULLIVAN: I grew up in Shrewsbury, Mass., a suburb of Boston. I ate very well growing up. My mom was in the food business before [having] kids. She was the sous chef at the Top of the Hub, which is the restaurant at the top of the Prudential Center [in Boston]. She was in all sorts of food-service jobs, and it's always been an inspiration for me. She's very passionate about food. We always had a home-cooked meal on the dinner table seven nights a week, whether we were there or not. You know teenage boys. I had one brother; we would always try to show up to dinner ... because we knew it was going to be amazing. Then we'd probably head back out and cause some trouble somewhere.

SD: Is it hard to stay in the confines of being a vegan chef?

TS: It's a constant delight to be thinking about these things in new ways. It's especially rewarding when folks who aren't vegan come in, have something, and are blown away by flavors and textures and an overall dish they just ate. And they're blown away by the fact that there's no animal product in it, no meat or cheese or dairy — that's the coolest thing.

SD: What's the trick to delicious veganism?

TS: A lot of the ways that we prepare foods are the same ways that you prepare meats and stuff like that. We braise the tempeh. I haven't been vegan for very long, so I'm taking much more experience not being vegan and applying that to being vegan. I think being able to make really good dairy substitutes is important, because dairy is the one thing we always hear people saying they can't live without. So you look at classics like macaroni and cheese and think, How do we make a cheese[-type] sauce that's going to stand up to a béchamel sauce?

SD: Name three foods that make life worth living.

TS: Toast, avocado — sometimes together, sometimes separate. Eggplant bacon.

SD: What was the worst meal you've made, and for whom?

TS: It was probably something at home for myself in the middle of the night after being out late. Those days are, fortunately, sort of behind me. I can't recall what it would have been — something heavy, starchy and not so good the next morning.

SD: If you could have any chef in the world prepare a meal for you, who would it be?

TS: Probably Rich[ard] Landau. He's a chef in Philadelphia. He owns a restaurant called Vedge. And he also owns a restaurant called V Street. They both happen to be vegan. Of course, I follow these vegan chefs and restaurateurs a lot, but his food is incredible. I really respect and admire his creativity. Matthew Kenney is also amazing. He's in the celebrity chef world. Put those two guys on a coin and toss it, and I'd be happy either way.

SD: What's been the most influential cookbook in your life?

TS: I have a lot of cookbooks. Before I was vegan, I was obsessed with Essential Pépin, Jacques Pépin's cookbook. The Joy of Cooking is also something I was referencing all the time. I still reference them, but now in this vegan world, there are a lot of really awesome books: Vedge, the cookbook, is amazing. Thug Kitchen is really awesome. Adam Sobel, the chef from the Cinnamon Snail in New York, he's got a great cookbook out [Street Vegan: Recipes and Dispatches From the Cinnamon Snail Food Truck].

SD: Name the kitchen gadget or tool you can't live without.

TS: In the kitchen at Pingala, it's definitely the dehydrator. We have a few dehydrators that are constantly running, producing our eggplant bacon. We can barely keep up. At home, a Vitamix.

SD: Have you been experimenting with any techniques lately?

TS: We've been making house-made cheese a lot more. Cashew- and nut-based cheeses. The process is new to me.

SD: What's on your kitchen radio?

TS: At Pingala, it's DJ Smash on Pandora. At home, the only two stations I listen to are WRUV and [Vermont Public Radio].

SD: Let's talk spring: Which of-the-moment ingredients do you look forward to?

TS: Local greens are very exciting. We serve a side salad with pretty much every meal at Pingala. Just getting those local, fresh, organic greens and microgreens in, they smell so different. They're just sweet. They don't even need a dressing, sometimes. You can just eat a mouthful of them. They're incredible. Also, I'm a big fan of ramps. I love going out with my dog and foraging for them. It's a really meditative thing.

SD: What's it like being a new dad and running a restaurant?

TS: I feel like I'm a new dad to a person but a seasoned dad to a restaurant. With kids and restaurants, you want to nurture them and give them the best things possible and watch them grow. They keep you up at night. I love it, though. It's hard to put into words. There's no way to describe how awesome it is to get home after a long day in the kitchen and to see this little person sitting at the top of the stairs in front of the baby gate, holding on, shaking it, yelling at you, like, Hey, Dad, come upstairs — let's hang out!

SD: Do you have any hobbies?

TS: I love painting. I do love going on hikes. I love Rollerblading. So, in line with those ramps and fiddleheads coming up, I'll definitely be strapping on my skates and doing a couple of miles on the bike path.

SD: What will you eat this Easter?

TS: Any time there's Easter or Thanksgiving, or holidays that are centered around turkey or ham or something like that, I'll make a really hearty, protein-rich meal. For instance, I might make some miso-braised tempeh and serve it with tons of vegetables. And then you make your mashed potatoes and gravy and all your sides. You can make them and do a blind taste test with people that have never really had vegan potatoes before and, who knows, maybe they'd even like them better.

SD: What's in your home pantry?

TS: Smoked sea salt, red chile flake, turmeric, gomashio, bay leaf. Everything else, we try to use it fresh.

SD: If money and reality weren't concerns, what would you do to Pingala?

TS: I would definitely open another restaurant if money wasn't a reality. I have this concept for something that's been burning in my head. We will open another restaurant soon, most definitely, but at Pingala, space is the issue. We'd probably put [in] a big wraparound porch, we'd put solar on the roof to run the whole kitchen and we'd put a big garden on the roof where we could harvest 80 percent of our own produce. [For staff,] I'd probably go back to one of those guys that I'd want to have cook for me, like Richard Landau. That'd be great. Or Bob Marley, you know, maybe Jerry [Garcia], singing some tunes on the side. Instead of Pandora, you'd have some Jerry. That'd be great.

SD: If you could cook for one celebrity, who would it be?

TS: Probably Mr. Trump, Donald Trump. The guy's just got so much anger and frustration and hate going on, a little love on the plate for him might be good. That would be great ... It would be cool to cook for Bernie [Sanders], too, because he'd probably be like, "This is great. I like this." Maybe.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Vegging Out"