Lydia Huston is a personal chef who, in 2005, opened Dharma’s Kitchen, a fully vegan catering company based in Birmingham (greater Detroit), Michigan. Lydia is one of those people whose generous and warm personality is positively addictive—much like the food she lovingly prepares. Lydia offers private instruction, creates weekly meal plans and caters to private parties, with an emphasis on healthful, delicious cuisine, suited to the individual. Lydia and I got the opportunity to meet up at the North American Vegetarian Society’s annual Summerfest in July 2009, and I decided to interview her so our readers could share the pleasure.
When did you decide you wanted to be a chef?
I didn’t really decide to become a chef until I was already doing it. I was always preparing vegan meals and desserts for family and friends, and someone suggested that I pursue it as a career.
Have you received formal training or are you self-taught?
My skills are almost entirely self-taught, although I have attended various classes and workshops over the years. My goal was never to open a restaurant or write a cookbook. I only wanted to spread the word about a plant-based diet. And what could be more compelling than a delicious home-cooked meal?
What has inspired your love of food? And what (or who) influences your cooking?
My mother and her sensational southern cooking have largely inspired my love of food but my major influences came later when I went vegan and discovered the wealth of recipes that were out there. Jo Stepaniak, Brianna Clark Grogan and Brenda Davis are heroes to me.
You’ve been preparing and enjoying plant-based cuisine for three decades. What inspired that commitment?
It was a love for animals that prompted me to become vegetarian. When I discovered the truth about the dairy industry and the horrors of egg production, the transition to veganism was seamless.
Do you cater mainly to the vegan community, or to a wide variety of folks? What is your main style of cooking?
Most of my clients are not vegetarians, but people who would like to enjoy a healthy, plant-based meal once or twice a week. Others have health challenges which have caused them to consider a vegan diet as a road to better health. At present, I have no vegan clients other than those who’ve hired me for special events.
Desserts are my specialty but I love to prepare just about anything. Raw foods are my latest passion. At home, my menu is so simple that no one would believe I do this for a living.
Is there a particular type of dietary philosophy you follow?
Although I believe that the whole world should be vegan, I don’t believe in limiting one’s choices within this framework to such an extent that eating becomes a joyless experience. Each of us was born with predispositions to certain health issues, and we should educate ourselves enough to find the plant-based diet that is right for us as individuals.
Do you work with clients who, say, have food allergies—like Celiac disease or soy intolerance? What do you say to people who think they can’t eat an exclusively plant-based diet due to various sensitivities and allergies?
I have worked successfully with clients who have food allergies. I’ll admit it makes life more challenging; yet a plant-based diet devoid of certain allergens is far healthier than the average diet with the same foods removed.
What’s it like living as a vegan, and running a vegan business, in a somewhat rural community?
At times, I feel like a benevolent alien that was dropped in the middle of nowhere to save earthlings from themselves. Most of the time, though, I feel extremely privileged to be able to bring the message of compassion for all into the homes of others. Preparing food for others is a powerful form of advocacy and it keeps me from having to proselytize because the food inevitably speaks for itself.
You mentioned, when we first met, that you use Dining With Friends: The Art of North American Vegan Cuisine (Friends of Animals’ Nectar Bat Press, 2005) in your business.
Yes. My favorite recipes are for the Classic Hungarian Sauerkraut and Noodles (page 71), and the Coconut Layer Cake (page 121). I cannot tell you how many times clients have requested these two items for meals and parties. They are show-stoppers.
Any plans for writing a cookbook of your own?
Positively not! I am proud to say that I have a very impressive library of vegetarian cookbooks and I rely on them to an immense degree. I humbly defer to the icons of vegan cuisine. Without them I would not be doing what I’m doing.
Well, then, what are your future plans?
To attend film school. My ultimate goal is have the first and only vegan lifestyle show on network television. I know that this is a lofty goal but I feel that the time is right for this kind of project, don’t you?
Lydia can be contacted at email@example.com, or phone Dustin at 202-393-8450 to get in touch.