Satya has ceased publication. This website is maintained for informational purposes only.

To learn more about the upcoming Special Edition of Satya and Call for Submissions, click here.

back issues


August 2006
Myth: Vegans Don’t Know How to Cook

Where Do Vegan Chefs Come From?
By Sangamithra Iyer


Where do many aspiring vegan chefs go to kick off their careers? Why do students travel to New York from all over the world to learn plant-based health-supportive culinary arts? Where can the general public take classes in vegan baking, raw cuisine or cooking for cancer? The answer: New York’s Natural Gourmet Institute.

Founded in 1977 by Annemarie Colbin, author of Food and Healing, the NGI is the only culinary school of its kind focusing on health with an emphasis on vegetarian cooking. Though not entirely vegetarian—offering classes in seafood, poultry and eggs—students can opt out of courses with animal products and create a completely vegan curriculum.

The school offers a Chef’s Training Program that can be completed part-time or full-time (four-month intensive). Most students in the program are “career changers” according to Merle Brown, Director of Admissions, and end up with a variety of options in the natural foods industry available to them. Students learn basic culinary techniques and a variety of diet theories, including macrobiotic, vegan, vegetarian, ayurvedic, raw, low-fat, low-carb and high protein.

Upon entering the institute you will encounter a bookshelf in the waiting area filled with health and vegetarian cookbooks mostly written by Natural Gourmet alumni, like More Great Good Dairy-Free Desserts Naturally by Fran Costigan, One Bite at a Time: Nourishing Recipes for Cancer Survivors and their Friendsby Rebecca Katz, and Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger Connection by Jessica Prentice. You’ll also find health food products developed by graduates such as gluten-free baking mixes (, or prepared vegan baked goods from Simple Treats Vermont (

Other notable alumni include Eric Tucker, Executive Chef of Millennium restaurant in San Francisco, Myra Kornfeld, author of The Voluptuous Vegan and The Healthy Hedonist, Chef Matteo and his 4-Course Vegan dinners, and “Healthy Chef Alex” Jamieson, co-star of Supersize Me and author of The Great American Detox Diet.

Some graduates focus on food justice and youth activism, like Bryant Terry, founder of b-healthy! and co-author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Kitchen. Alumnus Elizabeth Johnson, who works for Just Food and teaches workshops through her company Conscious Cravers, is partnering with fellow alum Ludie Minaya and NGI in a program called Health Corps to bring healthy eating to high school students.

Part of the Chef Training Program is a mandatory 90-hour internship. Students can fulfill this requirement anywhere. In New York, several opt to learn at Pure Food and Wine or Candle 79. The Center for Discovery, an organic farm in the Catskills region, is also offering an internship where students can work on the farm, as well as in the on site bakery and café.

Interest and attendance in the institute has boomed, compared to its modest beginnings when a couple of students gathered in Colbin’s apartment. Their 21st street location recently expanded, adding a third kitchen with “all the bells and whistles,” says Merle Brown, referring to the equipment, non-slip floors, and flat screen TVs for instruction. Class size is kept small for optimal teaching.

If a vocational training is not what you have in mind, the Natural Gourmet is still a great resource for public classes for those interested in creating healthier plant-based meals in their own kitchen. You’ll find courses in baking vegan cupcakes, making your own herbal ales and sodas, cooking for kids, food therapy and veg cuisine from all over the world. On Saturdays at the Union Square Greenmarket you’ll find NGI students giving cooking demos and samples with the week’s local produce showing how to eat locally and seasonally.

One great way to check out the institute is attend one of their Friday night dinners. Every week, students in the Chef Training Program prepare a four-course vegetarian dinner (usually all-vegan or vegan option). For $34 (BYO beer or wine), you’ll receive a sampling of the Natural Gourmet Institute, the types of cooking you’ll learn and the skills you will come away with. It’s also a lovely place for a date or dinner with friends.

Founder Annemarie Colbin’s advice is “People should really take care of their health, chew their food really well—25 times with each bite. For fun, they can come here and get a show, which is a class, and dinner afterwards.”

To learn more visit or call (212) 645-5170.

All contents are copyrighted. Click here to learn about reprinting text or images that appear on this site.