Recently, while visiting the OC Fair Thursday Food Truck Fare, Stitches ‘n Dishes Los Angeles food writer, Rodney Washington, a devout carnivore, stumbled upon Orange County’s Seabirds Truck, a Food Network, Great Food Truck Race contender. I can only imagine what went through his mind when he realized that Seabirds isn’t a seafood truck, and offers no meat products whatsoever. I vividly remember the look of shock on Rodney’s face when a server placed a plate before him at a table one afternoon, “There’s something wrong,” he said, pointing at the plate. Poking at a mound of small, green, fluffy florets with his fork, clearly disturbed by the intruder that had taken residence a little too close to his country-fried steak, he asked, “What is this?”
“That’s broccoli; it comes with your meal,” said the server. “Well I didn’t invite it,” Rodney said with a disgusted sneer. “Get it off. Get it off!”
Needless to say, when Rodney’s review of the Seabirds food truck came across my desk, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Then it happened. I couldn’t believe what I was reading, and I read it twice, as a matter of fact. There they were in the first paragraph – words I couldn’t fathom coming from my colleague, “my eyes, as well as my mind have been altered to the possibilities of eating vegan.” I had to know more about the food truck that converted Rodney’s thinking about vegan.
I dropped in on Chef Stephanie Morgan, owner of Seabirds for a candid chat about her roots (pun intended!) in eating vegan, and the back story on the food truck that changed a tried and true meat lover’s thinking. I wanted to know more about her amazing new cookbook, The Seabirds Vegan Revolution, written by Stephanie herself, and illustrated by Nicole Daddona.
What makes this story so amazing and inspiring isn’t only the fact that Seabirds coaxed Rodney into eating vegan, but the events that led up to this historic occasion. It was only a short time ago that Stephanie Morgan worked as a broker in New York, before moving back to California and settling down in Orange County. That’s when her transformation took place, and sparked a revolution first within herself and her own life, then in the lives of the people around her. Stephanie “went vegan,” and everything around her changed. Shortly after her life-altering decision, she began a movement from behind the wheel of the Seabirds food truck with no formal culinary training. Then, the mother load of all surprises presented itself when she least expected it. It was an ordinary day for Stephanie when she received the call from Food Network, asking for her participation in Season Two of The Great Food Truck Race. In just a few years, and with no culinary training, Stephanie completely transformed her life, was cast on a major network television show, and she wrote a cook book.
Let’s start with your background. Where did your vegan values stem (another pun intended!) from?
I grew up on meat and potatoes, and eating lots of processed foods. My mom was just happy we were eating, but didn’t think much about the food. I turned vegan about four years ago. I started to wonder what was in the food i was eating. what were these long words i couldn’t even pronounce? That prompted me to go to my local bookstore and do some research. Before that, I just couldn’t imagine myself going vegan. I started reading about how animals are raised, and I was appalled. I didn’t want to eat cheese or meat the next day.
I really fell in love with the vegan diet. It’s a more conscious way of eating. You have to give your food more thought. I love that. I love eating fruits and vegetables; it just made sense. My health improved – I used to get sick all the time, but I never do anymore.
You’ve received rave reviews, national exposure, and it seems the demand for your truck in Orange County just continues to grow by leaps and bounds. What’s your background?
I’m self-taught. I actually went to school for Anthropology. I worked in sales and then got a brokers license, and moved to New York. When I turned vegan, I really dove into cooking. It was really out of necessity, but I really loved exploring. It was a challenge, and I’m the type of person who loves a good challenge. I’d spend a lot of time in the kitchen, trying dozens of experiments. I found that I was making higher quality dishes than what I found around town in Orange County. There are very few vegan options here, and I realized that OC was really in need of a vegan option. A food truck was a much lower risk than a restaurant, so I went for it.
Shortly after starting Seabirds, you found yourself on Food Network’s, The Great Food Truck Race. That’s amazing. How did you do it?
We got really lucky. They cast a wide net, looking for contestants. I got a call from Food Network, and they asked me to submit a video. We were actually a week late, submitting the video, but they still accepted it. I was so surprised when they called and said, “pack your bags, you’re on The Great Food Truck Race.”
I read on your website that you started Seabirds to make a difference in the lives of people in OC and in the world we live in. How have you brought the Seabirds message to people?
What I’m trying to do is change the way people think about food. We’re not trying to convert people… it’s a goal to get people to see fruits and veggies in a different way. For instance, brussel sprouts have such a bad rap, probably because people have bad memories of them. They grew up being forced to eat poorly cooked brussel sprouts and hate them.
We try to highlight the amazing produce we find locally. We’re reinventing veggies. It gives people ideas about how to prepare them at home. Most of our customers aren’t even vegan, but they eat from our truck once or twice a week. They’re trying to eat healthier, and Seabirds gives them an option they wouldn’t have otherwise.
I answer a lot of questions at the truck. We’re all passionate about veggies on the truck. That’s what the Seabirds are all about – Educating, not preaching.
How do you select your vendors? Do you look at their values and ethics before price?
Before I started the truck, I spent a lot of time investigating products and brands. Taste is important, but how it’s made and the vendor’s ethics are very important to me. A lot of what I do is organic. Is it certified? Pesticide free? These things are important to our customers, but that makes food costs a little higher, sometimes. For instance, we use Rice Brand frying oil. I’ve never seen anyone else using it… probably because it’s so expensive. So we do charge a little more, but it’s worth it. People tell us we’ve got the best fries they’ve ever eaten, and it’s because of the oil we use.
What’s the most challenging and rewarding parts about being a mobile vegan chef?
A lot of people really don’t know about food trucks, yet. It’s difficult, because they don’t know where we’re at all the time. It’s hard for them to grasp the concept that we move around a lot. It’s frustrating, but what’s great is that we can go to different events and festivals, music concerts, and health fairs that you can’t do with a restaurant.
When we go to events, we try to pair up with people with similar beliefs. Anything green, healthy, sustainable, vegetarian or animal-rights are right up our alley.
I think what we’re doing is revolutionary, but I don’t necessarily think of it as a revolutionary book. The cookbook is more of an educational tool. For instance, my sister’s not vegan but she cooks from my book. Her husband doesn’t like vegetables, but he likes these dishes. He’s learning that vegetables can taste good.
I’ve put recipes for 30 of our most popular dishes in the cookbook. It helps people recreate those dishes, and explore other options themselves… to come up ideas themselves.
It would be nice to publish a paper bound book someday. I’d love to have a tangible book you could hold, giving people the tools to be successful in their own kitchens. That would be amazing.
How can people buy the book and find you?