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Michael Natkin.
Emerging Foodie, Blogger, And First-Time Author Michael Natkin Seeks To Neutralize Negative Perceptions Of Vegetarian Eats

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By Karen Weil
Special for Modern Times Magazine

May 17, 2012 — Even in today’s nutrition-conscious environment, vegetarianism in the eyes of some has a reputation of being unappetizing “hippie food.”

Michael Natkin, a well-known food blogger and writer, hopes his new book will change that perception.

One main goal of Herbivoracious: A Flavor Revolution, with 150 Vibrant and Original Vegetarian Recipes (Harvard Common Press, $24.95) is to “re-introduce people to vegetarian food,” Natkin said.

His book is for non-vegetarians, too. “It’s not always easy to wean oneself off meat,” he said, emphasizing that’s ultimately not his goal.

“I believe people should make their own choices about what they love to eat,” he explained. “My goal is to say, ‘If you are going to eat a vegetarian meal tonight, let me help you make it hearty, satisfying, delicious and exciting.’

“I don't really hear people contemplating a switch to vegetarian so much as looking for ways to incorporate more meatless meals into their regular routine,” Natkin continued. “I'm a vegetarian, but it isn't about labels, whether vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian or omnivore. What is important is eating for pleasure, and perhaps gently expanding that notion of pleasure to include supporting our own health, and reducing our impact on the environment and animals.”

Along with recipes, the book includes an introductory chapter laying out simple steps to outfit a “globally inspired pantry of seasonings and sauces that make meatless food come alive,” according to a press release.

One favorite recipe of Natkin’s is Vietnamese vermicelli, or rice noodles served with vegetables, “something to eat on a hot summer day,” he said.

Other featured recipes are “Caramelized Apple and Blue Cheese Crostini,” “Persimmon, Parsley and Olive Salad,” and “Indian Fry Bread Tacos.”

“If you decide to go fully vegetarian, you'll want to incorporate foods from other culinary traditions besides America,” Natkin said. “In my book I've included recipes from Vietnam, Mexico, India and Italy to name a few, because those cuisines include beautiful, delicious dishes that are either vegetarian or very easily converted to be meatless. If you go vegetarian and consign yourself to a life of mac and cheese, you'll be both unhealthy and very quickly bored.”

Natkin’s career has taken quite a turn from his days in the film industry, when he worked at Industrial Light and Magic in the early 1990s.

He has also worked as a professional chef, and as a software engineer for notable companies like Adobe.

Natkin has no second thoughts about the career shift.

“It is a great feeling to be working for myself and my family,” he said. “Every day is a new adventure.”

Born in Pennsylvania, the Brown University graduate (who earned a degree in computer science) describes himself as a “geek and foodie.”

“I’ve been obsessed with cooking since I was 18,” said Natkin, who lives in Seattle with his family.

That was the same age Natkin gave up meat, going “cold turkey” (bad pun intended).

He said his late mother, who fought breast cancer, was his inspiration. A year before her death, she tried a macrobiotic diet.

“I don't know that it did any tremendous good, but they were nourishing meals and it meant a lot to me to be able to cook for her,” Natkin said. “I think that when people are very sick, they try a lot of things in hopes that it will help. I'm not at all an expert on nutrition or eating for specific health issues, but I know that many folks feel they have gotten amazing results from a diet change.”

About five years ago, Natkin started a food blog, www.Herbivoracious.com, in hopes it could help him build a career. His blog is popular, attracting some 100,000 readers a month, he said.

Recently, a publishing exec approached him about writing a book. One thing led to another, and now he’s promoting his first book across the country.

The hardest part of writing a cookbook, he said, “was doing the dishes!”

“I find developing recipes and photographing them to be incredibly fun and gratifying,” Natkin added. “But boy, I hate seeing that sink full of pots and pans at 11 p.m.”

What’s next on Natkin’s agenda? For starters, he said he plans to open “a very small, very non-standard restaurant” in Seattle that will be a combination of a blog test kitchen and upscale lunch counter.

“This is such an exciting time in the food world, with everyone busting at the seams with new ideas for what a restaurant can be,” he said. “I can't wait to contribute to that conversation.”

Natkin has other gourmet endeavors:  He sits on the “Chefs and Experts” panel of AOL’s Kitchen Daily and is a charter member of the “Gourmet Live Socialvores.”

His blog and recipes caught the attention of the New York Times Diner’s Journal, and he has been listed for four consecutive years on Saveur’s “Sites We Love.”

To learn more about Herbivoracious or Natkin’s blog, visit www.Herbivoracious.com.

Karen Weil is a journalist living in southern California.
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