Barbara Ganucheau was the lead singer of the band The Cold in the 1980s. A few years ago, her life took a turn when her husband of 32 years had a heart attack, was diagnosed with a rare heart disease and was told to avoid all types of fat. Ganucheau transformed the food they loved — typical New Orleans cuisine — to make it not only vegan but almost entirely fat free. She recently published Vegan Dawlin: (Almost) Fat-Free New Orleans Food from the Heart. Ganucheau spoke with Gambit about transforming local dishes into healthier alternatives.
How did you move from the music world to the kitchen?
Ganucheau: Food is everyone's interest, isn't it? I've always loved to eat, and cooking was one of those things that always thrilled me. As a kid, my favorite Christmases were when my Easy-Bake Oven and Big Burger Grill appeared under the tree. Of course, becoming a good cook requires lots of time and focus and a kitchen with supplies. I didn't have any of that when I was devoted to performing music in my late teens and early twenties. But then I got all of it; my husband Ray, children, a kitchen and all the time I needed. I began to learn serious cooking techniques when I was in my mid-20s. I'm 55 and cooking is like breathing now.
We all do that second-guessing thing to ourselves, when we know we're good at something creative but still approach cautiously and with doubt. Self-doubt is the worst. ... When I'm in the creative cooking zone, I'm just a conduit for the good flavors from Nirvana and the cooking angels to the plate.
Why New Orleans-style vegan food?
G: New Orleans-specific vegan food has been done. It's not new. But what's never been done is New Orleans-specific vegan food without all the fat, and that's what's special about the Vegan Dawlin recipes. I explain in my book how most of the meatless conundrums have been conquered in the vegan world, but with high-fat plant ingredients like nuts, olives and oils — which are delicious but didn't fit my needs for cooking fat-free vegan to help reverse heart disease. Having said that, why New Orleans food? Because that's what I know and what I started cooking 30 years ago and became good at, and that's what my husband likes and was going to miss.
The secret is that there's a need for delicious fat-free vegan cuisine for people who love local food. I know other folks who are in the same predicament. Of course you can tell it's not real meat or real creamery butter or deep-fried food, but that's not the point. The point is that it's so darn close to the real thing.
What's one food you couldn't live without?
G: If there's something I feel strongly that I can't live without, I'll make a point of giving it up. Attachment makes for stagnant energy, so it's healthy to not get too fanatic about any one thing. Trust me, I'm an expert at overdoing ...
OK. Mushrooms! They're incredible.