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Five Visionary Vegan Chefs

Food writer, Amanda Rock, brings Utah Stories her top five local vegan chefs. From sweets to BBQ, these chefs do it all.

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Chef Fee with her “vegan crack” at Sweet Hazel and Co. Bakeshop & Bistro. Photo by Mike Jones.

Inclusive eats from Chef Felicia Holmberg (“Chef Fee”)

During the pandemic, you could find Chef Fee selling “vegan crack” out of her trunk in parking lots. Once her copycat version of Snickers put her on the map, she quit her job as a sous-chef to pursue her vegan dreams. 

Fast forward three years. She now owns Sweet Hazel and Co. Bakeshop & Bistro with her wife, Laurie. Her full line of vegan candy bars are sold throughout the country, including shops in Salt Lake City. As an LGBTQ+ woman, Chef Fee works hard to be inclusive, and that means making delicious food for everyone. 

Besides making egg and dairy-free comfort food and treats, you’ll find gluten-free, sugar-free, and nut-free candy and menu items at Sweet Hazel and Co. Bakeshop & Bistro. Chef Fee doesn’t want anyone to feel left out. Making vegan food fun and approachable is part of her job. 

The bistro menu boasts comfort food favorites for breakfast (served all day), lunch, and weekend brunch. You can find whatever you’re craving on the menu, whether that’s the Strawberry-stuffed French Toast Combo made with house whipped cream, tofu scramble, and a side of savory, crispy vegan bacon, or the messy but delicious Philly Sandwich made with locally crafted seitan-based meat. Chef Fee is particular about her ingredients, sourcing the most cutting-edge and delicious meat and dairy substitutes. 

Chef Fee works her magic by being a meticulous candy maker, a creative, passionate chef, and creating a welcoming environment and brand. By supporting other local businesses and charities, Chef Fee has become a shining star on Utah’s food scene. 

Photo of Vertical Diner by Braden Latimer.

Chef Ian Brandt: The Vegan Chef OG 

With creative and comforting dishes made with local vegetables and fruit, Chef Ian Brandt introduced Salt Lake City to upscale vegan food. In the 25 years he’s been making innovative animal-free dishes, the vegan scene has blown up around him, but Brandt is the original and his food is still some of the best. 

Vertical Diner opened in 2007 and merged with Brandt’s legendary upscale Sage’s Cafe in 2018. A second location of Vertical Diner opened in Portland in 2019. Vertical Diner serves comfort food using as much organic and local produce as they can find. A lot of the ingredients are house-made, too. In a Beyond Burger world, this is commendable. 

Salt Lake City’s most awarded vegan restaurant, Vertical Diner’s menu offers dishes like The “Dude” Cakes, two fluffy, delectable pancakes stuffed with house-made sausage, grilled peppers, onions, and mushrooms. The dish is drowned in gravy and topped with hot, crisp french fries. One of their most popular burgers is the Ian Mackaye, a house-made lentil veggie burger topped with mac and cheeze (from scratch!). 

Chef Ian Brandt is a visionary, and Salt Lake City is lucky to have Vertical Diner. 

Christopher Blatchford: Award-winning Vegan BBQ 

You have to take notice when a vegan BBQ joint wins a state-wide award for the best BBQ. 

Making his own smoked, hand-crafted vegan meats with house-made rubs, Christopher Blatchford takes his BBQ seriously. 

Inspiring a cult-like following, Blatch’s Backyard BBQ’s menu features meat substitutes made from tempeh, jackfruit, and house-made seitan. You’ll find traditional dishes with a vegan twist like Tempeh Burnt Ends and Smoked Vegan Brisket. The flavor and mouthfeel of his vegan BBQ is incredible! 

Blatchford doesn’t skimp on his sides, either. The wood-fired rolls, Smoked Poblano Potato Salad, and Purple Citrus Slaw are delectable pairings to round out your meatless meal. 

For only serving up BBQ twice a week at his home, the menu is extensive! Choose from hearty sandwiches like The Big Texan — brisket piled on Texas toast with house-made pickles and BBQ sauce served with a side. 

One of the vegan stir-fry dishes from Rawtopia.

Omar Abou-Ismail: Rawtopia, Living Cuisine and Beyond 

Leaving behind a career in geophysics, Omar Abou-Ismail pursued his passion to open a restaurant serving delicious and healthy raw food. According to his restaurant’s website, “Patience, peace and love” are the major ingredients in the food served at Rawtopia

Using organic produce and cooking everything from scratch, this living cuisine takes at least two days to prepare using everything except an oven. Blenders, food processors, dehydrators, and juicers do most of the work in Abou-Ismail’s kitchen. Nuts and seeds are sprouted to amp their nutrient levels and make them easier to digest. 

Popular raw dishes include the Seaweed Roll — an addictive take on a maki roll made with macadamia nut rice encasing veggies with a sweet curry almond ginger sauce, and the creamy and tart Berry Cheesecake, a heavenly dessert made with a base of coconut and blended macadamia nuts. 

After moving locations from Sugarhouse to Millcreek in 2017, Abou-Ismail added a few cooked and meaty dishes. Diners can now opt for a hearty Bison Burger and a fresh salad topped with wild-caught salmon. 

Vegan donuts from Yumz Vegan Bakery & Cafe.

Cecilia Armenta: Traditional Latin Dishes Made Vegan 

Take a bite of her jackfruit Birria taco dipped in the flavorful consomme and you’ll forget all about meat. Veganizing traditional Latin dishes, Cecilia Armenta opened Yumz Vegan Bakery & Cafe in October of 2021. Customers were blown away by the authentic dishes. Word of mouth spread, online reviews were written, and Yumz became one of the hottest new spots in Salt Lake City. 

Reimagining her favorite family recipes without meat and dairy, Armenta proved herself a talented chef and baker. One of Yumz most popular items is the Jackfruit Birria taco. Jackfruit, when marinated and cooked just right, is incredibly meat-like. The Al Pastor and Asada are equally as deceptive — and delectable. 

What about dairy products and eggs? Nope, Armenta doesn’t need those either. Beautiful vegan cakes and pastries line the case in Yumz. She’s opening a second bakery, Dulce De Yumz, with an expanded dessert menu.

Top photo of Christopher Blatchford of Blatch’s Backyard BBQ. Photo by John Taylor.

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