Flan Queen: Gracias Madre's Carmen Vazquez Ditches the Dairy
Carmen Vazquez is the genius behind the mind-blowing vegan flan at Gracias Madre in the Mission. She's also one of the chefs behind the now-defunct Brassica Supper Club, may it rest in peace/come back to life as a full-blown restaurant so I can eat my way up to my ideal 500 pounds. I recently quizzed Vazquez for the story behind the flan, which she makes from cashew milk thickened with agar-agar. She shared her thoughts on "veganizing" traditional dishes, and what the future looks like for a talented vegan chef.
Gil Riego Jr. Gracias Madre's Carmen Vazquez with her cashew-milk flan.
SFoodie: When did you start cooking?
Vazquez: I fell in love with cooking about six years ago. That's when I really started, and when I decided to enroll in culinary school. But, like a lot of us who grew up surrounded by grandmas and moms who spent their time in the kitchen, I can say I've been cooking my whole life.
What inspired you to make the flan?
I can't really say what inspired the creation of the flan. Ever since I found out about this new organic vegan Mexican restaurant [i.e., Gracias Madre], I knew I wanted to be part of it. I originally wanted to help with the development of the savory menu, but when I realized that was already done, desserts it was. I asked my Latino coworkers for ideas on traditional Mexican desserts and flan was the clear winner. It was a challenge, but I like challenging myself ― maybe it's the reason why I enjoy veganizing dishes no matter how "traditional" or difficult they may seem.
Favorite veg food in the city?
Gil Riego Jr. The seaweed known as agar-agar makes Gracias Madre's flan set up, without the need for eggs.
I LOVE our house-made corn tortillas! Wow, I'm a sucker for those things: fresh off the griddle with a couple slices of avocado, a sprinkle of salt, and some fresh ground pepper ... it's the best thing ever! But other than Gracias Madre, I really enjoy Millennium . They've really been an inspiration in my culinary career. As much as I enjoy the simplicity of an avocado taco, I can't help but relish in their complex dishes, bold flavors, and smart use of ingredients.
Ultimate cooking goals?
I'd like to eventually open up my own place. I'd also like to learn more about ingredients and food I've yet to experience. To veganize other traditional dishes. To influence other restaurants to choose organic, local, and sustainable produce. And to inspire non-vegans to make healthy and compassionate choices through food.