PROVIDENCE — Until recently, vegan chef Jason Authier didn’t like tofu.
“Like many others, I didn’t give it a chance. All it takes is one bad experience where it’s not prepared properly, not seasoned correctly … and it’s easy to join the ‘I don’t like tofu’ camp,” he said. “But the truth is, tofu has been given a bad rap.”
To prove his point, Authier — who is more widely known as “Chef Jay” — could be found on a recent Friday evening in Plant City’s “Cellar” space teaching a “Tofu 101″ cooking class.
During the hands-on class, attendees prepared tofu cutlets. “This tastes like chicken and has the same texture … it’s delicious,” said one middle-aged convert. For the cutlets, Authier also guided the class through preparation of a homemade marinara sauce. And for dessert, a tofu-based frosting to spread on vegan cupcakes he’d baked earlier.
Tofu is a versatile plant-based protein that can be featured in a variety of sweet and savory dishes. It is prepared by coagulating soy milk, then pressing the curds that are created into solid white blocks that come in a range of textures from silken, soft, and firm, to extra firm, and super firm.
For Authier’s class, extra firm tofu was used for the cutlets. It was sliced, dipped in flour, then an egg substitute, then a panko bread crumb mix before being shallow fried. Silken tofu was used for the frosting.
“What I think is missed on most people is that tofu is a fantastic vehicle for flavors. It’s a blank canvas,” Authier, 45, said.
Plant-based protein, like tofu, is recommended by the American Heart Association over animal-derived protein for heart health. Tofu is also lower in calories and fat compared to its meat and cheese counterparts. For each 100 calorie serving, tofu packs 11 grams of protein, compared to 8.9 grams of protein for 100 calories of ground beef, and 6.2 grams of protein in a 100 calorie serving of cheese.
While the tofu was frying during Authier’s recent class, one admitted “tofu skeptic” said she thought it smelled like the eggplant parmesan her mother used to make. Another said she was surprised at how quickly it was ready.
“Unlike meat, tofu is a cooked product, so you’re really just heating it up,” Authier said.
Vincent Savino, 59, a physical therapist assistant from New Bedford, said he has adhered to a whole food, plant-based diet since he had a heart attack 15 months ago.
Like others in the class, the father of three adult children said he wasn’t sold on “the whole tofu thing.”
“I was afraid of tofu,” Savino said. “But I wanted to try it. I took one bite and you know what? I ate the whole thing.”
“The flavor was good, it was crispy on the outside … but I guess that anything that’s fried tastes good,” he added.
Ginger Thornley, 54, who works in loan services for a bank and lives in Warwick, said she was excited when she learned about the vegan cooking class.
“I get overwhelmed with all of the cookbooks. I’ve been looking for a vegan chef to learn from,” she said. “I had never made tofu and was afraid of not making it right, but I was able to go step-by-step with him [Authier] and I loved it.”
Mary Falso, 55, a mortgage processor and mother of three adult children who took the cooking class with her husband, Bob, 64, said she “had no idea tofu could be so good.”
“It was very flavorful … a cross between fried mozzarella and chicken parm. Even the [plant-based] cheese was really good,” she said, adding that she and her husband are, as they are getting older, “working toward a healthier way of life.”
Bob Falso said his advice to those who are anti-tofu is “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
“People have got to be a little more open-minded when they sit down at the table,” said Falso, a retired financial officer from Warwick. “You never know what you might be missing.”
Authier said teaching “Tofu 101″ was rewarding because it gave him a chance to dispel misconceptions about tofu. He has enjoyed the other vegan cooking classes he’s been teaching since January, including one that was all about tacos and another focused on sushi.
His weekly summer classes include homemade veggie burgers and carrot dogs, cooking with mushrooms (including a recipe for mushroom scallops), Vietnamese food, strawberry shortcake with lemon pound cake and chickpea meringue, and a barbecue feast featuring baked beans, barbecue seitan skewers, and spicy coleslaw.
“My goal with my classes is to take the fear and misunderstanding out of any ingredients that people aren’t used to cooking with,” said Authier, who lives in North Smithfield with his wife, Kelly, and their 11-year-old daughter. “I want them to try the recipes at home and incorporate them into their meal planning. About half of the people who take my classes are not vegan, but they want to cut down their meat intake.”
Authier and his wife switched to a vegan diet after hearing author and plant-based diet advocate Dr. Neal Barnard speak in 2019.
“I had just turned 40 and my family has a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease,” he said. “I didn’t want to go down that path. Right away, I didn’t feel so weighed down and uncomfortable – I never realized how uncomfortable I was. We both slept better, felt better, and had much more energy.”
While the decision to switch to a vegan diet was initially about health, Authier said the more he has learned about industrial/factory farming, the more his vegan convictions have been reinforced.
The oldest of five children, Authier said he began helping his parents prepare dinner for the family when he was 12 or 13. He enjoyed being in the kitchen, which led to a two-decades-plus career in management positions in the hospitality industry.
He works as the retail manager at Our Lady of Fatima Hospital — where he has also served as executive chef — in North Providence. And while he plans on keeping his day job, Authier said he is excited about the prospect of growing his vegan cooking school — the only one in Rhode Island.
“I love that I have the opportunity to take the fear out of plant-based eating,” he said. “I like my dishes to be practical, easy to make, delicious, and affordable. I want to share that with as many people as possible.”
For more information and a schedule of classes, go to chefjays.co.
1 pound firm tofu
1 cup panko bread crumbs
½ cup olive oil
1 cup Just Egg
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
½ cup vegan parmesan
Chiffonade fresh basil for garnish
Step by step:
1. Drain tofu and slice into ¼-inch thick sheets. Place on a paper towel to extract
2. While tofu drains, put flour in a bowl and season with 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper.
3. Pour Just Egg in a second bowl.
4. In the third bowl, put panko, Italian seasoning, garlic, ¼ cup vegan parmesan, salt and
pepper and mix well.
5. Coat tofu in flour, dip in Just Egg, and gently press into panko mixture.
6. Heat oil in a fry pan over medium heat until it shimmers.
7. Place breaded tofu in hot oil and fry until golden; then flip and repeat.
8. Hold in a warm oven until all tofu is cooked.
9. Serve over pasta with tomato sauce (recipe below) and sprinkle with vegan parmesan and chiffonade basil.
10. Serve with a simple tomato sauce.
21 ounces silken tofu
½ – ¾ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon agave nectar
Step by step:
1. Remove tofu from package and pat dry.
2. Place tofu, vanilla, salt, agave and ½ cup of powdered sugar into a mixer with whisk
3. Beat for a minute, taste, and, if needed, add more powdered sugar.
4. Continue whipping until light, fluffy, and holds shape.
Add extracts such as lemon or almond to change flavor profile.
Don’t squeeze the tofu to get water out; you need some moisture.
If you add too much powdered sugar, just add a milk alternative a teaspoon at a time.
Juliet Pennington can be reached at email@example.com.