Hot Knives is the beer-, cheese-, and vegetable-loving duo Evan George and Alex Brown. What began as a newspaper column written by the two former line cooks has grown into an entertaining blog and two cookbooks: The Hot Knives Vegetarian Cookbook: Salad Daze, and Lust for Leaf, which will be released later this spring. When they’re not cooking up something fun, Evan George is an investigative journalist and food writer, and Alex Brown is a cheese expert and general manager for Gourmet Imports in Los Angeles. Vegetarian Times caught up with the Hot Knives for a chat about their latest projects, vegetarian culture, cheese choices, and of course, beer.
VT: How long have you been vegetarians? What inspired you to ditch the meat?
Hot Knives: One of the essential things about what we do as authors and bloggers is that we try to be inclusive with people whether they eat vegetarian, vegan, or neither, be it friends or readers or strangers we meet. So rather than use our cooking as a soapbox, we’ve been way more successful just focusing on good ideas about cooking that just happen to be conscientious and meatless.
That said, in terms of how we came to eating vegetables: Evan first became vegetarian in high school (in the late 90s) after listening to a lot of Skinny Puppy records, including their famously anti-animal cruelty polemic “Vive Sect VI.” Upon arrival in Los Angeles for college, Alex and Evan immediately started hanging out due to band T-shirt association (Evan in Skinny Puppy, Alex in My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult). Early on in our friendship, Evan challenged Alex and a few other friends to go vegetarian for a week—it stuck. Chalk it up to industrial music and the realities of the college mess hall—a great equation for change.
VT: What's been your proudest moment since starting Hot Knives?
Hot Knives: Having started out in 2005 as an occasional newspaper food column, we’ve felt immensely proud at every new challenge we tackle—whether that’s successfully catering a massive, formal, high-pressure, 12-course dinner reception for a same-sex wedding, or hearing ourselves on public radio for the first time, or receiving five trophies at the Grilled Cheese Championship. But we’ve never been as proud as when we got FedExed the first copies of our cookbook Salad Daze. We felt like new parents—and now we have a second one on the way! We think Lust for Leaf is going to blow minds. It’s a vegetarian cookbook like no other.
VT: What are the latest and greatest cheeses for those who avoid animal rennet?
Hot Knives: There are so many amazing cheeses that don’t utilize animal rennet—both traditionally produced with things like cardoon flowers, and lab-grown microbial rennet—and these days the options for the strict vegetarian are pretty vast. We love helping people find these cheeses because other than the use of traditional animal rennet, most traditional cheese production insists on compassionate and prosperous living conditions for the animals that make the cheese. Loads of American artisanal cheeses (everything from Vermont Butter and Creamery) utilize microbial rennet, and then there are some amazing European cheeses like Lou Bergier Pichin or Azeitao, that utilize traditional plant-based rennets.
VT: OK, you're stuck on a deserted island with your choice of 3 vegetables/fruits and 1 kind of beer (cases and cases of it, naturally). What do you choose?
Hot Knives: Something very much like this has happened to us while camping in Joshua Tree—we resorted to beans and veggie franks, like old hobos.
We’d choose to subsist on potatoes and onions. We could make weird soups from potato and onion and desert island palm fronds or beach grasses. Or grill and bake the potatoes. Luckily, with it being a deserted island, we’d have plenty of sea salt! As for fruit, if we had an endless supply of grapefruits, and a machete to hack them down, we’d be content. We can’t live without citrus, and the vitamin C couldn’t hurt.
As for beer, it took us 4 seconds to agree on Rayon Vert from Green Flash Brewing Company. It’s what the monks at Orvall (a Trappist brewery in Belgium) would make if they lived in San Diego. It’s beautiful at any time of day, any time of year. It’s hoppy and funky and filling while being light and refreshing. It’s awesome for use in braising beans, fortifying stocks, and making sauce.
VT: Anything else you'd like to share with VT readers?
Hot Knives: Just a couple of thoughts about vegetarian culture nowadays: There’s never been a better time to be a person who seriously loves vegetables; don’t let the foodies have all the fun. We should be populating the farmers’ markets, meeting those who grow our produce, and focusing on that while foregoing overly processed foods.
Forget your preconceptions about farmstead cheese—if you eat vegan, that’s cool; but if you eat dairy, go deep. First off, look further than any shopping market aisle and go straight to a cheese shop. Why? No one cares more about animal well-being than a real dairyman.