Community Spotlight: Regan Karlsen
We’re constantly inspired by how our community members apply the hard work and dedication we see in the studio to their daily lives. Today, we’re highlighting a member who’s been riding with us since 2017—Regan K. As a vegan chef, Regan works with large institutions to bring more plant-based eating to the masses. Talk about making an impact! A little fun fact about Regan—outside of Ascend, she loves to stay active by rock climbing but is terrified of heights (ok, we’re impressed). Read on to learn more about Regan.
Meet Chef Regan.
So Regan, you’re not only a chef but also a vegan chef, no less! Tell us what drew you to this career?
I grew up in the kitchen, cooking with both my parents. My Dad’s side of the family is Italian and on holidays my grandma and I would cook family recipes together. On my Mom’s side, we have a long line of female chefs – I come by it honestly.
My first job was as a dishwasher, I’m still surprised that didn’t deter my love for the kitchen. After high school, I went onto French culinary school and from there on to work as the chef at a holistic, plant-based retreat and diabetes recovery center.
Food is full of so many different emotions for people, it can be comforting, energizing, nourishing, nostalgic, etc. It’s really beautiful to be a part of that individualized experience.
What does a day in the life of a vegan chef look like?
Every day is a little bit different but it always starts with a big cup of coffee (or two) around 6am.
I travel all over the country to conduct plant-based trainings for the culinary staff in dining halls at universities, hospitals, K-12 school districts, military bases and correctional centers. The goal is to work with large institutions feeding the masses so that I reach as many people as possible and have a large an impact as possible.
How would you describe your food philosophy?
Mostly healthy, unprocessed whole-foods with a little bit of indulgence thrown in for balance. Following a loose guide line of 80/20 is an easy way to look at it.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about a vegan lifestyle?
Probably that it’s expensive and that it’s hard to get enough nutrients like protein.
Like any diet, when you start buying a lot of specialty items, your grocery bill will skyrocket. If you stick to vegetables, nuts, beans, grains, herbs and spices you’ll end up saving money. I choose to buy organic and support local, that’s going to be more expensive no matter your diet!
Protein is the number one thing that I get asked about. It’s really a non-issue. It’s found in so many sources - greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans. For example, a cup of lentils has 18g of protein compared to a 4oz steak that has 22g. Not much of a loss and the lentils are going to be a fraction of the price and have other nutrients like fiber. The reality is that plant-based protein is cleaner than animal-based so it’s much easier and less work for the body to metabolize. Which is a contributing factor to why so many people feel an energy surge when they shift their diet. This makes these kinds of protein sources an especially great option for extremely active or busy people.
Do you think there is a general shift in people wanting to eat more plant-based—regardless of what specific diet they follow?
There is an increase in the demand across the country. Being healthy is suddenly trendy. A lot of people are looking to clean up their diets so they feel and look better.
On top of that, eating plant-based or more plant-based is the most effective way to have a positive impact on the planet – which is in dire need of our help. It takes 250 gallons of water to produce 1lb of soy but it takes 2,650 gallons to produce 1lb of beef. If everyone just picked one day out of the week to eat plant-based the impact on the environment would be as if we all switched from a sedan to a hybrid – and that’s just a single day.
It’s important to keep in mind that you don’t have to go vegan to have an impact. I think the key word here is reduction when it comes to animal products which leaves a lot of room to decide how that best fits into your lifestyle.
What are five kitchen staples you can’t live without?
1. Salt – Brings out the natural flavor in foods. I use pink himalayan salt. This salt has just over 10% less sodium chloride than regular table salt, is full of trace minerals and is the cleanest option you can buy.
2. Miyoko’s butter – A to die for dairy butter replacement that has clean ingredients and no strange aftertaste.
3. Raw cashews – I reach for raw cashews to blend into a cream to replace dairy in all sorts of dishes like mashed potatoes, creamy soups, vodka sauce, etc. It’s more substantial than almond milk and has a neutral flavor compared to something like coconut cream.
4. Fresh fruit – I love snacking on fresh fruit. For dessert I’ll have a cup of berries and pomegranates with coconut whipped cream.
5. Rao’s arrabiata sauce – This is hands down my favorite store bought sauce. I use this weekly for easy and delicious dinners. I love it on spaghetti squash or a creamy polenta. It’s especially good over grilled eggplant.
What’s your favorite way to unwind after a long day?
Usually, I close out my days with a few hours of rock climbing at Sportrock. I also love going for long walk at night in my neighborhood.
Sometimes there’s nothing better than doing nothing with a glass of red wine or a cold beer with my dog.
Outside of Ascend, where can we find you enjoying free time on a weekend?
I absolutely love and need to be outside in nature. I hike and camp whenever possible. On Saturdays, I meet my dad at Swings to get our caffeine fix. In the evenings, I meet up with friends to catch up over drinks.
Can you share a favorite vegan recipe with our Ascend community?