Evan Thomas, a New York-based recipe developer for Stonyfield and General Mills is the man behind the popular vegetarian and gluten-free food blog The Wannabe Chef. In this week’s Pinner Portrait, he dishes on healthy hacks for homemade meals and the trick to better cooking.
What was the first thing you ever made? Frozen pizza doesn’t count.
Banana oatmeal cookies for a yearbook bake sale. They probably tasted awful, so I feel bad that people actually paid to eat them, even though they were only 75 cents.
When did you start your blog The Wannabe Chef?
I was a sophomore in high school and created it over the course of a weekend. In the beginning, I posted really simple recipes like maple-curry acorn squash. It sounds fancy, but only requires three things: Maple syrup, curry powder and acorn squash. You don’t need expensive ingredients to make something delicious—fresh food has all the flavor you need.
What motivated you to focus on gluten-free and vegetarian meals?
When I was a freshman in college, my weight dropped suddenly and I never seemed to have an appetite. I realized I was getting sick from gluten. As soon as I cut it out, I felt “normal” and more healthy. I focused on eating only naturally gluten-free whole foods like fruits, vegetables and brown rice. When I had cravings for pizza, bread or ice cream, I bought the gluten-free alternatives—they’re just as delicious.
When I was a freshman in college, my weight dropped suddenly and I never seemed to have an appetite. I realized I was getting sick from gluten. As soon as I cut it out, I felt “normal”, more healthy. I focused on eating only naturally gluten-free whole foods like fruits, vegetables and brown rice. When I had cravings for pizza, bread or ice cream, I bought the gluten-free alternatives—they’re just as delicious.
What about dairy?
Without cheese, I’d have a hard time enjoying meals! But seriously, most of my recipes are dairy-free or include very little. Almond and coconut milk are great alternatives. I like the flavor, they’re shelf-stable and perfect in a pinch. When you switch things up, cooking gets really exciting. For instance, in a French risotto, I’ll swap the cream for coconut milk and add Thai spices.
You have a board called Just Cinnamon Rolls. How do you spice up this breakfast basic?
A good cinnamon roll should have lots of cinnamon and brown sugar, of course. Molasses, orange zest and vanilla are underrated flavors you can use, too. For a gluten-free version, Bob’s Red Mill makes a gluten-free all purpose baking flour.
How do you discover new recipes?
Pinterest is a big source of inspiration. We eat with our eyes first, so saving photos of recipes is like a feast. When I find something I like, I’ll make it as is or swap out ingredients to make it gluten-free or vegetarian.
Have you created any patent-worthy food discoveries?
Chocolate mug cake. It only takes three minutes in the microwave and the ingredients are simple: Cocoa powder, banana, egg and almond butter. It’s really popular in the Paleo and CrossFit niches.
What’s next on your must-make list?
A gluten-free peanut butter and Nutella tart with a pretzel crust.
And the trick to being a good cook?
There’s no trick. It takes time and practice. Take something you love and recreate it—that’s how you get better at any art (great advice from my photography teacher). As a beginner, follow the recipe step by step. The more you cook, the more comfortable you’ll be improvising and experimenting with different ingredients. Eventually, you’ll be cooking from your gut, not the cookbook.
What’s your Pinterest story? Don’t be shy—we’d love to hear from you.