New York-based healthy living guru Cassandra Bodzak has taken her vegan cooking style to “The Taste,” ABC's new competitive cooking show. She is matched up with French mentor Ludo Lefebvre, and her style of cooking has made her a hit.
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On "The Taste," four celebrity chefs serve as mentors and coaches for 16 chefs, both home cooks and professionals. A blind taste test narrowed down a field of 35 to 16. The four mentors — Anthony Bourdain, Marcus Samuelsson, Nigella Lawson and Ludo Lefebvre — tasted each dish without knowing anything about who cooked it or what the ingredients were. They then decided if they wanted to add that chef to their team. Think “The Voice,” just with food.
For her audition, the 26-year-old Bodzak decided to make her specialty: vegan cupcakes. Bourdain's dislike of all things healthy is well documented, so making the desert was definitely a risk.
"I felt strongly about presenting my vegan cupcakes, because out of everything I make I'm most known for them," Bodzak says. "My friends will order them for their birthdays and I really take pride in them. I knew I was going up against a bunch of people that were not huge fans of vegan foods. But at the same time I thought doing anything else would be going against myself."
Her risk definitely paid off: Lefebvre took a chance and added her to Team Ludo.
"There was definitely a part of me that was hoping for him because I thought I'd get farther with him and I could learn a lot more from him," Bodzak says. "He's intense and little crazy at times, but he really knows his stuff. He really knows how to work with you and make you the best chef you could be. I was so freaking excited to get him."
The origins of Bodzak's work with food date back to the start of her blog, Go Sweet and Skinny. Bodzak began looking for a way to eat healthier in college and turned to a more vegan lifestyle. She experimented often, trying new recipes, and eventually started her blog to share her ways of eating and living healthier.
"My main philosophy is that I want to make happy, healthy living attainable for anyone," Bodzak says. "Even though a lot of my recipes are vegan and vegetarian, I don't believe in labeling. I probably eat 80 percent vegan and 20 percent of the time I'm more flexible with myself."
Her appearance on “The Taste” has given her an even bigger audience. It has also, however, opened her up to criticism from some more die-hard vegans. Chef Ludo had her try chicken on the show, for example, which ruffled some feathers.
"I have been getting a little bit of flak," Bodzak says. "It makes me really sad that people that are so passionate about a culture of kindness can be so cruel to another person. I do strongly believe in a lot of reasons why people are vegan, and I think vegan food is delicious. I just feel that I'll be able to help more people and inspire more people if I'm not so extremist."
Despite a few critics, Bodzak remains dedicated to making a healthy life possible for as many people as she can.
"You don't have to be vegan or vegetarian all the time. But if you start making little changes and learning to cook some of these dishes that are a little bit healthier, I think that's a victory."
Watch “The Taste” on Thursdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.