A local woman customizes vegan and vegetarian meals that she designs and cooks for all types of occasions.
What kid hasn't stashed away a napkin full of peas or had the family dog help them finish off a heaping mound of Brussels sprouts? Rachel Klein never turned her nose up at a single dinner, that is until she learned a little more about what she was eating.
"My mom went on this kick where she made London broil turkey every day for about a week," the now 23-year-old said. "I asked, 'Where does the food I eat come from?' and she was honest with me and told me [how livestock is slaughtered for consumption]. From then on, I couldn't eat meat."
And so the 5-year-old Klein proclaimed she was not going to eat anything with a face again -- fish being the exception for about five years until she gave it up at the age of 10 and became a vegetarian.
It's a choice she's never regretted.
"Now that I'm older and conscious of everything that I eat [meat] really grosses me out. I've never craved a burger in my whole life," she said. "It boggles my mind that it's a common thing to eat meat."
But there are plenty like Klein, and although the selection of products tailored to their diets may be harder to find, Klein is there to meet their needs.
The resident of 11th and Ellsworth streets founded Miss Rachel's Traveling Fare about a year ago, offering her services as a vegan and vegetarian personal chef to her neighborhood and the greater Philadelphia area. She caters to all kinds, including picky eaters, diabetics and those with food allergies. The mobile meals are available for week and weekend dinners, brunches, parties, picnics and even trips down the Shore. An aspiring restaurateur and current entrepreneur, Klein founded her business on the basis of compassion for those with palettes like hers.
"I know how difficult it is to not have options open to you," she said of dining out and even shopping at the grocery store. "I feel like people need more options."
Klein's interest in food stems back to her early vegetarian days when, at 8, she started cooking for her parents and younger sister at their Bucks County home. Rarely cracking open a recipe book -- which she still avoids today -- her time spent in the kitchen was purely experimental.
"I just kind of put things into a pot and it worked," she said of her early creations that included pasta dishes with doctored up sauces and cooked vegetables. "I had always been in the kitchen so when I started cooking more, I think my mom was happy she didn't have to."
On the two or three nights she'd cook each week, family, friends and neighbors quickly filled up the table to enjoy the young chef's homemade vegetarian soups, breads and biscuits -- a hobby she continued through her high school years.
"I really wanted to go to the Restaurant School, but they don't let you just major in vegetarian cooking," she said of the West Philly-based culinary school she looked into attending as an undergraduate. Considering Klein would not even touch a chicken in a middle school cooking class, she opted to go another route.
She enrolled at Temple University in 2003. She set out to pursue a degree in public relations, changed to sociology and finally settled on English, graduating with a bachelor of the arts in the subject in '07.
While in college, she moved to the area for its accessibility to so many facets of her life -- the subway, Center City, the Italian Market, the Korean Market and other kinds of shopping and entertainment.
"There's so much to do in South Philly," she said. "I feel safer here and it's got character."
She also spent those four years changing her lifestyle more towards being vegan -- eating nothing with products derived from animals -- on account of her picky vegetarian tastes and working as an apprentice in the kitchen at Horizons, 611 S. Seventh St., a restaurant where she said she learned a great deal and which she feels changed the local perception of vegan food.
"A lot of people think of [vegans as] hugging trees and eating grass and existing on hummus and Portobello burgers and that's totally not the case," she said.
There's so many other choices, she said, like vegetarian shepherd's pie, spinach and fettuccine alfredo, vegan ravioli made with seitan, tofu and edamame or maple rosemary "jam" with rum-soaked pears and garlic spinach, to name a few.
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