What's Cookin'?

Mark Reinfeld, B.A.’89

Enlightened Chef

By Carol Olechowski

Mark Reinfeld learned to cook from the best: “my mom and my grandfather, Benjamin Bimstein, a famed chef and ice-carver in New York City in the 1950s. I used to love to prepare meatballs and spaghetti,” he remembers.

Mark Reinfeld - Blossoming Lotus

he Portland, Ore.-based Reinfeld still loves to cook. But these days, he’s a renowned vegan chef, so the meatballs are made with tempeh, and vegetables stand in for the pasta.

Vegans, says Reinfeld, “enjoy fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts, herbs and spices. Veganism is essentially a vegetarian diet with no dairy or eggs. A strict vegan would not use animal products – including leather and fur – at all.”

Reinfeld’s “love of travel and compassion for animals” led him to veganism, a “surprisingly easy” lifestyle to embrace. “Salads are vegan, so most of us have been eating vegan foods our whole lives. Salsa, guacamole and stir fry are also vegan. There are so many vegan products available that you can create world-class cuisine using only plants, and substituting tofu or tempeh for fish or chicken.”

Years ago, “I ate lots of different things without really thinking about whether they were healthy,” observes Reinfeld, admitting to a youthful fondness for fast food. “I wouldn’t say I was a picky eater.”

He later began to cultivate more conscientious eating habits. As a pre-law student majoring in philosophy and minoring in business, Reinfeld “awakened to the joys of travel” junior year while attending the London School of Economics. After returning to UAlbany, he applied to New York University for law school, then deferred enrollment for a year to continue his travels in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, absorbing what – and how – people of other cultures ate. He attended NYU for a semester but “decided this wasn’t for me. I got rid of most of what wouldn’t fit in my car and headed west, not sure where I would land or what I would do.”

Reinfeld landed in San Diego and began his “cooking career” in the kitchen of a natural-foods store. Three years later, “I branched off on my own and started the Blossoming Lotus as a personal chef/consulting service, teaching people to cook and providing meals for folks.” The Blossoming Lotus name – later used for a restaurant Reinfeld opened on Kauai, Hawaii, then for the one he and business partner Bo Rinaldi currently own and operate in Portland – signifies “evolving consciousness and is a symbol of enlightenment,” explains Reinfeld. “To me, it means to offer an enlightened form of cuisine.”

Mark Reinfeld - Blossoming Lotus

His career is likewise blossoming. For those eager to learn more about vegan cuisine, Reinfeld offers Internet cooking workshops and personal lessons for small groups. With Rinaldi, he published the best-selling Vegan Fusion World Cuisine, which “had a foreword by Dr. Jane Goodall and went on to win nine national awards, including a Gourmand Award for Best Vegetarian Cookbook in the U.S. Bo and I then wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Raw with Jennifer Murray.” Reinfeld,
who teamed with Murray again for The 30 Minute Vegan and The 30 Minute Vegan’s Taste of the East, is “now working on my fifth book, The 30 Minute Vegan’s Taste of Europe.”

Aside from enjoying wholesome, delicious dishes like Roasted Red Pepper Hummus (recipe here), “people who include more vegan foods in their diets often experience relief from such health problems as undiagnosed allergies to dairy and other products,” Reinfeld maintains. He once suffered from headaches and sore throats but noticed that both maladies “pretty much disappeared once I became a vegan.” As a bonus, “I felt more energy and was able to maintain the weight I was in college.”

At the Blossoming Lotus, Reinfeld serves “organic and locally grown foods whenever possible. There are so many vegan products – great-tasting cheeses, butters, meat replacements – on the market that it is fairly easy to ‘veganize’ any dish.”

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