Cookbook author Isa Chandra Moskowitz has a lot on her plate right now (yes, that was a cheap pun. Moving on). She’s just released her eighth vegan cookbook, Isa Does It, she’s wrapped filming an online video cooking series produced by Zero Point Zero, Inc., she designs the Meatless Mondays menu at Benson Brewery, and she’s opening her own vegan restaurant in Midtown Omaha next spring.
It’s all a part of keeping up with the growing momentum of the vegan lifestyle in the Midwest. “I think things are happening really fast,” Moskowitz says. “If I just look at my life here in Omaha for the past three years, things have progressed so fast. I think in five years, everything will be Portland. In terms of vegan, not in terms of fixies.” That’s a fixed-gear bicycle, for the non-hipsters among us.
Welcome to the dry humor that is Moskowitz. Isa Does It is full of her quips, making the book not only an unintimidating introduction to vegan cooking but also a darn fun read.
The Brooklyn transplant went vegetarian as a teen of the ’80s for no huge reason other than that she likes animals. “As soon as I realized, oh, I can cook without meat, it just worked,” she says. Her mother and sister went along for the ride. “It was kind of the reverse of what a lot of people experience,” Moskowitz recalls. “You go vegetarian, your family disowns you, you can’t eat together. My mom came home with a stack of cookbooks and said, okay, let’s do this, and we all just started cooking together.”
Moskowitz transitioned to veganism shortly thereafter. She tried things out for herself, checked out how her friends cooked, watched The Food Network, and learned from the chefs at the restaurants where she served.
After admittedly being a little spoiled by the wide variety of ethnic food available in New York, Moskowitz moved to Omaha in 2010 to be with her boyfriend, John McDevitt. “You know, just like every other girl who’s not from here originally. Must be a lot of great Midwest guys here.”
It seems she’s settled in, as she lists her favorite places in town for vegan food: Kitchen Table, Block 16, Amsterdam Falafel, and Crystal Jade. If you order off the Crystal Jade vegan menu, look for the Isa Noodle. “I always went in and ordered a specific noodle with all these changes, so they finally just put it on the menu,” Moskowitz says. “They were like, we’re not dealing with you anymore. It’s seitan, cilantro, broccoli…it’s a noodle dish that’s kind of sweet and spicy and herby.”
Though she experiments with food from all over the world, her own heritage influences the finished dish. “There’s always a Jewish-grandmother feel to everything I do, even if it’s curry,” she says.
Expect to see this unique style of comfort food on the menu at Moskowitz’s debut restaurant at 50th and Saddle Creek. “We’re going to do brunch and dinner,” she says, “no lunch. I’m going to keep the hours manageable.” Due to her commitments with cookbooks and shows, Moskowitz says she’s not going for a high-volume, high-turnover restaurant. “I want this to be a cozy retreat, like they’re in my kitchen.”
She’s still searching for the perfect partners for the restaurant. “I want my chef, even if they’re not vegan, to just love food,” she says. “I want them to love experimenting, with no pretension. I’d rather have someone who can grill tofu really well over someone who’s like, hey, I can create foam out of flax and banana. Someone who loves feeding people and cooks from the heart.”