Why Meat-Loving Philly Chef Scott Schroeder Is a Six-Days-a-Week Vegan

scott schroeder
Not too long ago, chef Scott Schroeder of South Philly Tap Room and American Sardine Bar hosted a Spam night at one of his restaurants. Yep, you read that right: a night full of culinary creations made with the infamous canned meat product, Spam. Spam nachos, Spam tacos, Spam sliders—Spam everything. So it might be a tiny bit hard to believe that this Spam-enthusiast (to his credit, he doesn’t actually love Spam—he just appreciates its versatility) recently went vegan. Well, six days a week, at least.

We chatted with the Philly chef to get the lowdown on why he ditched meat (Spoiler alert: he doesn’t actually disagree with eating animals at all) and to soak up some vegan cooking inspiration. Check out what Schroeder had to say about his vegan diet below.

How long have you been cooking?

Uh, forever. Since I was 15 and I’m 38 now, so, what’s that? Twenty-three years.

When did you make the decision to go vegan?

Well, I’ve been toying with my diet for a little while. At my last doctor’s appointment, my doctor said, “Look, you weigh too much.” And, I mean, I’ve been eating whatever the hell I want since I was 15 years old. So yeah, that’ll do it. Then, about a month and a half ago I decided I was going to eat drastically healthier. So now, Monday through Saturday, I don’t eat any animal products or consume any alcoholic beverages. But on Sunday, it’s game on—I’m all about red wine and steak.

Why just six days a week?

I’m doing this for health reasons—to feel better and to take care of myself. I have no issue with eating animals, but I want to break my bad habits. When you’re cooking for a living, there’s always a little bit of bacon somewhere and you can just eat it whenever.

And oddly enough, I’m kind of in love with this new diet—I feel better. On Sundays, when I do eat meat or have a drink, it’s just so much more rewarding. I think everything should be in moderation, and I just needed to find a way to moderate.

Has the transition been difficult? In other words, do you miss bacon SO much?

There are moments when I get cravings, and those are hard. So what I’ve done is, rather than do anything to counteract them, I just think about what I’m going to eat on Sunday. What’s weird is, my biggest craving is red meat—and red meat isn’t even my favorite thing. But in some way, I know I’m going to have it eventually, and knowing that subdues my craving for it.

It also helps that I just love food so much. As a cook, meat can be kind of boring. You season it, you cook it and you’re done, and what’s really interesting is what’s on the plate next to it—the vegetables. So part of controlling those cravings is knowing when to indulge, and another part is just really loving vegetables.

What’s been your favorite vegan food find in Philly so far?

To be honest, I’ve eaten out a lot less. Right now, I’m concerned with my health, and when you go out to eat, a lot of vegan food is still, like, a vegan cheesesteak—it might be vegan, but it’s not really good for you.

Then you must be whipping up a lot of great vegan dishes at home. What is your go-to vegan dish to make for yourself in your own kitchen?

My favorite thing in the world right now is toasting up a corn tortilla and putting avocado, vegan kimchi and cilantro on it. Seriously, it is the best thing on Earth—the texture, the funkiness of the kimchi, the creaminess of the avocado. It’s delicious and it’s such a good snack. I probably eat like two to three of those a day. Like, I love them.

For most, a vegan diet doesn’t necessarily play into how they do their work, but for you it does. Do you still taste your meat dishes?

My job isn’t going away. I’m going to continue being surrounded by meat and I have to taste things. If I’m tasting something new at the restaurant, I do a chew-and-spit. And I mainly just do that for a new dish, but when it comes to upkeep and seasoning, I trust my guys. Occasionally, I’ll do a spot check, and to be honest, I’m more apt to do it if it’s something vegetarian—like a cream. But when it comes down to it, this vegan diet isn’t a moral thing, it’s a health thing, and I still have a job to do. I don’t like the idea of being fully disconnected from my job for six days.

Do you have any other chef friends who’ve gone vegan?

When I talk to my friends who are chefs, I see a trend of eating healthier and being aware of it. I think it’s good to see healthier menu items here and there, and we, as chefs, have to be conscious of it. Michael Solomonov told me something funny: He said whenever he eats something really bad, he always feels bad about it and then has to counteract it with something healthy. So if he has chicken wings, he has to have an apple. I think the days of the stereotypical “fat chef” are dying.

You’ve got a few vegan dishes on each of your restaurants’ menus. Have you found yourself wanting to add more since you became a six-day-a-week vegan?

It’s definitely a consideration. I’m noticing advantages of cleaner flavors that I didn’t notice before. Like, there are times I don’t want the smoothness of butter; I want the bite of lemon and olive oil.

But to be honest, mine is a beer bar, and a lot of the customers want chicken wings and mac and cheese. It’s a business. We live in a society of heavy meat eaters and I want people to come in. So my diet has has affected the menu somewhat, but at this point, it’s hard to have it affect it too much, because it’s really not practical.

You mentioned that you aren’t sure how long you’ll keep going with this vegan diet. Do you see yourself maintaining this long-term?

I see it as short-term for sure, but I’m not going to go back to eating animal products with every single meal every single day of the week. I do plan on reintroducing lean animal proteins to my diet, but I really want to make sure I’m disciplined. So, this vegan diet isn’t long-term but I am trying to permanently change my diet.

But honestly, I feel like I’ve been a meat-eater with vegan values for a long time. The way I feel about food is, like, I don’t want to eat a chicken that has been shitting on another chicken all day; I want to eat a happy chicken that had a good life. And I am very strict with what I purchase at the restaurant: There are no antibiotics or hormones in our meat, and all of our fish is sustainable.

When Food Inc. came out, I went to my boss and said, I don’t want to cook this like this anymore. And I didn’t want to publicize it and have it seem inauthentic—I just wanted to do it. And, of course, he said, “What’s it going to do to food cost?” And I said, “Well, it’s going to go up.” And for the first few months, I really thought I was going to get fired. But in that time, dealing with local farmers and getting what, to me, were better and more special products, I kind of got more into cooking. Every piece of meat was used in some way, every vegetable was used, and I just realized there is no reason not to cook like this.

And last but not least, on your cheat days, what are your must-have foods?

Honestly, it’s always red meat: the steak at Vernick is definitely awesome, the cheeseburgers at Fountain Porter are great, Kim’s Korean BBQ for the short rib, the steak tartare at The Dandelion.

Oh God, people are going to be like, Man, he is not a vegan at all.

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