Vegan Black Metal Chef: Heavenly Seitan

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The glut of cooking shows, foodie magazines and recipe blogs that have popped up over the past decade has transformed chefs into celebrities—in some cases overnight. Yes, the rock star may be going the way of green bean casseroles and green Jell-O salads (sorry, Mr. Roth), while modern-day chefs are working kitchens like a catwalk and twirling pairing knives like a pair of drumsticks (sorry, Mr. Ramsay).

The web has also spawned its share of food pornstars. Enter Brian Manowitz, a 31-year-old Jewish kid from Orlando, Fla., with a wicked sense of humor who wields his cooking utensils more like a mystical knife—probably because he really uses a mystical knife. And studded bowls. And cutting boards emblazoned with pentagrams.

For the past year Manowitz has assumed the unholy moniker of the Vegan Black Metal Chef, spreading darkness while answering one of life’s eternal questions: What do vegans eat? His first attempt to answer that question came in the form of a vegan Pad Thai recipe, the video of which debuted in May of last year. Screaming the ingredients over blast beats and synths, the Vegan Black Metal Chef’s Internet debut quickly earned him notoriety, and the video has captured nearly 2 million views on YouTube. Manowitz was featured on Nightline and noted vegan hater Anthony Bourdain hosted him on a 2011 holiday episode (which premiered Vegan Black Metal Chef’s “Holliday Hell Roast”).

Ten episodes later and Manowitz is still at it, proving that he might be more than just a flash in the spiked pan. There’s a DVD, T-shirts and CDs of all the music with and without the vocal tracks. Best of all, the food is good. I recently made the Buffalo Seitan Bites and—even as someone who eats meat—really enjoyed it.

And he’s got more evil episodes in the works. Paste caught up with Manowitz in his Orlando lair, where he discussed the turning point from carnivore to vegan, making music and, of course, all-mighty seitan.

Paste: When you got into this did you expect this to last a year?
Brian Manowitz: Honestly, when I got into it, I didn’t expect it to take off so quickly. In one sense, I was going to be making these things whether people cared about it or not because I wanted to teach the vegan cooking. It’s really cool that people cared about it.

Paste: What immediately struck me was how well it’s done.
Manowitz: I had basically no experience with camera or video editing before, but I had seen a commercial that I did the audio for once being shot with just an SLR camera. Then I saw what came out of it, and I was like “Oh my god, you can make movies with these things!” I could do the audio all right, and it seems like all you need to do to make a really good video is one of these awesome cameras and some decent lighting. The lighting that worked out the best for me was just candlelight—everything is just shot with candlelight. I spray-painted a bunch of junk black and made it happen.

Paste: You knew some people who helped with the set pieces…
Manowitz: More so for the castle wall in the background; and I had some help setting up the cabinets. I have a friend that does stunts for movies and shows, and he helped me do that.

Paste: You should sell those pentagram cutting boards…
Manowitz: We obviously thought about selling those for a while, but they take too long to make, and you’d have to sell them for a pretty extreme price to make it worth anyone’s time [laughs].

Paste: How long have you been vegan?
Manowitz: I’ve been vegan for about 12 years.

Paste: Growing up did you have a pretty traditional diet?
Manowitz: I grew up on the standard American diet—which included McDonald’s, fast food, chicken wings and all sorts of crap.

Paste: You’re very passionate about veganism. What was the turning point?
Manowitz: My last year in high school and I had a girlfriend who was vegetarian. And when she did that I said, “You know, I recognize that it’s the right way to go and kind of the compassionate thing to do, but I’m not ready for that yet.” So after about a year or so of that, I was like “Oh my god, look at that, she didn’t die. Nothing bad happened to her.” I was vegetarian then, and couple months later I went to an animal rights group thing on campus called the Animal Activists of Alachua, and saw a couple of videos and was, “OK, now I’m a vegan.”

Paste: How deep are you involved politically?
Manowitz: The core thing I tell people is that I don’t believe in the exploitation of animals. Sort of the longer answer is on the website.

Paste: Were you excited about the seitan tie-in to Vegan Black Metal Chef?
Manowitz: [Laughs] That’s kind of the constant joke, really. It’s very unoriginal, but everybody else thinks it’s incredibly original.

Paste: As far as the production, are you doing things the same now as you did in the first episode?
Manowitz: Pretty much. I always try to improve something. I always try to learn the video and try to improve the audio a little bit, whether people like it or not.

Paste: I read some YouTube comments from people who thought the sound was getting too clean…
Manowitz: [Laughs] Yeah, black metal is the only genre where people really want it to sound like shit.

Paste: And you do all of the music for the backing tracks?
Manowitz: I do all of the music in all of the videos. I hand play everything except for the drums, which I do with a keyboard or program them into the computer.

Paste: How long does it take to make an episode?
Manowitz: About a month. It takes only a night to film. I have to film at night, otherwise light would come through the windows. It takes all night to film, about a week or so to edit, and three weeks to make the music. The music takes the longest. Everything is made for the episodes; I don’t have all these random backing tracks lying around.

Paste: And how about the vocal tracks… are those prewritten?
Manowitz: None of that is prewritten out. Someone asked me for all of my outtakes once, and I told them that I include all outtakes in the videos. There are no outtakes because everything is honestly done in one take and that’s what I get.
Paste: How long have you been playing music?
Manowitz: I guess 2004 was when my industrial black metal band Forever Dawn started, and we’re kind of re-launching later on this year. And I’ve been playing keyboards in the past two or so years in another band called Fields of Glass, which is not black metal.

Paste: You’re about a year into it. What’s next?
Manowitz: I’m kind of a bottomless pit of recipes and things. That’s one of the reasons why I try to incorporate multiple recipes for a video; also a lot of staple vegan things to eat don’t require their own video and they’re all not necessarily the fanciest thing in the world. But they’re good. The main focus for these videos is to answer the question, “What do vegans eat?” Right now I’m taking a little bit of time to regroup and work on stagecraft in a sense. And try to incorporate new elements. If I kept things the same, I’d just get bored with it.

Paste: Any specific recipes in store?
Manowitz: I have about four or five things semi-planned out. Everything will be covered in time.