“More bacon fat.” Its the southern secret to almost every meal, according to Krimsey Ramsey, now restaurant owner and chef of Krimsey’s Cajun Kitchen. Born and raised in Cajun country -- Baton Rogue, Louisiana -- Krimsey’s childhood food memories consist of meat-laden dishes with an emphasis on flavor, not on health. “It was almost cool to see how unhealthy you could be,” she recalled. Fast forward to the present, where Krimsey has successfully launched and currently operates the world’s first and only vegan Cajun restaurant, located in the North Hollywood section of Los Angeles.
We sat down over a pot of steaming plant-based jambalaya to discover how she broke away from the meat-centric mold, followed her instincts, and transformed her favorite Cajun classics into healthier yet equally comforting dishes while preserving her traditions.
Like many, Krimsey stumbled into veganism. She came across a gruesome factory farm video, and she was horrified. Her first thought was to ignore it; she couldn’t believe it was real, or if it was, she tried to convince herself that it wasn’t the norm. However, the images stayed with her, and within days she felt compelled to research the issue further. When her researched confirmed the truth of the video, she felt she had to go vegan. “I flipped the switch overnight. I couldn’t be a part of that anymore. I’m so glad I did it. I can’t imagine my life any other way now.”
Krimsey “flipped the switch” ten years ago while living in Louisiana and working as a petroleum engineer. In essence, her environment was not ideal to support her new plant-based lifestyle. “I didn’t know any other vegans. If I went to a restaurant I had to explain what vegan is, and they looked at me like I was insane and asked me fifty questions. I learned to cook out of necessity and survival.”
Despite the complete lack of support, Krimsey was not deterred, she was determined. “When I realized cooking vegan wasn’t that hard I started taking all my favorite recipes from when I was a kid and veganizing them, you know the common stuff like gumbo and jambalaya.”
“The common stuff” to her meant Cajun food. She describes it as French-Acadian, similar to Creole but less refined. “Creole is city food. Cajun is for country folk.”
She wanted to maintain the traditional integrity of each dish as much as possible, so she mastered the cooking techniques while eliminating the animal products. Eventually, after “a lot of practice and error,” she believed she had the skills and the product to serve others.
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In 2015, she quit her job to explore her food concept. However, she knew she needed a receptive population to fuel her business, and Baton Rouge was not the place. Although Cajun food was popular in her home town, veganism was not. “In the South,” she explained, “if anyone takes a step in a more plant-based direction, I find that extremely impressive. In Los Angeles, it’s way easier to be vegan. No one bothers you about it. In the South you really have to want it bad. I wanted to go somewhere where there was a vegan community that would support and give me feedback and ultimately help make my concept better.” Krimsey packed her knives and gumbo pot and drove to Los Angeles, a niche-obsessed city that would welcome her truly unique mashup of ethnic and vegan cuisine.
After a year of catering events and festivals, in addition to selling her cookbook and dry packaged mixes at farmers markets, Krimsey’s Cajun Kitchen found its permanent home in a strip mall in North Hollywood. The day was February 28th, 2017 - Mardi Gras. Of course, the vegans showed up en masse. However, the allure of the new and the tantalizing aroma of gumbo wafting through the suburban air enticed many omnivores as well. Krimsey was delighted.
“We don’t just serve vegans. We serve a lot of curious omnivores, and that’s the point.” She chose her North Hollywood location for this reason; in comparison to the trendier and more expensive neighborhoods like Venice and Silverlake, North Hollywood is a vegan food desert. Her goal wasn’t to avoid the competition, but to make vegan food more accessible. “I wanted to do more outreach,” she reasoned. Part of this outreach is being smart about how she markets her business. “We don’t use the word vegan anywhere in the restaurant. Unfortunately, it has a threatening connotation for some people, but you just have to roll with it and figure out how to adapt.” Judging by the fact that approximately sixty percent of her customers are not vegan, it looks like Krimsey has learned to adapt well. Her secret? “Everybody likes good food.”
To lure customers in and keep them coming back, Krimsey hosts weekly specials and pays attention to sourcing organic ingredients. Every Wednesday, customers can purchase a full plate of the signature Cajun Jambalaya, served with a thick square of Louisiana Cornbread and vegan butter for just ten dollars. The special allows skeptics to try the restaurant’s most popular items with little investment. Not only is the food stick-to-your-ribs comforting, it is also healthy and sustainable. “We try to buy locally whenever we can. We have an always organic rule with greens and a few other ingredients we never compromise on.”
Vegan or not, people are drawn toward comfort food. By providing a truly satisfying and delicious vegan meal, Krimsey’s Cajun Cuisine is helping people associate the warm-fuzzy feelings of comfort food with the plant-based diet. “We’re giving many people their first positive vegan experience. Its the whole reason why we’re in business. Its why we do what we do.”
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