music in the park san jose

.Toriano Gordon Enters New Phase with ‘Vegan Mob Cookbook’

Instead of running a restaurant, the chef is diversifying

Toriano Gordon closed the Vegan Mob’s Oakland hub last September. Gordon refurbished the former Kwik Way with his brand’s distinctive color, a neon green that illuminates Lake Park Avenue day and night. The atomic-age carport is still intact but empty. When Gordon and I spoke about his new cookbook, Vegan Mob: Vegan BBQ and Soul Food, A Plant-Based Cookbook, the chef said that his best sales had always been in the East Bay. The decision to close the Oakland location was a personal one.

Gordon has changed his business model. Instead of running a restaurant, the chef is diversifying. To date, he’s granted licenses for Vegan Mob franchises in San Bruno and Santa Rosa. There haven’t been any requests to open, or reopen, an East Bay location.

“I’ve tried to get them to open in Oakland, but they don’t want to,” he said. “Because it looks like all these restaurants are closing down. I don’t want to run any more restaurants. I’ve been a rapper and an artist with an entrepreneurial spirit, but being tied down to just one thing is not my idea of a life.”

Creating the Vegan Mob restaurant, menu, recipes and the culture surrounding it all was the fun part. Going forward, the chef has long-term plans to package his dishes for distribution to grocery stores. And the February release of his cookbook marks the end of a three-year project.  

“When they [the publisher] asked me to come up with the cookbook, I came up with the recipes pretty fast,” Gordon said. “A lot of the work was testing the recipes and writing it.”

The team also brought on Korsha Wilson as co-writer. Most of the cookbook recipes have been adapted from the Vegan Mob restaurant menu.

“I had to retest them, mainly for the salt, sugar and pepper content,” he said. “The vegetables, of course, are a little bit easier. Five cups of bell peppers and onions for the home-cooked meal would be one cup.”   

His initial plan for a restaurant was to make barbecue, with grass-fed animals and organic produce. But since he and his wife, Maya Cameron-Gordon, had become vegans, she encouraged him to switch gears and start a vegan barbecue.

“It became a great idea, authentic to the way we were living,” Gordon said. “We had already started to make home-cooked meals, just having fun in the kitchen, trying to make stuff how I would do it normally, but with plant-based ingredients.”

To translate his home cooking for public consumption, Gordon felt he had to make the recipes “taste like the regular thing.” Gumbo was one of the first recipes that confirmed he was onto something. He called one of his friends, Evan Kidera, who runs the ever-expanding restaurant group Señor Sisig, to try it. After Kidera tasted the gumbo, he told Gordon he had to open Vegan Mob.

Okra was never part of Gordon’s gumbo recipe, and some of his followers from the South asked him about its conspicuous absence. He’s simply not a fan of the vegetable. But the cookbook includes an option to include it as an add-on.

“My grandmother fried it and put it on the side when I was a kid, but I didn’t like the slime so I never put okra in mine,” he said. When he and Wilson were writing the cookbook, she suggested they add the fried version to the recipe. “I try to make everything that I think is delicious and put it on the menu—that’s why people like Vegan Mob.”

For Gordon, adopting a vegan diet has given him more energy. But he’d gotten ill before becoming a vegan.

“I don’t get sick. I had a flu that wouldn’t go away, and that’s what made me stop eating meat and cheese,” he said. “I started drinking juices and eating ginger and more vegetables. I remember the flu going out in a day or two; it was gone. It [veganism] made me feel healthier. I feel like my immune system is stronger than it was before.”

‘Vegan Mob: Vegan BBQ and Soul Food, A Plant-Based Cookbook’ is available for purchase online: veganmob.biz.

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