WASHINGTON -- Todd Gray may be a meat lover at his downtown restaurant, Equinox, but at home the celebrated chef is a "domestic vegan."
It's more of a practical decision than an ethical one for him. Ellen Kassoff Gray, his wife and business partner, is a vegetarian with stints as a vegan. After long days of tasting and tweaking recipes with heavy meats such as rack of pork, braised lamb shoulder and bison, Todd is happy to give Ellen the lead in their own kitchen. Together, they keep a home largely devoid of meat, dairy and other animal products.
"Vegan cooking has such a bad rap," Todd said. "It's actually a very refreshing break to eat like that at home."
Ellen prepares vegan versions of dishes like chili and stir-fry, all with considerably lighter, animal-free proteins, including tempeh and tofu. "It's remarkable what you can do with tempeh," Todd noted.
Being a vegan at home, he believes, is an easy way to eat healthier without giving up meat entirely. "I embrace the food chain," he said. "I enjoy eating meat ... but in proper intake." With the exception of tasting food at his restaurants -- which now include Watershed, the couple's new NoMa eatery, and Muse, a cafe at the Corcoran Gallery of Art -- Todd said he doesn't each much meat, instead preferring seafood and vegetables.
Ellen became a vegetarian about 18 years ago, following a job selling enormous pallets of meat for food distributor Sysco. A visit to a Tyson chicken farm on a routine sales trip galvanized her distaste for meat and the way it is processed, she explained. She later dabbled in veganism, although she's not eager to give her eating habits a label. If anything, Ellen calls herself a "domestic vegan," a term she said she coined herself. "I made my own choices based on my own experiences," she said. "We're not making any major declarations about what we're doing or anything like that. We're just doing it."
On Monday, Todd participated in the Food Day celebration hosted by the Capital Harvest on the Plaza farmers' market, at which he demonstrated how to cook healthy, sustainable and tasty meals at home. He's not arguing for everyone to become a full-blown vegan, just to lighten up meals a few days of the week, whether that means more vegetarian or vegan dishes.
"It doesn't have to be extreme," Todd said. "It can come in small doses. ... It's just a healthier choice."
WATCH Todd Gray make homemade pasta: