With a passion for food and a penchant for profanity, LA-based Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway happened upon vegan food porn hilarity when they took their trucker mouths to their keyboards and started talking dirty about clean food. The blogosphere is a tough world to penetrate, but with an unprecedented shtick that lightens the sometimes-serious tone of cleaning up eating, these thugs have managed to make otherwise preachy prose more approachable – for example, by stopping you mid-recipe to ask if you’ve effed up already and prompting you to “Start over” – thus lifting the intimidation factor often associated with cooking and eating well. Now a viral and published success, Thug Kitchen is on a mission to make eating fresh about common sense and a sense of humor, defaming canned, boxed and drive-through convenience foods with their catchy tagline, “Eat like you give a f***,” which leaves us wondering why we didn’t think of that.
What was the light bulb moment when you both realized combining swearing and health food was downright hilarious?
Michelle: We were just trying to make each other laugh. We swear a lot in real life so it was kind of a natural fit when we would be talking about this stuff. We thought this would kind of be funny if we wrote it down and dialed it up. In the beginning, we would have anywhere from 5 to 10 people on the site at any given moment, and our monthly traffic was somewhere around 400 to 500 visitors, which was amazing to us. Now there are 60 to 70 visitors on the site at any given moment and our monthly traffic is about 1.2 million, which is hard for us to wrap our minds around.
Who does what on thugkitchen.com?
Michelle: Matt does the photography, I do the recipes and we write everything together. I have no professional culinary background; I’ve always just been a passionate home cook. Since I was a kid I was always just messing around in the kitchen and then while I was working at the grocery store I would pick up jobs here at pop-ups and help out there doing prep work or I’ve done some personal chefing, but it was never my full-time job.
Your identities were concealed for two years and then before you went on the book tour, you revealed yourselves and were accused of using stereotypical language because you are white. What do you say to that?
Matt: If any of these people would spend 60 seconds on our site I think they would see that we’re not trying to portray any sort of lifestyle that we don’t live.
Michelle: If you go on the site, you can see that we talk about our roommates and going to potlucks and doing the dishes – I mean it’s not out of the realm of possibility that that’s what we [expletive] do all day.
What’s your definition of a thug?
Michelle: It’s always been about an attitude. It’s about taking control of your shit and running the kitchen and that’s how we’ve always used it so that’s why we put it in the title like that. It’s about taking care of number one and running things for yourself.
Tell us about the Rachael Ray appearance.
Michelle: Terrifying. It was terrifying.
Matt: That was some of the scariest shit I think I’ve ever done.
Michelle: She was so gracious and so kind and way more welcoming and generous than she needed to be for me to say nice things, and she just went over the top and we had a great time, but we were so nervous.
Do you worry that some of the essence of your brand might be lost in live appearances where you’re unable to use profanity?
Matt: We’ve been dialing it back doing press. Right out the gate maybe we’re talking with our normal swear words and then on a couple of our first interviews they were like, “You can’t swear,” and we were like, “Shit, sorry.”
Michelle: I think people understand that there are constraints put on when you go on different shows, so we hope these appearances make people check out the brand so that whatever is lost in translation they can just pick up on the site.
Gwyneth Paltrow is a fan. What other celebrity fans can you brag about?
Michelle: Other than Rachael Ray, Jamie Oliver gave us a wonderful quote for the back cover of our book, which was an amazing moment.
Matt: We’re both huge fans of his.
Michelle: And have been for such a long time. He and Rachael Ray were definitely in our infancy of figuring out how to cook food for ourselves that was affordable. They were huge influences and I think that’s worth bragging about.
In the book you make fun of some bloggers and their big “bougie” kitchens. What’s the kitchen you’re working in like?
Matt: Tiny, [expletive] tiny.
Michelle: You can’t have two large pots on Matt’s stove at the same time. It’s one of those teeny apartment stoves, and the oven is a nightmare; it swings 50 degrees either direction throughout the course of cooking.
Matt: So if you set the temp of my oven to 400°F, it’s either 350°F or 450°F.
Michelle: You can’t have more than one person in either one of our kitchens, so somebody will have to do prep work on the coffee table if they’re trying to help out.
What do you guys think will be the next kale salad or cauliflower everything of last year?
Matt: I love spinach; I always choose spinach over kale for its sweetness, and depending on where you go, it can also be cheaper. It’s also more accessible.
What do you think the next ethnic food of the moment will be?
Michelle: I wish Salvadoran food would get a little bit more love, like pupusas with the curtido, the slaw that goes on top – that’s really awesome. And in LA we have so many great Salvadoran restaurants; it would be nice if that got more national attention.
Our readers loathe tofu. What are some ideas for plant-based protein that’s a little more exciting?
Michelle: We really like tempeh. We like how it crumbles and how you can brown it and it tastes really nutty. We find that people will get on board with tempeh long before they get on board with tofu. And obviously we said we love chickpeas and black beans; they’re probably our top two beans. We’re about chickpeas in a big way. In defense of tofu, I would say that for a lot of people who have had shitty tofu, it was because it was cooked by people who don’t eat tofu.
OK, so what’s the secret to tofu that people actually want to eat?
Michelle: Marinating it and then baking it for longer than you think you should. You almost want to get it a little black and crispy around the edges – it just makes the texture so much better. We have recipes for that in the book. When I figured out how to bake tofu like that, it changed the game for me because I am a reformed tofu hater.
What are your highest hopes for Thug Kitchen and what’s next?
Michelle: Even getting a book deal was so beyond – like, I was working in a grocery store. This kind of shit doesn’t happen to people. This is more than we could have imagined, and yesterday we found out that the book is going to be number one on TheNew York Times best sellers list. So, we died and you’re talking to our ghosts. Even Gwyneth Paltrow talking about us on Rachael Ray has been above and beyond what we could have hoped for or even thought about, and I don’t even know how to answer that question. It has just been so [expletive] crazy.
Roasted Beer & Lime Cauliflower Tacos with Cilantro Coleslaw
Grab beer and get to work. Just don’t get sloppy ’til you’re done cooking.
Makes 6 tacos
- 1 head cauliflower (about 1 lb)
- 3/4 cup organic beer
- 1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 1/2 tbsp chipotle hot sauce
- 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
- 1 1/2 tsp reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce
- 1 to 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 1/2 tsp chile powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- Pinch sea salt
- 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
- 6 corn tortillas
- 1 avocado, pitted, peeled and sliced
- All-natural prepared fire-roasted salsa, to taste
- Crank your oven to 400°F. Grab a rimmed baking sheet.
- Chop cauliflower into small florets no bigger than a quarter. In a saucepan on medium, warm beer, broth, hot sauce, lime juice, tamari and garlic. Add cauliflower and simmer for about 1½ minutes. Drain.
- In a large bowl, toss oil, spices and salt. Add cauliflower and onion and stir ’til those f***ers are coated. Dump it on the baking sheet and bake until browned, stirring halfway, about 20 minutes.
- Warm tortillas in the oven or microwave for a hot minute and then pile them high with cauliflower filling, avocado, some of the slaw (recipe below) and top with plenty of salsa.
Nutrients per serving (1 taco): Calories:173, Total Fat: 9 g, Sat. Fat: 1 g, Monounsaturated Fat: 6 g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1 g, Carbs: 22 g, Fiber: 7 g, Sugars: 5 g, Protein:4 g, Sodium: 153 mg, Cholesterol:0 mg
Quick Lime & Cilantro Coleslaw
This f***er is great in any taco, any time. Memorize this shit because you won’t be going back to empty tacos again.
- 1/2 head green cabbage (about ½ lb)
- 1 small carrot, peeled
- 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1/8 tsp sea salt
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- Cut cabbage into the thinnest strips you can and make sure those pieces are no longer than 2 inches. This is a great time to get good with your knife if you are looking for a silver f***ing lining in all that chopping.
- Chop carrot into thin matchsticks of the same length. Got that shit down now, right?
- In a small glass, mix together lime juice, vinegar, oil and salt. Add cabbage and carrots to a large bowl and add dressing right before you are going to eat and toss that shit well. Add cilantro and serve.