The highly anticipated first cookbook from brothers Derek and Chad Sarno, better known as the founders of Wicked Healthy, hits the U.S. today. “The Wicked Healthy Cookbook: Free. From. Animals.” is no ordinary vegan cookbook, though. The classically trained chefs deliver next-level plant-based innovation with recipes that fit culinary mastery and zen-level compassion onto the same plate.

To call the Sarnos merely chefs is an understatement. The brothers, who hail from New England (thus the predisposition to call things “wicked”), have taken their skills global. Both were successful international restaurateurs and spent time heading up Whole Foods Market’s prepared food division. They’re part of the culinary team behind the critically acclaimed forthcoming vegan seafood brand, Good Catch Foods. Derek also runs the plant-based innovation division for Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket chain. Earlier this year, the Sarnos launched Wicked Kitchen, a line of ready-to-eat plant-based meals sold exclusively through Tesco. If their busy schedules aren’t proof enough that vegans are “healthy AF,” as the brothers say, the recipes are sure to convince any dissenters that vegetables are center-plate worthy for a whole host of juicy reasons. 

The main practice behind everything we do is compassion combined with being connected and aware of what we’re eating,” Derek told LIVEKINDLY via email. “We’re pushing plants on the largest scale, focusing on creating foods free from animals and making wicked awesome dishes everyone can enjoy, especially meat-eaters. By making food simple, recognizable, sexy, and friggin delicious, it’s a no-brainer way to make more plant-based choices.”

Indeed, transforming simple food into “friggin delicious” sexiness is the Sarno hallmark; a stroll through the cookbook or their Instagram feed delivers both a hefty dose of salivary gland activation and a bit of guilt that you’ve never treated your farmer’s market haul nearly as well, or rather, as Wicked.

[T]he recipes we chose were a combination of what we each do best and what people have requested over the years,” Derek says. We each bring our own personality to what we’re creating, and that rounds out ‘Wicked Healthy’. We keep each other in check and motivated.”

“Wicked Healthy” recipes run the gamut, from a simple Italian family recipe red sauce to stacked samurai burgers and mushroom street tacos, to a bounty of drool-worthy sauces, desserts, and drinks. The cookbook tackles it all, from how to build the best-looking baked potato bar, to parsing out sugar-free recipes, a plethora of comfort-inspired classics, enough decadent appetizers to make you the most loved host(ess) on the block, to soups and salads that defy tradition.

But it’s the “Straight-Up” vegetable section where the brothers work their most exceptional Wicked kitchen ninja skills. Compassion extends far beyond leaving the animals off the plate for the Sarnos — it’s also levied in doing right by nature, allowing the succulence of a mushroom, the sweetness of a beet, or the umami of seaweed to rise to deserved heights. There’s a sensual reductionism in their approach to vegetables. Grilled purple cabbage with mint and peanut sauce, whole roasted zucchini with their Nana’s red sauce, brussels sprouts nachos, or “painted” dijon potatoes are works of art as much as they redefine the potential of the plant kingdom. The chefs take a critical approach to food at a time when the ethical implications of meat production have never been higher, nor have the risks to human health — from antibiotic resistance to the skyrocketing obesity rates around the globe.

The most frequent thing we’ve heard is, ‘if you cooked for me, it’d be easy to go vegan’,”  Derek says. “So here, we’re throwing all our secrets at ‘em.”

Those “secrets” though aren’t for the kitchen-shy. Mandoline skills are a plus as is access to obscure ingredients like fresh banana blossoms. Mushroom foraging skills aren’t necessary, but they’ll save you a good bit on your grocery budget (and help you work up an appetite, no less). But no matter what level of skill or commitment you come to the cookbook with, there is a Wicked payoff in the labor itself — not just the satisfying meal at the end, but in participating in the alchemical processes that transform vegetables into steaks, mushrooms into scallops. The gentle and reassuring approach the Sarnos deliver stands in contrast to the “Wicked” moniker and the butchered beetroot on the cover of the cookbook. They’re genuinely pleasant guides — shamans of fiber and antioxidants. The recipes themselves urge the reader to find their own sense of presence and precision, they are meditations, reminders, in the simplest of terms, that we are what we eat. And that matters on so many levels.

“The bottom line is, we want you to be healthy,” the brothers write in the book’s introduction, “because healthy people are full of life.” And healthy people also make for interesting dinner companions. Food is indeed deeply personal, but it’s also one of the most fulfilling social activities. Sitting down to a good meal with good people feeds us in important ways, too — a philosophy that runs deep among brothers. The Sarnos let the inimitable Julia Child make the point: Always start out with a larger pot than you think you need.”

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“The Wicked Healthy Cookbook: Free. From. Animals.” is on sale now.

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