Veggie Peeps – Interview with Vegan Publisher Eric Obenauf
Well, if I gain 5 pounds this week it’s totally Eric Obenauf’s fault. I dove into his first cookbook “Guide to Vegan Cooking” & picked his recipe “MAPLE-FROSTED COOKIE DOUGH BARS (GLUTEN-FREE)” as the first recipe I wanted to try. It was so good I froze half of it to mix in with my vegan vanilla ice cream at a later date, because if I didn’t I would have eaten the whole thing! And being a total tease here – it’s base is garbanzo beans.
Eric Obenauf is the Editorial Director of acclaimed indie press Two Dollar Radio, which he founded with his wife, Eliza, in 2005. Eric was included in Publishers Weekly’s “50 Under 40” list, spotlighting 50 individuals working in publishing under age 40 worth watching, and was one of five finalists in the magazine’s 2016 “Star Watch” awards. At Two Dollar Radio Headquarters — an indie bookstore, vegan cafe, bar, and performance space opened in 2017 in Columbus, Ohio — Eric stocks the books and chefs it up in the kitchen. He enjoys camping, hiking, cooking, reading outside with a beer or two like a gentleman, and dad jokes. Two Dollar Radio Guide to Vegan Cooking is his first cookbook.
The book boasts “satisfying comfort food recipes that don’t require hard-to-find ingredients you can’t pronounce.”
Here, he shares his inspiration for his cookbook & tips to help inspiring vegan home chefs.
1. I’m fascinated, a bar, cafe, plant-based watering hole & bookstore specializing in indie literature. What was the inspiration, and how did you bring all of these elements together?
We started our publishing company, Two Dollar Radio, fifteen years ago now. While the books have been well-received, we were feeling disconnected from readers, the literary community, and our neighbors in town. I think I wanted to be more engaged with the conversations going on surrounding arts and culture in our community. We knew we wanted to open a bookstore with a very deliberate and intentional selection of books, and not carry books you’d find at any Barnes & Noble, focusing instead on independently published books — the types of books you wouldn’t find at other shops in town. The coffee, booze, and food are the social lubricant. Pre-pandemic we hosted a ton of events, everything from traditional author readings to magic shows, comedy nights, and poetry slams. So when folks attend, it’s nice to be able to sell cocktails and have food to munch on.
That was the idea. Originally, we hadn’t imagined the food component to be as robust as it’s become. Initially we had one sandwich and a few dips, but three years in we’ve got a full menu with a slew of sandwiches, wraps, plates, and Tortugas, which would shock you if you saw the size of our kitchen space and our modest equipment.
2. Why a vegan cookbook, and how did you connect with executive chefs Jean-Claude van Randy & Speed Dog?
As a press, we’re known for bold literary fiction and incisive, poetic, topical essay collections. I still have PTSD as a small business owner from the Recession in 2008, which was when we had just received major distribution, and in terms of plotting our publication list for 2020, I imagined the fall during the presidential election to be pretty hairy. (Obviously never imagined it would be this tumultuous.) And so we decided to release a couple of fun books that we had been wanting to do in the past, but didn’t necessarily have space on the list to include. So that was how we came around to publishing the cookbook.
As to Randy and Speed Dog, we made them up. They’re composites of character traits and stories we’ve accrued over time at HQ, and are the vehicles we use to parody the Blog Recipe Story. We wanted to take the Blog Recipe Story and make it even more epic, so that Randy and Speed Dog are fighting crime, or mountain-climbing, or becoming syndicated celebrity food columnists. For our menu at HQ, we’d name new items “The Morning After Randy Saw the Flaming Lips at the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, California, Circa 2006,” which was something that happened to me in real life. Eliza and I were hiking in Big Sur, but couldn’t find a camp site because the Flaming Lips were playing at the Henry Miller Memorial Library. It really pissed me off. But the next morning I got a memorable breakfast burrito and it was alright.
At HQ, our menus are old dime-store romance paperback books. We find them at thrift stores, rip out the pages, and then print out our menu and staple them inside. It’s pretty cool, actually, and guests get a kick out of it. In addition to being menus, we include these epic stories of Randy and Speed Dog in the back about the inspiration for the menu items.
3. I love that you start “Two Dollar Radio Guide to Vegan Cooking” off with “cheezes”, as cheese seems to be the biggest challenge for a great many people going vegan. What is your favorite “cheeze” from your cookbook, and what do you love serving it with?
Thanks, yeah — cheese was the absolute hardest thing for me to give up to become vegan, and I realize I’m not alone. I hear it a lot from guests who come in HQ, who are trying to make the transition to full vegan, struggling to get over that last hurdle.
My favorite is the Buffalo Queso — I really do put it on pretty much everything from mac and cheese to tacos. It’s adaptable, too, if you drop the red hot sauce, you can throw in some red pepper or chipotles or roasted poblanos and it’ll give it a nice zing.
4. Any advice for people wanting to make the transition to vegan?
It’s easier than you think, you won’t just be eating salads, and literally every grocery store has hearty vegan ice-breakers for you to get your feet wet.
5. As a father of two, any parenting advice on how we can encourage children to become adventurous plant-eaters?
This isn’t super adventurous, but my 10 year old son loves peanut butter and banana smoothies. He’ll make a big batch, freeze the leftovers, and eat it like ice cream.
6. Your go-to meal or snack:
Peanut butter and jelly, without the bread. I have to go into stealth mode so the kids don’t see me.
7. Your go-to spice:
8. Kitchen tool you can’t live without:
9. Favorite vegan product:
Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo, I think partly because we don’t live near Trader Joe’s and rarely ever shop there. So maybe I associate it with being on vacation?
10. Any advice for the Indie cookbook author?
I suppose the same advice I give to any author, which is to do your research and view getting a book published like a job. It takes a ton of work, and you have to do your part to research who is publishing cookbooks, if agents represent cookbooks and which types.
Thank you so much for being here today Eric. If I had one word to describe the recipes in this cookbook, it would be decadent! And I must say I was excited to see the “vegan life-hacks” section at the end with recipes for mayonnaise, hummus, and more.
Wishing you all the best!
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