Chef Alejandra Schrader wants to help omnivores eat more plant-based foods while keeping meals delicious
By Jessica Koslow
“I’m known for my big flavors!” says chef Alejandra Schrader, whose light-up-the-room smile is equally as grand. “My recipes are mouthwatering, colorful and easy to make.”
These days, the Playa Vista resident is delightfully busy in the kitchen. But if you had told Schrader 10 years ago that she’d be pursuing a career as a chef, entrepreneur and activist, she wouldn’t have believed it.
Fifteen years ago, Schrader was morbidly obese and already experiencing health issues in her twenties.
“My struggle with weight issues has been an ongoing battle, and I’m very open about it, hoping to relate to others out there struggling as well,” says Schrader.
“About a year ago I decided to shift to a plant-based pescatarian diet for the sake of my health and the environment,” she says. “What we buy and how we eat can help alleviate climate change, spur biodiversity and contribute to a better food system for all.”
Schrader, who has a background as an architect and land-use planner, runs a private chef business while also being involved with policy advocacy, including public speaking engagements for the United Nations, the World Bank and Oxfam America, and field work with small farmers in economically struggling communities.
And now she’s writing a cookbook.
“It’s in the works, so there are some details I cannot share,” she says. “But it is focused on the idea of a plant-centric lifestyle diet that will benefit biodiversity. It is for omnivores trying to consume more plant-based foods while not compromising on flavor. I help people not just follow a recipe but learn how to cook; there are tips and tools for everyone to feel more comfortable in the kitchen and empowered to make their own creations.”
Even though becoming a chef had felt like a long shot career choice for Schrader, cooking has always been one of her many talents — one which dates back to childhood.
“Cooking at home,” she says, “was part of my family’s everyday life — getting fresh produce from the market or the produce truck on my block, going to the butcher to buy our meat, sitting with my grandmother, Mamaita, sifting through beans to pick the good ones to soak overnight for the next day. I am fortunate to say that I never had canned or frozen food growing up. Our meals were humble but they were flavorful, and made with love. My mom didn’t like us having sodas or store-bought drinks, so even the juices were natural and made at home.”
Schrader’s stars have certainly aligned to launch her chef career. She’s been featured on all major U.S. networks in English and Spanish. It all started on season two of “MasterChef” with Gordon Ramsay, where she was a top finalist and fan-favorite.
“It is one of my most memorable experiences because it provided the platform that started my new culinary career,” says Schrader. “I learned so much about cooking and also about myself — how resilient I can be, the importance of my integrity, the value of my roots, and the desire to improve myself with every given opportunity.”
“Working with Gordon Ramsay was also an amazing experience,” she continues. “I called him [in Venezuelan slang] ‘the chicken of the golden eggs,’ because whatever he touches turns to gold.”
Ramsay isn’t the only TV personality whom Schrader has charmed with her unfettered warmth and infectious enthusiasm. She’s been featured on CBS’ “The Talk,” “Access Hollywood Live,” “Hallmark’s Home & Family,” “Café CNN” and “Despierta America.”
And every time Schrader is asked to appear, it’s another opportunity to share her newfound passion and culinary philosophy: Focus on plants!
“I’m not saying we all have to become vegans,” she says. “But meat, especially red beef, is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. Focus on the new and diverse ingredients you can incorporate into your culinary palette instead of dwelling on what you’re restricting. With aromatics, spices and a little ingenuity, you can transform the bland and unappealing into flavorful, colorful meals. Small changes at home will make a big difference in your health and for Mother Earth: Buy local, get familiar with seasonal produce, minimize food waste, and make meals at home that scream flavor and whisper health.”
For instance, when Schrader cooks at home for her family, her signature dish is “camarones salteados,” a sautéed shrimp dish she serves with saffron-infused quinoa and lime-pickled onions.
“I’m a seafood-loving soup fan,” she says. “I enjoy making seafood stews and fish soups. Food doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated.”
Considering her unexpected career path, what does Schrader think about maybe opening a restaurant some day?
“It’s not part of my wish list,” she answers. “Yet. … But I never say never.”
Alejandra’s Bittersweet Salad
Yield: 6 servings
• 1 cup fresh English peas (aka shelled garden peas)
• ½ cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice
(from 2 blood oranges)
• 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar • 2 tsp honey
• 1 tsp Dijon mustard
• 1 tbsp finely minced shallots
• ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
• Coarse sea salt • Freshly ground pepper
• 6 oz arugula • 1 medium-sized head of radicchio, cut into half-inch strips
• 1 small green endive, cut into half-inch strips
• 2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
• Segments from 1 blood orange (peeled, membrane removed)
1. Cook fresh peas in a small pot of boiling water for two minutes. Strain and let cool briefly.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together blood orange juice, vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, and minced shallots. Whisking constantly, slowly
drizzle in olive oil. Once mixture has emulsified, season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Combine arugula, radicchio, endive, and peas in a salad bowl; toss with dressing until evenly coated. Sprinkle goat cheese over salad and garnish with blood orange slices. Serve immediately.
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