Why vegan chef Edgar Castrejón loves mushrooms
What’s a childhood food memory that sticks with you?
Definitely quesadillas! Simple: tortilla, cheese, salsa. Maybe a little ketchup for some sweetness.
How did you get into cooking?
I started cooking because I was the oldest of the kids in my family. I had three step-siblings and also grew up with four cousins, so there were a lot of us. There was one other young boy, but the rest of the crew were girls. No one forced me, but I felt like I should step up. I started with things like heating up milk in the morning, getting everyone ready. The very first recipe I created myself was a sort of cinnamon roll. We didn’t have a lot of money, I didn’t have a computer to look things up. I just took basic white sandwich bread, flattened it out with a rolling pin, and spread it with butter and cinnamon sugar. Then roll, bake, cut. It was delicious!
My mom and aunt told me I shouldn’t be in the kitchen because I was a boy. I was only allowed to do it once I finished with other chores, like cleaning, sweeping, pruning. But I was good at it, so they started to accept it.
I grew up in Chico, California, where we had a mini farm in the backyard. Just three or four acres, but I was the market and harvest manager, and sold CSA boxes. I had to kill chickens growing up, and I hated it. So I turned to vegetarianism, which was a huge deal in my family. They were like, “what are you going to eat? You’ll die!”
Being plant-based definitely made me more creative in the kitchen. It was also a big motivation to cook more, and I loved it. I love feeding others, seeing people enjoy food. So I started creating content online in 2016. At first, Instagram was just my daily journal. I posted almost everything I ate, and I didn’t have any followers. My photos were not that great, but I did it every day, and ten months later, it suddenly blew up. Instagram featured me on their page for Thanksgiving, and I gained 20-30k followers basically overnight! I didn’t change the kinds of things I post about.
What’s your morning ritual?
After that it’s time for my mushroom coffee, which is a mix of chaga, my favorite, plus dandelion, reishi, chicory, and black pepper. Sometimes I make it from scratch myself, sometimes I get the mix from a local shop I love in Oakland, The Well. If I’m not drinking that, I’m having matcha. I love adding adaptogens, cinnamon and cardamom, and Three Trees sesame milk - also a local brand!
To eat, I’ll make mushroom toast or bruschetta. Chop up some cherry tomatoes - but only if they’re in season - and add vinegar, salt, and herbs. Rub some garlic on bread, cook it right on the stove, and top.
These days, I’m working ten hour days. I have client projects, am taking a nutrition course, run my Instagram, and keep a part-time job. Now I’m also promoting my new cookbook! I did take a vacation, but content doesn’t stop. I do eat the stuff I’m photographing, though.
What motivated this cookbook?
With Mexican food, there are so many steps. You already have to make the rice, beans, salsa. It’s already too much. And now you have to ferment this, now you have to make mole with these twenty ingredients… I wanted this cookbook to be the basics, so you can cook for yourself, make staples, and build your own pantry.
What do you do when you feel like you’re in a creative rut?
I love eating out! It inspires me for new recipes. I also used to travel a lot before the pandemic.
Honestly, TikTok has also been a huge inspiration for me. A lot of people are creating amazing content there. That’s where I learned about artificial lighting. I also love hearing chefs’ thought processes. Seeing other people’s art is a great inspiration. I will say, I’m not much of a trend person. If I do a trend, sure I might get views, but am I proud of what I made? There are exceptions. Like, Lizzo was making a green salad with a green sauce. I’m going to do that, but with red.
What do you eat when you need a little something but don’t want a full meal?
I’m not saying this because of you, I swear: granola with yogurt and berries. Frozen berries if they’re not in season. Sometimes I make my own granola, but if not, it’s Nana Joes Granola.
I love how crunchy granola is, and nutritious it can be. Cereal is fine. But granola usually has more whole foods in it, and you can play around with different ingredients. It has more flavor. Cereal is bland to me, but granola isn’t. It’s also usually higher protein thanks to all the seeds and nuts.
How do you take breaks?
I hike with the dogs in the morning for an hour. I have a German Shepherd Chihuahua Mix, and I help take care of my roommate’s dog too. I’m so lucky to live in the Bay Area and have hiking trails 5-10 minutes away.
How do you end your days?
I drink dandelion tea almost every night, with a magnesium tincture. It helps with sleep, depression, lots of other bodily functions. I study nutrition, so I’m very particular about getting all my vitamins. When I remember I’ll stretch, too. I like going to the gym at night and stretching after.
Fill in the blank: the number one thing that sustains me in my life is ____.
Learning new things! It makes me feel creative. There are so many other things I wanted to say, but learning is the thing that always has, and always continues to, sustain me.
A taste of Edgar's recipes:
Adobo Mushroom Tacos, Bon Appétit
Galletas de Almendras (almond cookies), Sunset Magazine
Breakfast Tacos, edgarraweats.com