It's as if Samuel L Jackson went on a health kick and started a Tumblr. Thug Kitchen is a food blog with a penchant for profanity (motto: "Eat like you give a f**k") and healthful vegan dishes. And since the blog started last September, vegans and non-vegans alike seem to be eating it up. In April, Gwyneth Paltrow name-dropped the blog on an episode of The Rachael Ray Show on American TV.
Mystery is apparently one of the most-used ingredients in Thug Kitchen. The LA-based bloggers insist on anonymity, agreeing to be interviewed only via email. Despite the blog's first-person voice, they tell me, "there are multiple cooks in the kitchen". They are all vegan, with the exception of one omnivore, who eats "mostly vegan".
Thug Kitchen may be the latest iteration of the vegan-food blog that's militant, but not in a "meat is murder" way. It's in your face – they take broccoli more seriously than your mum probably ever did – but it's also just plain funny. Other vegan-food blogs, such as Post Punk Kitchen and Vegan Black Metal Chef, have used some combination of humour, charm and counter-culture and fared similarly in attracting a wider (read: not necessarily vegan) audience. But part of Thug Kitchen's street cred can no doubt be attributed to veganism's growing popularity as high-end restaurants cater to vegetarian palates, and prominent devotees, such as the former US president Bill Clinton, espouse the health benefits of a diet devoid of animal products.
If you're late to the party, Thug Kitchen is here – as they say in the blog's FAQ – "to drop some knowledge on your ass". The recipes may come with a side of shtick, but the bloggers say the message is simple.
"Yeah, the food we cook is vegan, but we really just want people to eat some more f**king vegetables," the bloggers say. "It isn't more complicated than that."
A decade ago, it may indeed have been more complicated. "The internet opened up so many more avenues for vegans," say Isa Chandra Moskowitz, who gained a following of vegans and punk-music fans when she launched her show Post Punk Kitchen on Brooklyn public-access television in 2003.
At the time, Moskowitz had already started sharing vegan recipes on her website. She said she aimed to show that being vegan didn't have to be "dreary and tedious", an ethos that was less than mainstream at the time.
"A lot of [information on veganism] was very stoic and depressing, and it was outdated," she says. "I just wanted to do something that was fun."
Her site has grown, along with what could be called an empire of branded merchandise and vegan cookbooks, the latest of which, Isa Does It, will be released in October. In a nod to the internet days of yore, the Post Punk Kitchen site hosts a forum, on which a user playfully mentioned Thug Kitchen in April: "I've been enjoying the shiitake out of this blog, recently, bisques."
Thug Kitchen, too, has misconceptions to clear up. "You don't need to have a disposable income to eat well," the bloggers say. That's reflected in their recipes, which are also sprinkled with colourful language. Their Spiked Citrus Iced Tea recipe calls for maple syrup but concedes, "this shit can be expensive so feel free to replace it with agave or honey".
Jess Sconé, blogger and a co-founder of Vida Vegan Con, a conference geared towards vegan bloggers, says veganism's move into the mainstream, coupled with the growth of social media, has allowed bloggers to get more creative and reach a wider audience.
"I saw vegan mozzarella on MasterChef a few weeks ago, and it wasn't even a big deal," says Sconé, who also cultivates an air of mystery by using a pen name and refusing to divulge her real one. She attracts non-vegetarians to her own blog, Get Sconed!, with cocktail recipes that are vegan, using, say, coconut milk in her take on a White Russian.
Thug Kitchen bloggers, also known to whip up a cocktail or two, hail from a generation more likely to get a recipe from Pinterest than from Grandma's recipe book. The blog's Twitter account has more than 30,000 followers, and its Facebook page displays more than 300,000 likes. Recipes are announced like memes: bright, enticing photos of dishes with words emblazoned on top. "How about a nice tall glass of chill the f**k out?" screams the text imposed over a Blackberry Bourbon Fizz cocktail recipe.
That Thug Kitchen's recipes resonate with those outside the vegan community isn't surprising to Brian Manowitz, the Vegan Black Metal Chef, who gave veganism an edge when he started appearing in YouTube videos in full armour while using swords and daggers to chop ingredients.
Manowitz points to his own carnivorous fans, often drawn in by a shared love of metal. Some, he says, take a "pry the meat from my cold, dead hands" approach to food but say they really like his recipes.
"That's both humbling and awesome," Manowitz says. "It's good in the sense that that's the real goal, to get people interested."
The bloggers behind Thug Kitchen (named Best New Blog for 2013 by America's Saveur magazine) say a profanity-laced cookbook is in the works. They've also turned their attention to upgrading their site, catering specifically to readers who don't seem to mind the bloggers' anonymity. Fans have even playfully suggested potential narrators for the blog. Names that have come up, in addition to Samuel L Jackson: Betty White, wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, and Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul.
"Thug Kitchen started as a couple of jokes and healthy recipes, but it's evolving into a community of people who are ready to take control over what they cook and eat," the bloggers say.
A version of this article appeared in 'The Washington Post'
Roasted chickpea & broccoli burrito
3 cups of cooked chickpeas (2 cans, drained)
1 large onion
1 red bell pepper
1 large crown of broccoli
4 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
2 teaspoons chilli powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Half a teaspoon ground coriander or more cumin if you don't want to go to the shop
Black pepper or cayenne pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 220C (gas mark 7). Chop the onion, bell pepper and broccoli so the pieces are about the size of a chickpea. Chop the garlic real small but save that shit until later.
Place the chopped-up veg in a bowl with the cooked chickpeas. Pour in the oil and soy sauce, stir, then throw all the spices in. Mix until all the vegetables and shit are covered.
Put all of that on a large, rimmed baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Take it out of the oven, don't f**king burn yourself, add the garlic, and bake for another 15 minutes. The broccoli will look a little burnt at this point but that is the plan so chill the f**k out and take it out of the oven.
Squeeze the juice of half of the lime over the pan and stir the roasted chickpeas and veggies all around. Taste some and see if it needs more spices or anything.
Now make a f**king burrito. I like mine with spinach, avocado, cilantro, and some fire-roasted salsa, but you do your thing.