Madison chef releases new plant-based cookbook

After writing recipes for her restaurants and receiving requests from her clients and customers, Lauren Montelbano decided to give cookbook writing a try.
Lauren Montelbano With Book
Courtesy of Lauren Montelbano
Local Chef Lauren Montelbano just released her first cookbook, "Grounded: Conscious Plant-based Cuisine."

Chef Lauren Montelbano, formerly of Surya Cafe, is the reluctant author of a new cookbook, “Grounded: Conscious Plant-based Cuisine.”

“Honestly [writing a cookbook] was never anything that I personally wanted to do!” Montelbano says with a laugh. “I hate quantifying recipes. I really just enjoy the creative freedom of cooking and the personal expression. I am not culinary school trained — I learned from many women around the world and they didn’t use recipes either. ‘A handful of this, a pinch of this…’ to quantify that to me was kind of my worst nightmare.”

But after writing recipes for her restaurants and receiving requests from her clients and customers, Montelbano decided to give cookbook writing a try. “My dedication is solely to my customers and clients who have asked for this and supported me and loved my food,” Montelbano says.

After three years as head chef of Surya Cafe, the vegan restaurant with two locations in Fitchburg and at Madison’s Garver Feed Mill, Montelbano left in March to reevaluate her career. “I knew I still loved cooking and providing people with nourishing food and so I decided that the personal chef route would be more family friendly and schedule friendly in a way that I could still achieve work-life balance which is always the elusive thing that anyone in the restaurant industry — or many industries — try to achieve,” Montelbano says. “If I work for myself I can make my own schedule and still give people the food that they have grown to love.”

With her personal chef business, The Vibrant Veg, going strong, Montelbano is also excited about the timing of her new cookbook for people who have started to cook more during the pandemic. “A lot of people really embraced cooking to begin with and half of them stuck through it — they redesigned their kitchen, got some new equipment and cookbooks and they are powering through and they have found a new passion in cooking,” Montelbano says. “I am really happy to provide those people with another tool to use.”

“Grounded: Conscious Plant-based Cuisine,” available online and at Orange Tree Imports and Brix Cider in Mount Horeb, is a collection of 50-plus plant-based and gluten-free recipes including recipes for beverages, sides, snacks, entrees, salads, desserts and dressings. The book includes customer favorites like Montelbano’s medicinal mushroom rosemary peppermint hot cocoa and the recipe for her roasted Brussels sprouts with shiitake mushroom bacon and pecan Parmesan. Lovers of her cheesecake — a raw, vegan, no-bake cheesecake made with cashews, coconut milk and other whole food ingredients — will find the base recipe. “If you want to get a little fancy,” Motelbano says there are five variations including chocolate peanut butter and fig rosemary balsamic. Montelbano also gives tips for making your own flavors. “I always encourage people to play around and create,” she says.

In addition to more home cooking, Montelbano believes her book comes at a time when more people are experimenting with plant-based cooking. “People have become increasingly conscious about what they are putting in their bodies,” she says. “Even if people aren’t committed to being 100% plant-based, a lot more people about are curious about it.” And now that she has finished her first cookbook would she ever consider doing it again? “Honestly I have the title for the next one,” Montelbano says. “I really want to do a healthy desserts cookbook.”Magazine footer that says "Like this article, get so much more by subscribing"