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PostHeaderIcon Vegan Iron Chef Plants Biz In Bay Area

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Purple eyeglasses and a facial piercing give Karine Brighten the vibe of a young woman at home in creative pursuits. But it is not music or art that consume her thoughts, it’s food. Plant-based food, to be specific, and sharing the joys of a plant-based diet with others.

Brighten has been vegan for nine years. Originally from Canada, she was studying criminal justice while her husband attended law school when his studies on animal rights and factory farming turned both of them away from meat. At the time, it was an ethical decision that affected her shopping habits and dinner plate, but not her professional life.

Yet after earning her criminology degree and going to work in the field, she found she just wasn’t passionate about it. Hoping to put her strong organizing skills to good use, she enrolled in an event planning program. “It sounded fun,” she smiles.

After completing the program, she found an internship in Petaluma with a group called Daily Acts, where she helped with fundraising over the summer and got the itch for working in nonprofits. She worked for a while post-internship with a large Canadian event planning company but the itch remained, so when the couple moved to California so her husband could pursue his Ph.D., she decided to start her own business. She enrolled in a three month program in Oakland for women entrepreneurs, Women’s Initiative, and straight out of the box, she landed big vegan event planning contracts. “They were all just people I knew. The timing was right.”

The timing was right.  Over the last several years vegan eateries and lifestyles have not only gained acceptance, they have flourished. From the upscale Millennium in San Francisco to Souley Vegan, a neighborhood soul food joint in Oakland near Jack London, to the growing number of vegan Chinese, Ethiopian, Indian, and fast food restaurants, vegans are no longer huddled by the salad bar at omnivore haunts. They want their own venues, their own chefs—their own places to eat, drink, and be merry.

Recognizing an untapped market, Karine threw herself into the world of vegan celebrations. “First I did a walk in San Francisco to support Farm Sanctuary,” she remembers. She planned the opening for Berkeley’s Nature’s Express, then organized the opening of Cinnaholic in downtown Berkeley. Along the way, she earned her Green Business certification—all Karine Brighten events are sustainable and eco-friendly. “It’s really, really important to me,” she says.

As her reputation in the vegan event planning world gained a foothold, Karine heard about a group in Portland that had put on a vegan version of the hit Food TV program Iron Chef. “I knew I had to do a local version,” she smiles. The First Vegan Chef at the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco was a huge success that sold out weeks beforehand.


More than 250 people turned out to watch vegan chef luminaries such as Chef Eric Tucker of Millennium, Phil Gelb vegetarian chef and caterer, and winning Chef Lisa Books-Williams, who wow’d the judges with creative raw concoctions including ‘Luscious Live Dumpling filled with a Cashini Mirepoix and Wilted Greens.’The event had been billed as the first such bash, but she had to ask herself, was it lightning in a bottle that drew a vegan-curious crowd who would not return, or was there really a longing for this kind of showcase for plant-based gastro-glitterati?


"It turns out there IS such a longing: the 2nd Annual Vegan Iron Chef thrilled a room full of vegan gourmands on March 23rd at SOMArts Center, with guest chefs Jay Astafa from New York City, Bay Area raw food chef Jillian Love, and Chef AJ of Los Angeles. Chef Astafa won with creative dishes such as cauliflower encrusted in ramen powder with umeboshi-chrysanthemum sauce and fresh pappardelle pasta, burdock cream sauce, braised cabbage and garlic-rice cracker 'Parmesan' crumbles."

As she continues to push forward, expanding her vegan event-planning empire, the hardest part, according to Brighten, is just finding the gigs. While her dream business is a list full of vegan animal rights causes 'celebre', the fact is most nonprofits do a lot in-house, she says, to save money. “I get a lot of wedding requests,” she adds."

Weddings are a great venue, she admits, because you get to expose a lot of non-vegans to plant-based eating, and for Karine Brighten Events to succeed, she knows she needs to pull in both the converted and the curious. Something food competitions excel at.-- SF

Sonja Fitz works as the development director for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency in Berkeley. This is her first story for Allnewsnoblues.com

Last Updated (Thursday, 27 March 2014 20:43)



0 #1 luigi4235 2015-02-23 10:50

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