AT HOME WITH // Tara Punzone

I first met Tara around 12 years ago for a project that I was doing in NYC. Although we haven’t stayed in touch, I’ve been admiring her work from afar and I’ve been so inspired witnessing her success with her vegan Italian restaurant Pura Vita!

A truly dedicated vegan and talented chef, Tara represents what I love about the “old school“ approach to veganism. One that is as committed to animal rights as it is to the culinary arts. In my opinion, a lot of that has gotten lost in the new narrative. The landscape has been flooded with talk of personal health and processed foods. We seem to have forgotten about the animals.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit her restaurant, and it was such a wonderful experience with delicious food and an insanely awesome organic wine list. If you live in LA (or are visiting) Pura Vita is a must try.

With three locations, we know Tara is super busy, and we’re grateful to her for taking the time out for us.

Thank you, Tara!

1- Your 3-word bio:

Vegan. Restauranteur. Exuberant.

2- Tell us briefly about your background and how you got to where you are now?

I understood my deep love for animals at a very young age. I turned vegetarian, then vegan by the age of 12. I grew up in a traditional New York Italian family and I always loved our heritage, cuisine, and traditions. It was my mission to hold onto those traditional dishes but without the use of animal products in any way. I worked tirelessly to recreate these dishes into vegan versions of the same. It has been my lifelong goal to share this food with my community. In 2018 I was able to turn that goal into my reality! We opened Pura Vita in West Hollywood as the first 100% plant-based Italian restaurant and wine bar in the USA! Then 2 years later we opened Pura Vita Pizzeria next door to the restaurant and finally in February 2021 we opened Redondo Beach.

3- You're the founder of Pura Vita- the first 100% plant based Italian restaurant and wine bar based here in Los Angeles. The food is insanely delicious, and people love it. This must feel so good! What is your overall food philosophy?

Food brings people together. Good food makes people happy. Quality food makes people feel good. My goal is to share my southern Italian heritage through very traditional dishes without harming the animals or the environment, all while keeping it healthy, clean, and organic. We do not use any heavily processed or packaged foods. All of our specialty ingredients are organic, non gmo and imported from Italy. All of our produce is sourced locally and organic.

4- Someone goes to your restaurant for the first time, what should they order?

Baked Ricotta. Polpettine. Carbonara. Diavolina Pizza. Tiramisu

5- What do you feel is the biggest misconception when it comes to veganism or vegan food?

The biggest misconception is that you cannot get enough protein or live a strong healthy lifestyle if you are vegan. This is just wrong and has been proven so over and over again.

6- You're from an Italian family, and I read that you became vegan around 12. How did your family feel about this? Food is such a huge part of Italian identity, did your family ever feel like you were rejecting your culture?

Yes (ooops I said that earlier ;) I became vegetarian at 10 and began to read everything ever written about the subject which led me to be completely vegan by the age of 12. My family never truly understood my decision, but they were always very supportive. My mother was especially supportive. My mother and father were both excellent cooks and encouraged me to cook with them every day. This helped them to understand the things I would not eat and taught me how to cook!

7- You've said when you were younger you were an annoying vegan- how did this serve you well?

Well, being “annoying” never really serves you well. BUT, it did help me to open the eyes of some people who were oblivious to what they were actually putting in their mouths. The awareness has gone a long way and after 30 plus years, some of them have actually gone vegan as well!

8- Even though there are so many more vegan options these days, being strict still requires quite a bit of commitment. What is your advice to someone who is new to this lifestyle?

A strict vegan has to be passionate enough about the lifestyle that it is not difficult for them as they would not have it any other way. However, someone who is newly vegan should consider going slow, learning the details, and watching the documentaries. The awareness helps make it easy to choose not to consume animal products. There are so many amazing products out there, you don’t ever have to “miss” anything. Miyoko butter is a perfect example. You don’t ever need to miss the taste and texture of butter, she nailed it! Taste everything that is available out there, its endless!

9- Do you have any thoughts about the vegan food industry still being so strongly male dominated?

The food industry in general is male dominated. This is rapidly changing and thankfully so. Women need to continue to empower other women!!!

10- How do you feel about the influence of tech on the plant-based food industry?

Tech has had a huge influence on the plant-based food industry lately. I am personally not consuming the majority of these products as I prefer a very clean low processed diet. However, I am super grateful that these companies are inventing these amazing products. These plant-based meats and even the lab grown meat will hopefully eliminate any need for factory farms to exist. I hope all the factory farms are closed down within my lifetime.

11- Are there any chefs who you look up to, or who have been major influences on your career path?

Yes! Chef Neal Harden who is the Executive Chef at ABCV and the Chef of Plant-Based development for Jean Georges. Chef Neal was my one true chef who taught me how to manage a kitchen and really encouraged me to move forward with my career goals. He is a genius in the kitchen and is also gentle and kind and a wonderful friend. Genius Chef and gentle and kind human are not often found all in one person!!! I am very grateful for Chef Neal.

12- I feel like you are well researched on all things vegan- beyond food. What are some of your favorite brands (fashion, skincare, etc.) who are fully committed to veganism that you love?

I am so grateful for all of the clean vegan products out there now. It used to be a job just to find a few things that fit my specs but now there is SO much from which to choose. Some of my favorite brands out there right now are:

True Botanicals (skin care) my #1 favorite
SheaMoisture for the amazing soaps
Manic panic hair color (been using since I was 12 years old!)
Hello - toothpaste
Kat Von D

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