Interview Series #4: Peter K. Lu of Peacefood Cafe

A few weeks ago, a dear friend of Steve and mine took us to what would become one of my all-time favorite dining experiences - 4-Course Vegan in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. What set this apart from anything else was that this delicious evening of food all occurred within the four walls of a chef's loft - specifically, the loft of Chef Matteo, a tremendously talented vegan chef with a leaning towards raw cuisine. The food was delectable, rich, and satisfying, and everything was made on the spot from local, sustainable vegan food.

 With Chef Matteo

As we waited for our first course, I got to talking with the rest of the people at our table and found myself in conversation with a very engaging, kind, and enthusiastic man - Peter K. Lu. I would soon come to learn that Peter is co-owner of Peacefood Cafe, an awesome vegan restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Having already dined there once myself and having had the delight of meeting Peter's partner and co-owner, Eric, when I visited, I was overjoyed to hear about Peter's path toward veganism. Turns out Peter and I not only share the same love for food and animals, but we also have the same mentor - vegan superstar Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

Peter and me

Peter is one of the warmest people I've ever met, and his kindness and light is reflected not only in his beautiful restaurant, but also in the journey that has led him to opening Peacefood Cafe.  Meeting him at 4-Course Vegan was a tremendously serendipitous moment in my life, and I am so stoked to share his words with you. Enjoy! 

Kiss Me, I'm Vegan: What was the turning point in your life that led you to veganism? Was it one huge moment, or a collective group of small moments that changed you? 

Peter: My partner Eric adopted a Buddist diet at the turn of the millennium because he was following a spiritual group led by Supreme Master Ching Hai. The group follows what is similar to the Buddhist teaching and advocates for “non-violence” in lifeThe disciples must follow the five precepts of Buddhism in order to practice meditation which is the means to find one’s true self. A Buddhist diet is almost vegan – dairy is permitted (since the doctrine was written a long time ago, and milk was obtained in a much different way than today), but absolutely no eggs nor cheese are allowed, unless the cheese is made with vegetarian rennet. I started eating vegetarian food with him when we were spending time together. I was a big vegetable fan, so I did not find it very difficult to not have meat in my meals.

The big moment had to be the day of September 11, 2001 – I witnessed the tragedy, and the city seemed to come to a halt. Many lives were lost on that day and people were angry, sad, worried, and confused. The loss of lives can lead us to this mix of negative emotions – all lives are precious, human or animals. I turned vegetarian that day. However, it did not occur to me that being a vegetarian was not enough. I was having an almost guilt-free time eating eggs, cheeses, and pastries. In 2006, I stumbled into a few vegan podcasts – among them were the “Compassionate Cooks” podcasts by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau (**who we recently interviewed!). Her eloquence and sincerity really touched me. I could not stop listening to her podcasts and finally urged myself and my partner (he ate very little dairy at the time) to go vegan on New Years Day 2007. I remember telling him that dairy was even more evil than meat. I could not believe that I did not know all these facts until I started listening to all these podcasts! How well the dairy industry was keeping the true information from their consumers and still is. I know a lot more now, but I am still working on getting rid of all animal products in our lives. 

KMIV: What have been the greatest rewards of your vegan lifestyle? What have been the greatest challenges? 

Peter: To know that you are contributing to a better life - there are just so many benefits to being vegan: environment, health, and most importantly, truthfulness - one knows that he or she is not contributing to suffering anymore.

The most important aspect of being a vegan for me is ethical, and the others are just the benefits that come with it.

Challenges? Yes there are some - like going out to dinner with friends and clients, traveling to a different country, visiting with family on holidays. But none of these should really be a challenge when you know that what you do is right and truthful. In fact, being a vegan myself is hopefully helping people to pay more attention to veganism. 

photo courtesy of www.peacefoodcafe.com

KMIV: Tell me a little bit about Peacefood Cafe - what inspired you to open it? What has the experience of running a vegan restaurant in NYC been like?

Peter: Um, we like to eat! After my partner closed his antique business in 2006, we were looking for something for him to do. He has always cooked for me all these years and wanted to have a restaurant (by the way, he earned a Restaurant Management Degree from college)It was difficult since we had to fund the whole project mostly by ourselves, and the budget was really tight; most landlords thought that we could not make money with a vegan restaurant. After months of searching and numerous rejections by landlords, we found our current location on 82nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue in NYC.   

I remembered "seeing the restaurant the moment I walked into the space. I knew what it should look like (I am an interior designer by profession), and we went ahead to get the project underway in January 2009.
 
I should say - we almost abandoned the project in 2008 because of the bad economy and so many people including our family advising us against from the project. I remember Eric saying to me that we actually had a much more profound and meaningful reason to forge ahead with this project despite of all the set-backs: his spiritual master advised him that there was (and is) an urgency to promote vegan food and to raise the "no kill" awareness to the general public. If it was not for the animals, we would not have done it.
 
It took six months to put the place together, and after a very difficult first few months in business last year, we can say that we are here to stay. It took a lot of effort - Eric has not taken a day off for nine months since the restaurant opened, and I am spending most of my free time helping out on the weekends, and of course, there's book work and some PR. 

photo courtesy of www.peacefoodcafe.com

We were very lucky to be written up by the NY Times and Time Out New York (my sincere thanks to the editors!). Oh, and I should mention to you that, on her podcast, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau read the email I wrote to her about opening Peacefood Café! I was so excited - it was the best gift that I could ever ask for. In fact, one time a customer said that he was listening to her reading my email on her podcast while he was walking on the street, and then he looked up and there was Peacefood Café! 

KMIV: What advice would you give someone who is interested in veganism, but afraid of taking the leap?    

Peter: Know that it only takes three weeks to change a habit. You can start like me by going little by little. Listen to these vegan podcasts, they are so informative. Think of the animals - think how human they are; think of your pets - think of them in these horrid situations, how desperate and cruel. Think of Life, as I was thinking about lives on the day of 9/11.  

KMIV: Okay - you're stuck on a desert island with three vegan food items - what are they? 

Peter: Oh, this is a hard question. You know the menu of Peacefood Café is based on the food that Eric and I both enjoy to eat, so it runs a pretty good gamut. If I am stuck on a deserted island, I will want to have kale (or broccoli rabe), quinoa and olive oil. These three ingredients make my favorite dish, and they will also take care of my beauty!  

Many thanks to Peter K. Lu and Peacefood Cafe for making this interview possible. To learn more about Peter's restaurant, please visit www.peacefoodcafe.com.

Comments

Benjie said…
I was so excited when I read from Peter's facebook posting that you had interviewed him that I jumped to your blog right away..It's been bookmarked!!
It's very good to hear the path someone took to be a vegan..
Benjie
CurlyLocks said…
Wonderful, inspiring interview! I hope to be able to visit Peacefood Cafe someday soon.
Anonymous said…
What a lovely interview-amidst a great series! I recently turned vegan (after 18 years of being ovo-lacto-yeah, I know...)

I check into your blog every day for information, inspiration and sense of community. Kudos for your amazing, important work. Have a great day!
GodsDreamsForMe said…
The benefits and challenges really stood out for me. It's only my second month living vegan and going green. There's so much it's fun. And here comes Easter and people are calling to get together for "lunch".

Peter's answer helped affirm my peaceful stand.

Thanks for this awesome interview.

Jeri - Oahu
Steven said…
Yay! Amazing post. Wonderful people who know delicious food.

To make such a good-hearted, humanitarian lifestyle change stemming from tragedy is an honorable, selfless act. I hope one day that more people will acknowledge/educate themselves about the masked tragedies of the billions of animals out there and find a way to make a positive change for those animals, themselves, and the world.
Abigail S. Bean said…
I have enjoyed many delicious bites at Peacefood Cafe; how nice to know a bit of the life & business story behind the owners. Information like this makes the cafe even better in my eyes; thanks for the great insight into the backstory!
Lindsay said…
Thanks everyone - it was such a special experience to interview Peter! :)
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