From Veg Head to Meat Maven: Chef Sonya Cote

By Megan Giller  |  October 22, 2013
Credit: Applebox Imaging

As our meaty burger week continues, we'd like to highlight a few local chefs who ditched their vegetarian ways in favor of carnivorous pursuits. First up is Sonya Cote, the force behind Hillside Farmacy and Eden East, which is located on Springdale Farm. Here’s Cote on living as a vegetarian for years and why she eventually changed her lifestyle:

“We moved to a transcendental meditation Maharishi yogi hippie commune in Fairfield, Iowa when I was about four. It was totally vegetarian. I grew up thinking meat was just the most horrible thing you could do to your karma. I got over that, but I still won’t eat meat that’s not grassfed or is raised inhumanely.

“The first meat I ate was a steak on a cruise ship to Bermuda that I was on with my uncle and aunt. We ordered the vegetarian meals, because my aunt and uncle were both vegetarians, too. I was 19. It was the same thing every night, like pasta primavera. On a cruise ship, with lobster and all this crazy delicious food. So we were like, “OK, we’re going to do this. We’re going to eat meat.” And all of us did, and I was sick for days. I must have liked it, because I ate it again and again, until my body built up the enzymes to break it down.

“When I started cooking, I took it all the way to the point that I couldn’t do anything else except learn how to make meat. I went to macrobiotic cooking school and learned everything I could possibly learn about almond butter and making nut cheeses. Then I just decided that I didn’t want to eat any processed foods. Growing up vegetarian, I ate so much soy product that I had way too much estrogen in my body and started getting hormonal things. My son called it my gypsy mustache because it was like this dark discoloration on my skin. The doctors said it was too much estrogen, whatever soy helps your body to make. So I didn’t want to eat any processed foods. I tried to learn as much as I could without cooking meat, and finally I was like, ‘I have to learn how to make meat if I’m going to call myself a cook.’ And I had to taste it and eat it to prepare it.”