It’s highly unlikely that you’ve walked around in Central Square in the last few months and not noticed baked goods calling out a siren song from the windows of locally owned Veggie Galaxy. What may be a surprise is that the display of cakes, pies, cookies and the like are not vegetarian, but in fact vegan. All the desserts are prepared without the use of products derived from animals, a true vegan bakery.
If you stop by early enough, there’s a chance you’ll see Pastry Chef Lesli Turock, who wakes every morning at 3 am and works till 12pm or even 2pm, depending on the day. She moved to our area to attend Dean College and Newbury College, where she specialized in Culinary Arts. Previous positions included Pastry Chef at La Morra in Brookline and Director of Culinary Services at Haley House Bakery Cafe in Roxbury. She also taught Adult Education Classes in areas such as baking breads and pies and comfort foods at Cambridge Adult Education, among others. In the hours away from the batter, Turock enjoys photography, watercolors, pottery, and jewelry making.
Social justice issues are important to Chef Turock, with a personal interest in assisting urban youth with culinary training and aiding local organizations in their work. Recipients of baked donations from Turock and Veggie Galaxy include the Cambridge Women’s Commission for their Women and Words series (disclosure: author is a Commissioner) and an upcoming film forum on human trafficking presented by the Boston Initiative to Advance Human Rights.
Turock freely admits that she is not vegan, and there is a contingency of people who this fact upsets. Her response,” I’m very interested in animal rights, you can eat consciously, you can still be cognizant of the animal’s welfare and environment.” In terms of providing diners with quality baking, she believes her non-vegan status works in their favor, by “raising the bar by bringing a non-vegan palate [to baking] which in the end benefits the taste buds [of non-vegans] if not their moral values.” Turock was intrigued by the intellectual challenge of vegan baking within the context of adhering to classic baking techniques and textures, specifically the scientific and artistic components. “Could I fool people?” There was a 4 month interview process for her position at Veggie Galaxy, with multiple tastings involved and the removal of 90% of the ingredients she usually used. Months later, she has about 500 recipes in an ongoing development file, and is most proud of the cream pies and meringue.
Food writers have noted bakeries avoiding the term vegan in their goods. Turock admits, “I’ve noticed it and I’ve done it myself. I suspect it has a bad reputation, there are products out there that aren’t very good.” When asked about trends in Cambridge eating, Turock believes gluten free baked goods are the wave of the future, with folks tending towards more modest eateries with accessible price points. As for the current cupcake craze, “…it reminds people of Grandma. There’s something comforting about it, it’s portion controlled but decadent and you can justify it.” In the cake vs. pie debate, it’s Team Pie, a nod to a personal love of fruit desserts and a previous business selling pies at local farmers markets.Many eateries in Cambridge cater to vegetarians and vegans, Turock comments, “I’m amazed at what a vibrant community it is” and cites Craigie on Main, Rendezvous and Oleanna as some of her local favorites.
Pastry Chef Turock ended on a messy, if not delicious sounding note. “One day I was making brownies, and the mixer suddenly switched from gear 1 to gear 3 and Taza chocolate exploded all over the wall and kitchen. I admit it did smell good, luckily with the leftover batter the brownies came out fine in the end.”