March 2, 2018
Taste Egg Icon
From MTV VJ to Vegan YouTuber

Popular YouTuber Lauren Toyota brings comfort food touches, and a party vibe, to plant-based home cooking.

For Lauren Toyota, the Canadian blogger and former MTV VJ behind the popular Hot for Food YouTube channel, veganism is about stretching the plant-based diet to its creamiest, crispiest, maximalist ideal.

Toyota has been cooking vegan for nearly a decade, so it’s only natural that she has decided to write a cookbook. Featuring 101 recipes that cover a range of comfort food staples gone vegan—think Buffalo-style crispy cauliflower, oyster mushroom poboy—Hot for Food: Vegan Comfort Classics is the result of nearly 10 years of the author’s research, and cravings. The book is filled almost exclusively with foods that traditionally contain meat or dairy—you’ll find only one “bowl” recipe (a deconstructed banh mi)—and plant-based versions of bacon mac and cheese, Philly cheesesteaks, and chicken pot pie (the latter in an interesting soup form).

Meeting with Toyota at a test kitchen in her hometown of Toronto, in between filming three episodes for her Vegan It series for Canadian magazine Chatelaine, I found her on set joking around with her crew and congratulating everyone on a smooth day of shooting. As we found a quiet spot to settle down for lunch (plates of the lasagna and cheesecake she had just made in front of the camera), Toyota spoke of how her struggle with finding a variety of vegan dishes in restaurants led her to create Hot for Food.

“It was all raw and chewy and too healthy!” she told me of her early impressions. “Vegan food just wasn’t comforting.” Pivoting into veganism after being an admitted “sort of vegetarian,” she missed the hearty and rib-sticking cooking of her previous culinary life. But instead of complaining, she took matters into her own hands. “The only time I was having fun eating was when I was making it myself,” she recalls of her early DIY comfort dishes. She decided to cook more and more at home, eventually rolling the cameras as she went and creating the Hot for Food blog in 2010, and transferring her energies to a YouTube channel in 2014.

It took years for Hot for Food to become Toyota’s singular focus. While most YouTubers and influencers attempt (and usually fail) to make the jump from online fame to television fame, Toyota worked backward. For ten years, she worked as a television host in Vancouver and Toronto for popular channels Much Music and MTV Canada—interviewing the likes of Justin Bieber (she touches his hair) and Graduation-era Kanye West (Kanye in his prime)—while blogging and eventually video blogging on the side between 2010 and 2014. While working full time as a television personality, she grew her audience through Instagram. Often traveling and showcasing her favorite vegan spots around the world, her goal was to show how easy it is to become vegan. “I could just snap what I was eating at a restaurant without writing. Instagram gave me the momentum to keep Hot for Food going.”

Being a familiar face on Canadian television, it’d be easy to assume her fan base followed her as she began blogging, but her mostly teenage audience didn’t exactly follow her to WordPress, where she began. “I know for a fact the way I built up social on Hot for Food, those were all organic new audiences. They weren’t watching me on television,” she says of her starting Hot for Food. That she would easily find a new audience should have been a no-brainer. Toyota’s videos eschew popular but grating YouTuber affectations (you won’t hear the ubiquitous and gratuitous “HEY, GUYS!!”), and in person and on camera her presence shows how genuinely happy she is to be making a living off her passion.

After amassing a huge following, she left television in 2014 to pursue Hot for Food full time, though never assuming her passion would ever turn into a book. In fact, in the intro of Vegan Comfort Classics, Toyota writes that she was against the idea of ever writing a book in the first place. Explaining how she naturally wants to do the opposite of whatever the trend of the moment is, she didn’t think there was much space for her to write a book. “I didn’t want to do one because I thought everyone with an Instagram following had a cookbook,” she recalls. Soon she realized that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but rather the next natural step for Hot for Food.

To Toyota, despite there being many vegan comfort-food bloggers and vegan comfort-food books, each has their own style. “What I put into a vegan cookbook is different than what you would put into a vegan cookbook.” If creating Hot for Food has taught Toyota anything, it’s that there’s room for everyone—especially when it comes to promoting a vegan lifestyle.

Only Vegan Comfort Classics isn’t a book that was written with vegans in mind. “I don’t think about vegans when I’m creating things; I think about people who aren’t vegan.” In fact, Toyota often jokes that she’s trying to trick us all into becoming vegan. Having just eaten the lasagna and a slice of blueberry cheesecake she prepared for her shoot, it makes sense. The lasagna was rich and jam-packed with peppers, managing somehow to be saucy, creamy, and perfectly cooked without falling apart or having the grainy texture that’s common in plant-based cheeses. Following with the baked blueberry cheesecake featured in her book, I was shocked to find out the crust featured only four ingredients (rolled oats, brown sugar, sea salt, and vegan butter). It was almost impossible to tell that her food had no animal products.

Rather than beating nonvegans over the head with a sense of moral superiority, her approach is gentle and encouraging. “I think the way I do it is in a subtle and approachable way that’s more fun and enticing,” she tells me. With Vegan Comfort Classics, one of her goals is simply to teach nonvegans how to slowly change what they believe are pantry staples. “I think people can start making these swaps in their pantries whether or not they’re vegan, and slowly get used to using them,” she says of some of her more frequently used items, like nutritional yeast.

Toyota sees her book less as a comprehensive vegan bible and more as an inviting entry point into veganism. “It’s more of a transitional book if you’re not a vegan; it’s more about how to eat less meat.” Once nonvegans start making the switch from animal-based products to plant-based, “you could eat from my book every day,” Toyota promises.

When creating the recipes for her book, she explains how she began seeing her table of contents like a wish list of dishes she had wanted to eat, and dishes that hadn’t yet made it to her channel. Going back to how she views eating food as an emotionally nourishing experience, she explains her inspiration for most of her recipes.

“I have a lot of stories and memories related to food I’ve eaten,” she says. “I didn’t think of it at the time, but it all plays into what I created here.” To Toyota, that means eating and re-creating flavors and textures from even before she committed to being vegan. “I want to eat mac and cheese out of a pot. That’s what I did when I was younger. I want to be taken back to that moment.”

Creamy Rosé Penne

Creamy Rosé Penne

4-6 servings


  • Penne
  • 1 pound penne
  • 5-6 cups The Rosé Sauce
  • ½ cup The Parm
  • 1-2 teaspoon teaspoons red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Sea salt and ground pepper
  • The Rosé Sauce
  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
  • 1 cup water
  • 6 cups The Red Sauce
  • 5 pounds Roma tomatoes (18 to 20 tomatoes)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ½ cup finely chopped onion (about 2 onions)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper
  • ½ cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • The Parm
  • ⅔ cups raw cashews, almonds, or pistachios
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

As elaborate and varied as noodle dishes can be, sometimes you just want to channel your inner college kid and eat pasta with tomato sauce. Our rich rosé sauce on penne is a splendid solution for easy weeknight dinners. But if you’re looking to beef this up, you could add steamed vegetables, sautéed veggie ground round, or Tofu Bacon Crumbles.

    The Rosé Sauce

  1. To make the red sauce, cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and excess watery flesh. This is easiest to do with your fingers by pressing an index finger and middle finger inside each tomato half and running them down the length of the tomato. The seeds should slide out. You don’t have to get every single one, just the majority. Cut the tomatoes into a large dice.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat and add the onions. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes until soft and fragrant. Add the garlic, tomato paste, bay leaf, oregano, salt, and pepper. Sauté for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes. Tear the basil leaves by hand and add to the pot. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer for 15 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
  4. Remove the bay leaf and set aside. Using an immersion blender, blend the sauce until mostly smooth, getting rid of the large tomato chunks. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can pour the sauce into a regular blender and pulse a few times to get it mostly smooth, then add it back to the pot. Return the bay leaf to the pot and continue to simmer the sauce for 25 to 30 minutes uncovered.
  5. If making the rosé sauce, drain and rinse the cashews. Add to a high-powered blender with the water and blend until very smooth. Stir the cashew cream into the pot of red sauce during the last 10 minutes of simmering. Heat through and serve.

The Parm

  1. Combine all the ingredients together in a food processor and process until a fine crumb or meal is formed.
  2. Store in a jar or container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.


  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain but don’t rinse.
  2. Add the pasta back to the pot you cooked it in and place over low heat. Add 4 to 5 cups of the sauce (or more if desired). Stir to coat evenly and heat through for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in 1⁄4 cup of The Parm.
  3. Top each serving with a bit more sauce, if desired, as well as more of The Parm, the red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste.


  • 1 cup finely chopped onion (about 1 onion)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 3 cups diced zucchini (1 large zucchini)
  • 4 cups sliced cremini mushrooms (about 10 ounces)
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • ½ cup packed finely chopped fresh basil
  • ½ cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 vegan beef-flavored bouillon cubes dissolved in 8 cups hot water, or 6 cups low-sodium vegetable stock and 2 cups water
  • 12 lasagna noodles (not quick cooking)
  • 6 cups packed baby spinach leaves
  • Vegan ricotta cheese or vegan mozzarella shreds, for garnish (optional)

Why lasagna soup you might be wondering? Well, sure, it’s Pinterest worthy, but it’s also a new way to savor more lasagna goodness! And lasagna might be the king of comfort food. Regular hot for foodies might know the best vegan lasagna recipe on the blog, so if you think I’ve gone too far with this, go ahead and stick to the straight and narrow. But if you love love love lasagna like I do, I promise you’ll be obsessed with it as a soup.

  1. In a large stockpot over medium heat, sauté the onion in the olive oil for 2 minutes until just softened.
  2. Add the garlic, bay leaf, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper and continue to sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Lower the heat to prevent the garlic from burning.
  3. Add the zucchini and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 minutes until most of the water from the vegetables is released and evaporates.
  4. Add the tomato paste, vinegar, sugar, basil, and parsley and stir to combine. Cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes and stock. Break up the lasagna into smaller pieces and add to the pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes until the noodles are al dente. Stir occasionally to prevent the noodles from sticking and add the spinach in the last 2 minutes of cooking.
  6. Serve immediately and garnish individual servings with dollops of vegan ricotta or top with vegan mozzarella shreds, if desired.
  7. The noodles will absorb liquid if you have leftovers, so reheat the soup with extra water or stock to loosen the noodles, or enjoy the soup when it’s thick like a stew.


  • Crust
  • 1 cup rolled oats (not quick cooking)
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegan butter, melted
  • Filling
  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
  • 1 cup soft tofu
  • 1 cup vegan cream cheese
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Blueberry Topping
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar

Making a vegan cheesecake that is indistinguishable from a cheese-cake made from actual cheese is no easy feat. But this is The One, guaranteed. Cherish it! I had all the biggest vegan skeptics I know try it just to be sure, and they didn’t even realize it was vegan. You can serve this tangy, creamy cake with any kind of fruit compote you want, but I’ll always have a soft spot for blueberries.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. To make the crust, in a food processor, pulse the rolled oats into a flour. This should be a very fine mixture with no large pieces of oats. Add the brown sugar, salt, and melted butter and pulse until the mixture comes together. It should press together when you pinch it.
  3. Press the mixture in an even layer into the bottom of a 7or 8-inch springform pan. You can also press it into an 8-inch square baking dish. You can line the dish with parchment paper for easy removal or you can serve the baked cheesecake directly from the dish.
  4. To make the filling, drain and rinse the cashews. Place in a high-powered blender with the remaining ingredients and blend until very smooth.
  5. Pour the filling on top of the crust. Bake for 45 minutes until the edges of the cheesecake are light golden brown. The center might look a bit soft, but it will firm up upon cooling.
  6. Allow the cheesecake to cool completely. Refrigerate it for at least 4 hours or overnight. Only once the cheesecake has chilled completely should you remove the sides of the springform pan. Let the cake sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving to remove the chill.
  7. To make the topping, combine all the ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer for 6 minutes. Let cool before serving over the cheesecake. There is enough blueberry compote to put a good portion on top of the cheesecake and have some extra to add to individual servings.
  8. Store leftover cheesecake in the fridge for up to 7 days.

Sarah Hagi

Sarah Hagi is a writer living in Toronto.

[email_signup id="3"]
[email_signup id="3"]