Green’s Damon Brasch wants to bring vegan comfort food to the masses

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Advocates of veganism suggest that eschewing animal products altogether can prevent illness, although Damon Brasch doesn't make any health claims about his deep-fried vegan delicacies.

But beyond the headlines, there are moral and ethical reasons for abstaining from meat that go back to ancient times.

Until the word "vegetarianism" came into use in the mid-19th century, the avoidance of meat was called The Pythagorean Diet, after the Greek mathematician Pythagoras, who was born around 580 BC. His belief in the transmigration of souls — that souls could inhabit any living thing — is considered a major influence on Plato and other philosophers who continued the debate about whether eating animals is ethical.

Similar beliefs about the nature of the soul perpetuated vegetarianism in various religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. In more recent times, a branch of fundamentalist Christians was behind the 1847 debut of the Vegetarian Society in England, while Seventh-day Adventists are among the most prominent contemporary advocates of vegetarianism.

Lately, the environmental and political arguments in favor of veganism and vegetarianism have been bolstered by the Green Movement, as consumers learn about how many resources are consumed and how much pollution is generated by factory farming.

Even among the general meat-eating population, there's a trend of supporting sustainable agriculture — grass-fed beef is showing up on more menus, and restaurants are eager to promote their local, organic ingredients.

Brasch says he didn't name his restaurant Green because of the Green Movement, though — he had the idea before the trend really took off.

"All these green people who change their light bulbs and drive hybrid cars . . . If they're not eating a vegetarian diet, then they're contributing to one of the biggest environmental problems," he says.

That, and "creating a living, conscious being just to eat it is wrong," he adds.

His reasons for being vegan?

"For me personally, it's 100 percent about factory farming. It's completely out of control," he says. "But if you're going to quote me on that, I'm a hypocrite, because I'm involved with two restaurants that serve meat."

Well, he is an entrepreneur, after all. As it turns out, if it weren't for all the omnivores patronizing That's A Wrap, that business wouldn't have been able to keep Green afloat in the beginning.

Nowadays, though, Green's clearly in the black.

Brasch, who grew up in Chicago and moved to the Valley in 1992, says being in a big Italian family led to his love of cooking.

"Cooking was the nucleus of our family," he says. "My grandmother threw these massive parties, but she had this tiny little kitchen. From a kid's perspective, it was just magical."

Brasch and his mother and sister had moved in with his grandparents after his parents got divorced, so he spent a lot of time in the kitchen with his grandmother.

"Instead of going out and playing baseball, I was inside with the women," Brasch says of his childhood.

As it turns out, there's a reason he was a homebody. It's something Brasch says he's never really talked about with people, but he's compelled to tell me: He's missing his left leg up to the hip, and was born that way. When he was a baby, doctors told his mother he'd never walk.

He later shows me a tattoo of a femur — that is, the thigh bone — which runs the length of his right shin. He got it when he was 18, after going through a period of self-reflection.

"It made me feel like a whole person," he says.

Considering how much time chefs spend on their feet, it's incredible that Brasch has pursued such a physically demanding career, but he's always been active. He started walking with a brace as a toddler, and then had an operation at age 6 to be fitted for a prosthetic leg. He always took regular gym class in school. And eventually, he even got into skateboarding and racing BMX bikes.

"I give my mom a lot of kudos because she never coddled me in that sense," he says. "She never let me use it as an excuse."

Brasch recalls an experience in first grade when kids were teasing him about his disability. He went home and told his mom what happened.

"She told me, 'The next time someone does that, punch him in the nose.' And the next day, I did. Nobody bothered me after that, but every year, it would be the same thing all over again."

By high school, Brasch admits, he was known as a bully. To see him now — with his warm brown eyes, long beard, and mellow demeanor — it's hard to believe he was ever aggro.

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Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig