Lauren Montelbano is a plant-based chef and holistic nutritionist with The Vibrant Veg, which offers cooking classes, nutrition coaching and whole-food plant-based meals, fresh-pressed juices and healthy desserts in Madison. “My business is an expression of everything I am passionate about.” Learn about Lauren Montelbano…
Hometown: Mazomanie, WI
First job: Off the books: Babysitting, where I solidified my desire to not have children. On the books: Gordon’s Drive Through, where I solidified my desire to be in the kitchen.
Favorite ways to spend your free time in WI: I adore being outdoors. Hiking, camping, biking, foraging, canoeing or kayaking (sometimes with my cat). Being out in nature brings me home and sheds light on pieces of myself that sometimes get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It strengthens my relationship with my husband as well because it’s something we both love, and we can challenge and support one another in those activities.
Your biggest accomplishment and why: Becoming and remaining sober from alcohol for 13 years. My heavy alcohol use was causing many problems in my life and leading me in a direction of demise. I was lucky enough to realize that my life had value beyond how I was choosing to live it. It’s not an easy feat for someone to choose to give up alcohol (especially in WI) at age 24. It took an immense will power that I wasn’t sure I possessed to choose the path less traveled and go against the grain (and frankly, my genetics) to say to myself that I am worth more and I can achieve even my wildest dreams.
The biggest obstacle you overcame: Self-doubt. It creeps in daily, but sometimes you have to fake it until you make it. Even though I haven’t always known that I could do something, I have done it anyway because life is too short not to. I have moved across the country, traveled and lived abroad on my own, opened restaurants, scuba dove, jumped out of planes, started my own business and written a cookbook. The self-doubt was there through it all, but life isn’t as rich if you let it conquer and control your desires.
Someone who inspires you and why: My dad. If there’s something he doesn’t know how to do, he learns how to do it, much like my husband. He’s kind, funny, supportive and he never gives up. He always seems to know the right thing to do and always does what’s right even if it’s not easy. Which was super annoying as a rebellious teenager, but now I see it as a very admirable trait as an adult. He somehow is getting even better with age, which, I hope, is my fate as well.
Advice to someone pursuing a career path in what you do: Work in kitchens and work with as many talented individuals as you can. You will carry a piece of those legends with you always. Get your education on the line. Surround yourself with positive people and don’t accept unhappiness and or burnout as the “norm.” Put your head down and do the work, but if it’s not working, don’t be afraid to seek a change. Your ideal situation is out there, you just have to not be afraid to seek it or create it.
Favorite quote: “Let go or be dragged.” –Zen proverb
Something someone would be surprised to learn about you: As a plant-based chef, I don’t use animal products and have vowed to not harm animals. However, in my life explorations, I have eaten kangaroo and crocodile and even helped butcher a cow, from start to finish. I think it’s important to not shy away from situations that make you uncomfortable and to do the best you can to educate yourself through real world experiences. Watching life leave another living being and being a part of that process has led me to an even stronger conviction in what I do now for a living.