Serving Up a Meat-Free Thanksgiving With Vegan Chef Stacey Dougan

Turkey and Dressing alternative courtesy of Chef Stacey Dougan


It’s that time of the year again when we come together to express our gratitude for family and friends over a scrumptious, hearty dinner.  Thanksgiving is a comforting holiday in so many ways, especially as it relates to food.  With all of the delectable options available for Thanksgiving, it is often a struggle to keep the pounds off.  Film professionals know all too well how important it is to maintain a healthy body weight especially for the camera.  This Thanksgiving holiday, Reel Focus will help you to celebrate Thanksgiving with healthier food alternatives that will keep you looking good while eating good.  In order to do this, I have asked the self-taught vegan chef Stacey Dougan to share with us what she knows about veganism and to provide some food items appropriate for this holiday. 

Stacey, I applaud you for your vegan lifestyle.  Maintaining a healthy diet is very difficult for most but with the delicious looking meat-free meals that you prepare, you make it seem easy.  First, tell our readers how you became a vegan yourself.

Vegan meal courtesy of Chef Stacey DouganI became a vegan when I was very young.   I’m originally from Detroit, Michigan and when I was a youth, I attended an African school called Nataki Talibah and it was there that I was regularly exposed to a vegetarian diet.  This was back in the 1980s, well before vegetarianism and veganism became as popular as it is today.  I preferred this way of eating ever since.  I didn’t actually remain loyal to this diet until I was about 23 years old; however.  By this time, I decided to eat like this not only because I was exposed to it as a youth but also because I had health issues such as excema.  Once I switched to a vegan diet, these health issues ceased.

I know several people who are vegans and I myself have attempted to be vegan as well.  Tell us about the challenges involved in being a vegan and how to overcome those challenges so that becoming a vegan won’t be a life trend but instead a lifestyle.

Please know that I’m speaking specifically for myself and not for all vegans when I say this but I took my time to become vegan.  I encounter many people who decide to become vegan and its almost like an overnight decision but for me it simply didn’t work that way.  I gave myself time to become a vegan and what this did is it allowed me to find substitutes for the food items that I eliminated from my diet.  As I said, I had been exposed to vegetarian diet early in my life but I did eat beef and chicken and fish occasionally.  When I made the decision to become fully vegan, I gradually eliminated one meat at a time.   After eliminating meat, I began to eliminate dairy products such as cheese and milk.  This was a major challenge for me and I’m sure that this is a challenge that most who want to become vegan will experience. 

Another thing that you may not anticipate but presents a challenge is attending family gatherings while being vegan.  Family doesn’t always know or even understand how to prepare vegan meals.  In that case, I would suggest that you either make dishes yourself to bring to the family function, try to locate a vegan restaurant in the local area and order take out from them, or ask the host to set aside a portion of the food that contains no meat.  Another challenge to being vegan is raising vegan children and that is such a complex topic that I won’t get into the details of it here.  I have a two year old son that I am raising as vegan and as he grows older, I’m going to instill in him what I know about veganism but I will allow him to make his own decisions about what he wants to eat because this is not something that I want to force upon him.Vegan Lasagna Courtesy of Chef Stacey Dougan


Simply Pure is your vegan restaurant located in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Tell us how you founded this restaurant.

Well my career as a restaurateur all started about 15 years ago.  I had recently graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta and I started a restaurant in Atlanta with a few business partners called Everlasting Life Raw Restaurant.  For those familiar with the area, it was located in the West End across from a restaurant called Soul Vegetarian.  Raw food is a little different from vegan because you can consume nothing over 120 degrees.  I eventually got out of this business deal and I started working exclusively for a Ghanan ambassador in Chicago providing vegan meals for him.  I did this for about two years but while traveling back and forth between Ghana and America, my father got sick so I wanted to be close to them in Las Vegas, Nevada.  When I got back home, I briefly worked for the Wynn hotel as a chef and this is basically how I learned hands-on skills related to restaurant ownership.  I already knew how to cook but working for the hotel helped me to perfect my presentation skills.   Eventually, I started working for Zappos doing some catering for them and a gentleman by the name of Tony Hsieh heard about me and approached me about opening a vegan restaurant in the heart of Container Park as a part of the downtown project to revitalize Las Vegas.   And I’m still here today.


Stacey, many of us are guilty of gorging around the holiday.  Can you share with us some healthy vegan alternatives to typical holiday foods that will keep us from feeling guilty about our calorie intake?

Like I said before, it would be ideal to contact a local vegan restaurant and obtain a full holiday meal from them because a lot of vegan restaurants usually provide this service around this time of the year. However, if you want to attempt to cook on your own then here are a few things that I suggest.

As a meat substitute, the most popular on the market are Tofurky or Field Roast but I personally am not a fan of alternative meat substitutes because as a vegan chef, I simply make my own using tofu and a bit of sage.   But these are good choices if you are not too familiar with how to prepare tofu.  Vegan mac-and-cheese courtesy of Chef Stacey Dougan

Dressing is primarily a vegan dish.  You would just leave out the items that are meat or meat based (gizzards, eggs, etc.) and in place of beef or chicken stock, use vegetable stock.  This will make your dressing vegan.

Again greens is a vegan dish too.  You just leave the meat out and if you want that smokey flavor that the meat provides, simply use liquid smoke in the greens to flavor them.

Macaroni and cheese is a difficult vegan dish to tackle because vegan cheese doesn’t melt the same way as regular cheese.  But I make a mean vegan macaroni and cheese dish.  This one I would advise either purchasing from the store from a popular vendor or if you want to try it yourself, just google vegan macaroni and cheese recipes.  Or, of course, you can always come by and sample mine.

When it comes to sweets and pastries, I will admit that this is not my strong point. I’m more of a vegan food chef not a pastry chef so I usually solicit the help of other vegan chefs who specialize in the pastry side of things.  So I don’t have any advice to share regarding preparing baked items.  I would suggest either finding a vegan baker or simply buying what’s on the market.  Or, again if you are adventurous, google search will yield a lot of recipes for baked vegan goods.


Chef Stacey Dougan



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Enhance Thanksgiving Dinner With These Celebrity Cookbooks


Thanksgiving is in a few days and this is one of my favorite holidays of the year because I love to cook and I love to eat.  If you love to cook and eat, then I have a special treat for you this year. 

Last year, we looked at vegan alternatives with Chef Stacey Dougan.  Remember to try to incorporate some vegan recipes into your Thanksgiving dinner this year because I’m sure there will be some friends and family that you don’t want to leave out of the festivities because of their lifestyle change. 

This year, we are going to keep the Reel Focus tradition of Thanksgiving food ideas going by examining some cookbooks that will have you inspired to throw down in the kitchen so that you can impress family and friends with your amateur chef skills.  I have pulled together four fantastic cookbooks by celebrities that definitely know how to do their thing in the kitchen and once you read these succulent recipes, you will agree that these ladies own the culinary world.  


Gina Neely

I thought that her book would be a great place to start because I love Southern food.  It is a great option all year long but it’s especially a great choice for Thanksgiving dinner.  What I like about her book is that she shares her fond childhood memories with some of her recipes.  This brings the food to life, giving it a history all its own.  Another thing that I like is that she provides techniques on how to do things that hardly anyone does any more, such as pickling and canning.  

A few of her recipes that stood out as something that would be great on the Thanksgiving dinner table are as follows:


Mmmm.  I can just smell the green onions, cheddar and bread baking together in the oven now.  


I don’t know about you all but I love collard greens!  It is a southern comfort food for sure.  This is an interesting recipe because it doesn’t require boiling and instead Gina sautee’s the collards with red pepper flakes.  


Mac and cheese seems to be one of the most controversial dishes at the dinner table.  Why?  Because so many people have a different take on what it’s supposed to taste like (and look like).  As a result, some people can make it taste really, really good and others — well not so good.  This is a simple mac and cheese recipe.


I have never attempted to make this dish but whenever I eat a portion of this dish prepared by others, it seems a bit soggy to me.  What I like about Gina’s recipe is that it incorporates fresh ingredients such as fresh green beans and fresh mushrooms.  This recipe may be just what I need to discover just how good and crisp this dish really is.  


I know that turkey is typically the centerpiece at Thanksgiving dinner but just in case you want to switch it up, or have an additional meat at the table this year, I thought that this pot roast looked like a tasty option.  









Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Penguin Random House


Rachel Ray

Italian food is not typically a part of Thanksgiving dinner; however, if you are looking for alternative additions this year, then Rachel Ray’s recipes may be the way to go.  This cookbook is cool because she shares a tip or something of value about the meal before she dives right in and shares what ingredients are needed for the dish.  

Where do I begin?  There are so many delicious recipes in this book that you may be tempted to make your entire Thanksgiving dinner Italian.  But here are a few that I thought would be some good additions at the dinner table this year.


There’s nothing like a leafy salad to kick off Thanksgiving dinner.  Rachel’s made-from-scratch Caesar salad dressing should be sensational, too.


Deviled eggs are AMAZING.  If you agree, then tossing these in as an hors devours or entree add-on for your guests will be great.  


There is something so amazing about the aroma of soup cooking slowly on the stove.  And with so much celery that you may have left over from other dishes, why not whip up a quick soup like this one.


This is one of those dishes that is good as an Italian entree or you can add it to your collection of good food accumulating on the dinner table.  If you plan on frying the turkey or preparing some fried fish to satisfy your “pescatarian” family members, this is a great side dish. 


As I mentioned before with the pot roast, if you are all ‘turkeyed’ out and want to try something new this year, then lamb is a good meat choice.  I’ve tried lamb in a stew in the past but this slow roasted leg of lamb seems like it will be everything!








Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Simon & Schuster,, and


Martha Stewart

For most, Thanksgiving represents tradition and if you want to stick with traditional meals, Martha Stewart’s recipes are as traditional as it gets.  I love this book because it is arranged by month and she incorporates meals that work best for the month.  The month of November is filled with great Thanksgiving food ideas.

Since most of you are stern about upholding tradition, I decided to choose dishes from her book that are traditionally seen on the Thanksgiving dinner table.  


Turkey is the most traditional dish on the Thanksgiving dinner table.  This recipe is very simple and, if executed correctly, this will be the star of the table.


What would turkey be without the stuffing? Boring, I tell you!  This is one of my single-most favorite dishes of the day and just like macaroni and cheese, some people make really great stuffing and others — you know the rest.   This dish is unique because it incorporates sweet fennel sausage.


This sounds delectable!  And it is certainly a positive shift from the typical canned cranberry sauce.  Nothing against canned cranberry sauce but just the thought of wine added to the cranberry sauce makes my eyes twinkle. 


I try to eat healthy most of the year but when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner I like to live a little.  And living for me is to drown my food in gravy. Hey don’t judge me… it’s only a once a year thing!  


Now I know that most of you all would prefer to pass the soda around the room.  However, if you want to get creative in the drink area, then consider making fresh this apple cider.









Available at and 


Patti Labelle

Most of you all know that songstress, Patti Labelle, can jam on the microphone. But did you know that she can also jam in the kitchen?  I love her cookbooks and this latest one is all about desserts, so you know that I’m excited.  

What I like about this cookbook and any cookbook that Patti Labelle creates is that she emphasizes family and heritage.  I also like how this book takes time to explain the different types of tools to use in the kitchen because believe it or not some people, myself included, aren’t aware of the names of all kitchen tools. 

Now that all of the savory dishes are planned, its time to dig into these sweets, my favorite.


Child, let me tell you… Whoops – I’m feeling this cookbook too much.  I’m starting to sound like Patti.  But, child, let me tell you:  this red velvet recipe sounds good!  And this is made from scratch so you will really have to take your time to prepare this.


These are probably best for breakfast but could probably also end up on the dessert table too if there are any leftover after breakfast.


When life gives us lemons, some of us make lemonade.  Patti takes it further and makes lemon bars and boy do these seem tasty and easy to make, too.


What would Thanksgiving be without sweet potato pie? Not bad, if you have peach cobbler to replace it.  But in this case, I’m going to emphasize Patti’s sweet potato pie because it’s much simpler to make than peach cobbler and you can make so many of these that you can pass these bad boys out to the guests as they leave.  


Pudding!  This takes me back to my youth when I used to covet pudding snacks.  I’m sure these are much more thrilling than store-bought pudding, however.  









Available at, Barnes & Noble,,, and



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