Somewhere deep in Orlando, Florida is a kitchen darkly decorated with ornate gothic candelabras, black studded cupboards and an impressive collection of skulls. In the centre stands Brian Manowitz, dressed in full chain armour, covered in corpsepaint and… getting ready to prepare a vegan Pad Thai?
So goes episode one of Vegan Black Metal Chef, an unconventional cooking show created by Brian in May 2011. The first episode that aired on YouTube was an overnight viral success – it’s currently sitting at more than 3 million views – and set off a career that now includes albums, recipe books and cooking demonstrations that tour the world.
“I guess there was a perfect storm of right place, right time, right atmosphere,” says Brian. In 2011, YouTube wasn’t new, but it was the beginning of an era where eccentric creators could find a home for their niche ideas. “There’s obviously some ‘WTF factor’ that attracted people,” says Brian, “but hopefully they stayed around because I’m definitely passionate about vegan food and I’m passionate about the metal.”
Brian went vegan while in college, and at the same time discovered a love of black metal through bands like Dimmu Borgir. He spent the next 10 years performing in industrial and black metal bands around Orlando before trying his hand at cooking for the first time and creating a show that is anything but conventional. Vegan Black Metal Chef is the only place where you’ll see extravagant curved daggers slicing garlic, plantain cooked on a ouija board stovetop, and an extraordinary selection of medieval dining equipment.
Each video is accompanied by an instructional song to guide you through the recipes, which Brian writes, records, mixes and masters by himself. As for the lyrics, they’re a little less, ‘Chainsaw in my bleeding hands, as I start to cut you in two’ and more ‘Cut the tofu, Turn the plate!’, and the songs have been released as two full-length albums – 2012’s Season 1: The Reign Of Seitan Begins and Season 2: Hell Frozen Over.
More recently, Brian has expanded Vegan Black Metal Chef into a cookbook, releasing The Seitanic Spellbook in 2019: a collection of recipes that include pun-inspired dishes such as Curse You All Potatoes and Opus a Enchilada. “They’re not crazy newfangled adventures, almost all the recipes in the book are classics from a ton of different cultures,” says Brian. Each recipe includes step-by-step pictures to guide cooking and come with links to videos of each dish being made.
Since starting Vegan Black Metal Chef, Brian has watched the plant-based movement grow exponentially. Metal has a longstanding history of animal rights campaigners, with legends like Barney Greenway, Serj Tankian and Geezer Butler all speaking for the movement. But recent years have seen even more musicians getting involved, with Architects’ Sam Carter describing the lifestyle as “The only option”, Californian grind act Cattle Decapitation embedding anti-animal farming lyrics into their songs, and music festivals serving vegan food onsite. In 2017, Brian was asked to perform a cooking demonstration at the legendary Wacken Open Air festival. “They asked me to come out to Wacken because their audience was saying they want more vegan things,” he says. “There’s just been a pretty huge explosion of veganism!”
Speaking of the reasons why veganism is rising in popularity, Brian suggests this is down to a heightened awareness about the animal farming industry. Streaming services are piling up with documentaries that show what really happens in slaughterhouses, research is proving the health and environmental benefits of cutting out animal products, and both supermarkets and restaurants are expanding on their plant-based selections.
“Anything that can be destroyed by the truth, should be destroyed by the truth,” Brian says. “The horrid life of animals is not subtle whatsoever, they live an absolute life of hell and probably the best part of their life is when they die. And we can literally eat anything else; we don’t have to be a part of it.”
The Seitanic Spellbook is out now