Mike Misenti: The Vegan Baker
Michael Misenti, a Bon Appétit veteran, has been around the University for longer than some of the professors have been alive. He is currently the vegan chef and baker responsible for a whole lot of deliciousness that happens at Usdan, and he learned it all on the job. The Argus sat down with him to talk about his culinary creations and how they come to be so great, even without the omnivore staples of butter and cheese.
The Argus: What’s your role in the Usdan kitchen?
Michael Misenti: I do the vegan dinners Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and I do vegan for Saturday and Sunday brunches—that’s when I do most of the vegan baking.
A: How long have you been working at Wesleyan?
MM: 35 years. I’ve spent my whole life in Middletown. I started bussing tables here, then moved to grilling, then cooking, now baking.
A: Are you vegan?
A: Then how did you end up being the main vegan baker for Bon Appétit?
MM: I’ve been here so many years, I got bored doing the lasagna, so I said hey—vegan!
A: A lot of your desserts are gluten-free as well as vegan, is that right?
MM: All desserts, except a few, are gluten-free—but I don’t put the gluten-free label on it or it scares people away. When I put the label on, only 120 people or so eat it. But if I just call it “chews” or “macaroons,” they’re gone.
A: Is there anything you can’t make gluten-free?
MM: Without gluten, cakes don’t really work out, but give me time; I’ll figure it out! Over Christmas breaks, I experiment at home. Hopefully I’ll come back with a lot of ideas.
A: Do you prefer cooking or baking?
MM: Right now it’s baking, but after five years I’ll probably get bored and it’ll be cooking again.
A: Do you have a specialty?
MM: The vegan chicken kaopao, with tofu. I use frozen tofu because after it thaws it absorbs the sauce like a sponge. And it’s gluten-free, unlike seitan.
A: What’s your favorite vegan dessert to make?
MM: Baklava, but I can’t make it too often because then I’ll get fat. Also the coconut macaroons.
A: How do you make the coconut macaroons?
MM: Vegan cream cheese, coconut, baking powder, sugar, and then I dip it in vegan chocolate afterwards.
A: What are some staple ingredients you use?
MM: Margarine, corn starch, applesauce—and dark chocolate! Dark chocolate is always vegan. But so many people see the word vegan and panic. That’s why Godiva doesn’t label their dark chocolate as vegan.
A: Do you have a favorite food, vegan or non-vegan?
MM: Cheesecake. Now, I’ve got popsicle sticks, I’m going to do vegan key-lime cheesecakes on popsicle sticks. Freeze them and dip them in chocolate—that’s the kind of stuff I want to start doing.
A: Where do you get inspiration for your cooking?
MM: When I go on vacation and I see different kinds of foods, and I think, “That’s cool.”
A: I hear you’re going to build a dessert Gotham City for Halloween.
MM: Yeah. I’m going to get students to help build it, with tons of melted chocolate. I’ve started making slabs of chocolate tombstones; I’m going to make a bat-mobile out of cake and chocolate.
A: Why did you pick a Batman-themed dessert?
MM: Well, they just came out with another movie. I’ve done graveyards; last year when we had a snowstorm I did a “Day of the Dead” thing instead of a graveyard. I want to do something harder and more fun this year. I’m pushing it further and further. You get bored doing the same thing. I’m going to hopefully make a bridge that will collapse over the water [in the Gotham City dessert].
A: Is there anything else you’d like to share with Wesleyan students?
MM: My e-mail address is email@example.com. Please e-mail me if you have suggestions for vegan dinners or baked goods, have a recipe you want me to try, or if you just have a favorite thing that I make that you want me to make more of.