Gone are the days of salad and tofu comprising the plant-based diet.
Especially in Gainesville and Hall County, where a chef and certified nutritionist is widening the foodscape for vegan diners.
Behind the moniker Plant Based Trace, a cottage food meal service in Gainesville, Tracy Peters flexes her prowess as a three-time culinary school graduate to show customers plant-based fare is anything but bland.
Decorated by Cornell University and celebrity chef Matthew Kenney’s Food Future Institute, Peters was a vegetarian for about 25 years, meaning she partook of eggs and dairy but abstained from meat, until about a decade ago, when she bid farewell to animal products altogether after researching the relationship between diet and bodily health.
“Once I learned everything about eating plant-based (food) and the tremendous amount of benefits it has to your health, there was no turning back,” she said.
Not far behind her, Peters’ husband caught the bug, too, altering his eating habits as an alternative to prescription medication for blood pressure regulation.
“Lo and behold, three months later, he went back (to the doctor) and he had the blood pressure of a teenager,” Peters said.
Peters said she recognizes a solely plant-based menu isn’t for everyone, but it’s worked for their family and helped keep their household prescription-free.
“At first it was like, ‘Oh no, what are we going to eat?’ And that is what led me to going to culinary school,” Peters said. “I have two adult sons who were like, ‘No way. What are we going to eat when we come home to your house for Thanksgiving? We’re not going to eat tofu, Mom.’ That was not acceptable to me. I’ve always been a lover of cooking — it’s my love language. I wanted to make sure my kids wanted to come home, and not only come home and eat, but bring their friends home to eat.”
And such is the case, according to Peters. Not only did her sons fall in love with her plant-based menu; they adopted the lifestyle, too.
It’s been six years since the Peters clan made the switch. Back then, they didn’t know any other herbivores and had to count on monthly treks to the DeKalb County Farmers Market for plant-based butters, egg substitutes and other everyday ingredients they couldn’t find on the local grocery shelves.
A lot has changed since then, and Peters said she can choose between three grocery stores all within a mile of her Gainesville address and stocked with plant-based pantry staples.
“People think, ‘I’m going to have to go to some place far away to buy these ingredients.’ No, you don’t,” Peters said. “They’re right where you shop. You just need to know how to find them. And once you learn, it’s super easy.”
‘It set me on fire’
In 2019, Peters was approached by showrunners for the Netflix drama “Dynasty,” which was filming in Atlanta. Several members of the cast were strictly plant-based, they said, and needed a chef who could provide edible options for the scenes set around the table.
According to Peters, after those first few bites, the actors started looking for her food when the cameras were off, too, and some became private clients, enlisting Peters for personal meal prep and catering services.
“I ended up kind of getting into that market unexpectedly and by accident,” she said. “It just kind of bloomed. It started out just providing food for the scenes on set to the actors and actresses saying, ‘This is amazing, we want more.’”
But the moment that sealed the deal on coining Plant Based Trace, at least in Peters’ mind, was when her dishes started eliciting similar responses from friends who were “total carnivores.”
“(They) would eat my food and say, ‘I need this recipe’ or ‘Can you cook this for me for my friend’s birthday party?’ That’s the moment I went, ‘This is probably part of my purpose — to do this for people who need it and don’t know how. I didn’t go into this to provide food for everybody, but it turned out that way. When I discovered my passion for cooking and really saw the changes that this can make for people, it just ignited me; it set me on fire.”
After 21 years in women’s health care, Peters traded her rank as CEO of Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association for a new title that fits like a glove (or oven mitt) in this phase of life: Chef Trace.
Through her small business, Peters offers meal prep and delivery services, in-person and virtual cooking classes, one-on-one coaching and, for clients still finding their footing in the plant-based world, grocery store look and learn experiences designed to help clients discover available options and substitutions.
“I try to meet people where they are,” Peters said.
Weekly menu options release on Sundays at plantbasedtrace.com/shop-meal-plans. Orders are accepted through Friday morning and delivered on Monday.
Each meal is $15, and customers often find the portions are enough for two servings, Peters said.
The service, she said, is “a gap filler.”
“It’s a place between someone giving up and saying, ‘No I can’t do this,’ or, ‘Oh, yes, I can, because I can order from Tracy.’”
Fan favorites include plant-based crab cakes, Impossible Greek meatballs and butternut squash soup — a “velvety, comforting” bisque with a hint of smokiness.
“I could just drink it,” Peters said.
Lasagna, however, tends to be the star of the menu. With fresh “cheese” made from cashew milk and scratch-made sauce, the dish is Peters’ most popular and almost always sells out, she said.
“There’s something that just really ignites me about it. When I create a recipe, I put a lot of my heart into it, I put a lot of thought into it. There’s nothing better than working on something, perfecting it and then giving it to someone and having them say, ‘This made my day, this is so comforting to me.’ People have told me, ‘This reminds me of food that I ate when I was a kid,’ and it’s amazing that I can do that with plants.”
A Southerner at heart, Peters has found creative ways to recreate comfort foods like lasagna and fried green tomatoes that, according to the feedback from her clientele, taste like the real thing, supporting her mission statement of “wowing people with plant-based food and opening hearts and minds, one meal at a time.”
As a chef, Peters has a soft spot for homemade risotto — particularly risotto stirred to the rhythm of Etta James and 1940s swing. She has a sound bar on her refrigerator, a tell-tale sign of where she spends the bulk of her time.
“I always have music going; I like my kitchen to be a really happy place,” she said.
While she works out of her home kitchen under Georgia’s cottage food law, Peters has her eye on launching a brick-and-mortar restaurant sometime in the future — in fact, it’s on her vision board.
“I often drive around town and I see, ‘There’s an empty space, that might work for me.’ We’ll see what comes to play.”