The Vegan Black Metal Chef is sacrificing something on his granite pentagram. It is a potato.
The potato is chopped into ragged pieces, about an inch and a half square, with a horrible metal instrument of death, then boiled, then beaten with a large silver mace shaped like a human skull. Flecks of potato flesh spray onto the Vegan Black Metal Chef’s carefully applied makeup, which, like the Vegan Black Metal Chef, is also vegan. The cooking utensils on the counter — swords, daggers, blades of chaos — shudder menacingly with pulsing vibrations of the ominous background music, which, like the Vegan Black Metal Chef, is also black metal.
Then the Vegan Black Metal Chef mixes the potatoes with a dollop of dairy-free Earth Balance buttery spread and a splash of almond milk and plates them attractively on a spiked metal tray with some vegetarian baked beans and a serving of corn.
A few weeks ago, a video appeared online. It was called — yes! — “Vegan Black Metal Chef Episode 1: Pad Thai.” It featured a man in chain mail, arm bracers and rubber shoulder armor (“pauldrons”) whipping up a delightful noodle dish in his kitchen. “Cut the tofu in half, like so,” he instructed in guttural snarl. “You are missing one ingredient. That is, of course, the heat . . . of . . . SATAN.”
It has more than a million views.
It is your cooking future.
Now, in the kitchen of his Orlando bungalow — the decor is a cozy dungeon-chic — the show’s star is working on Episode 2, to be posted online this week. It’s a manic endeavor in which he showcases three different vegan meals, including his Redneck Special starring mashed potatoes.
“People have said, ‘You should put this on the Food Network,’ ” says Brian Manowitz. (Vegan Black Metal Chefs are usually not born as such, and sometimes they are born as nice Jewish boys in Tampa named Brian Manowitz.) “I don’t know if the Food Network would really be interested.”
YouTube is. YouTube has become the repository for extreme cooking shows — cook-or-die kinds of shows, which are equal parts pageantry and commentary on just what America is doing in its collective kitchen.
Occasionally a black metal chef needs to go grocery shopping.
“I am always on the lookout for a good vegetarian soup stock,” says Manowitz, examining the ingredients on the back of a small foil packet.
Here we are, in a strip-mall Asian market that smells like dried mushrooms and fish paste. Manowitz slowly pushes his cart through the narrow aisles, casually drumming his black-polished nails against the handle, pausing to admire the imitation-meat products in the frozen foods section. Generally, he stays away from imitation meat. However, he says, “I can make a really good vegan shrimp scampi.”
His hair is in a ponytail. His build is muscular. His skin is pale and slightly irritated, the way skin gets when it is frequently covered with face paint.
Manowitz’s series is called “Vegan Black Metal Chef,” but it could have just as easily been called “What do vegans eat, anyway?” This is the question that Manowitz set out trying to answer. It is the question that every vegan is forever getting from every omnivore who seems to believe there is a parallel dimension of secret vegan foods.
But Manowitz, 30, who stopped eating meat in college at the suggestion of a girlfriend, never thought in terms of individual foods. He thought about full menus: red beans and rice. Whole-wheat pasta with vegetables. Stir-fries and curries of varying levels of heat. He is, lest his YouTube subscribers doubt his prowess, a really good cook.
He had tried making vegetarian cooking videos before, but they never really went anywhere — there was just too much other food-related stuff out there, clogging up the arteries of the Internet.
There was not, however, other stuff out there that involved custom-made rubber body armor and blast beat drumming.
Note the utter appropriateness of this combination. There is no group of people who are so intent on protecting their bodies from the influences of a herd-mentality society as vegans — except black metal fans. There is no group of people who are as indignantly self-righteous, as comically misunderstood or as regularly mocked as black metal fans — unless it is vegans.
Manowitz grew up in Tampa, studied behavioral neuroscience in college in Gainesville and planned on going to medical school. Instead he started playing guitar and moved to Orlando after graduation. He says it has a really great metal scene, which, considering the seething animosity that some residents must feel toward Mickey Mouse, is not entirely surprising.
Now he makes a living doing freelance sound engineering and playing in two black metal bands. On a sunny afternoon before he begins the taping for Episode 2 — which he films on his own, with a tripod — he congenially explains the subtle differences between black metal, its cousin death metal and its uncle thrash.
“Here’s a shortcut,” he offers helpfully, after outlining the differences between one’s more chest-based growl and the other’s raspier tone. “Death metal sounds like Cookie Monster; black metal is like Donald Duck.”
Something is happening to online cooking. Which is to say, online everybody is cooking like the Vegan Black Metal Chef. Cooking with testosterone (the women, too). Cooking with insanity. Cooking with unnerving intensity, and sometimes cooking with power tools.
Vegan Black Metal Chef is the latest example, but earlier ones include “Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time” — which can best be described as “Ultimate Fighter” meets lutefisk — and “Epic Meal Time,” a Dude-Where’s-My-Spatula take on cooking, which blends wisecracks and bacon. Their videos average four to five million views apiece.
“We’re in some real next-level [stuff] here,” yells “Epic Meal Time” host Harley Morenstein in one episode, as he prepares a Cheesy Grilled Cheese Tower. A calorie counter running at the top of the screen soars into quadruple digits.
“I like to say it’s a celebration-of-food show,” says the Canadian Morenstein in a phone interview. “Let’s do it how you really want it. Not how society pretends it wants to eat, but how that little fatty inside of you wants to eat.”
YouTube’s extreme cooking genre has exploded in the past year — though surely it owes something to the Japanese and their classically weird import, “Iron Chef.”
Outside of this YouTube world, the rest of cooking gets pickier and pickier. More organic. More antioxidant. More local, to the point that only tomatoes grown in your own bathtub will suffice. “Vegan Black Metal Chef” — and all of its satiating brethren — is a rejoinder to every delicate food trend that has infiltrated the nation’s cookbooks and an answer to the prolonged adolescence that has made whole swaths of 20-somethings fear the kitchen.
The response is: Shut up and just cook something.
“I was always paralyzed whenever I would try to cook,” says Zach Golden, a New York copywriter, of the domestic failings that led him to launch the extreme cooking blog “What the [Bad Word] Should I Make for Dinner?”
“Make some [bleeping] baked stuffed lobster,” the site suggests in accusing block letters, providing a link to a recipe.
Golden recently got a book deal — the paper version of the site comes out in August — and he has a massive Facebook community of potty-mouthed cooks who report on their evening menus: “Thai chicken and [bleeping] veggies,” posts someone, to the cheerful response, “Nicely done, [bleep]!”
“I think that half of them are celebrating the defiance,” Golden says, “and half of them are celebrating the use of [Bad Word].”
Somewhere along the line, hunger became an act of defiance, feeding it became an act of rebellion. The people who follow this extreme cooking movement have looked at the Food and Drug Administration and its ever-changing recommendations — the four food groups, the food pyramid, the brand new MyPlate — and thought, Chuck it. We are going to just get into the kitchen and let ’er rip.
It’s 4 a.m.
The Vegan Black Metal Chef is still cooking.
More fire, please. More weapons. He gets a cut while he is dicing some veggies, a battle scar from the deadly Brussels sprout saute. He decides this would make excellent television and waves his bloody finger in front of the camera. Then he seductively licks the knife.
He has cooked until his hair is sweaty, until it clings to his makeup, until his shoulder armor sags off his back. He has cooked in such a way that anyone watching him cook would say, “I can do that. I am going to kick that pasta with spring vegetables’ butt.”
He has put on a good show.
Finally, just before the sun begins to rise in Orlando, he puts the finishing touches on his last dish. He then commences with a ritual headbanging, which is how he typically likes to end a successful cooking session.
The black candles flicker. The countertop is covered with an amazing feast of delicious and cruelty-free menu items. The stereo blasts metal.
Manowitz headbangs and headbangs, his long hair flying, until the meal is cooked, and the song comes to an end, and the only sound left is the sound of his chainmail, fluttering gently through a haze of smoke.