Tara Punzone is the owner and chef of Pura Vita, the first 100% plant-based organic Italian restaurant and wine bar in the USA. Born in Brooklyn, NY Tara is a 3rd generation Italian American whose family’s roots stem back to Napoli and Calabria, Italy. Inspired at a young age, Tara spent a lot of time in the kitchen cooking with her family and learning about all of the delicious home-cooked Southern Italian food. Since adopting a vegan lifestyle at the young age of 12, Tara has continuously been tweaking her family’s traditional recipes to be vegan.
After honing her skills and running several of New York City and Los Angeles’ fine dining vegan restaurants for over 15 years, Tara decided to make her childhood dream a reality. “I wanted to provide healthy home-style Italian cuisine to a thriving vegan community,” said Tara. “I always knew I needed to share my family’s traditional southern Italian dishes with everyone.”
Since opening Pura Vita on September 5, 2018, Tara has been sourcing ingredients from local organic farms and Italian imports for specialty items. “We are 100% vegan, non-GMO and organic and everything is made from scratch. Our entire wine list is also vegan, organic and biodynamic.” While Pura Vita is 100% vegan, Tara mentions that “a majority of the guests who come to eat at Pura Vita are not vegan, just looking for a great Italian restaurant.”
Chef Tara is proud to be able to accomplish something important by teaching non-vegans that eating vegan food can be both good for you, delicious and satisfying. “Vegan food does not have to be sprouts and chickpeas or processed fake meats in every meal. Food comes from the earth and should be prepared in a kitchen, not a lab, using amazing spices and herbs to create clean flavors that have depth and keep you coming back for more.”
What is your favorite dish you serve?
At the moment my favorite dish is the Carbonara. I dreamed up this dish, literally. I had a dream I was making Carbonara, woke up and did exactly what I did in the dream. It has been the No. 1 selling dish on our menu ever since!
What is your favorite restaurant (and dish) that isn’t Pura Vita?
My favorite restaurant is ABCV in Manhattan. Chef Neal Harden creates dishes that awaken all of my senses. I could never choose only one. He is magical. My favorite restaurant in LA is Satdha. The Thai food there represents the true clean and bright flavors I discovered while traveling throughout Thailand, absolutely delicious.
What is a hobby you enjoy doing outside the kitchen?
I studied and graduated with a Masters of Fine Art, which was purely visual. However, music is the truest form of art for me. I am extremely passionate about music. Music is a part of every moment of my life. It creates motivation for me in every situation, good and bad. Rock n’ Roll, blues, metal, punk, old school hip hop, reggae, etc.. is a part of all of my memories and motivations. Music is my inspiration in the kitchen. The energy it creates and the love it makes me feel is an essential ingredient in my food and your experience at Pura Vita.
Article by Jarone Ashkenazi