Local finds success with delectable vegan desserts online
December 13, 2012
Asking Allison Rivers Samson to choose a favorite sweet among her desserts is like asking her to pick a favorite child.
Rivers Samson is the owner of Allison's Gourmet, an award-winning online vegan dessert company based in Nevada City that distributes cookies, chocolates and more to people's doorsteps all over the country.
"Every single product of mine is derived from a personal craving," Rivers Samson said who started her business 15 years ago when she made the leap from a vegetarian diet to a vegan one.
A vegan (pronounced VEE-gun) is someone who chooses to avoid using or consuming animal products, according to http://www.vegan.org.
At the time vegan offerings were limited to a handful of dry, bland and tasteless prepared foods and a scant number of cookbooks.
So the trained personal chef started experimenting in her own kitchen to come up with healthy plant-based alternatives to old favorites.
She launched her business with a line of cookies that tasted as good as homemade then set out to create the perfect brownie.
"It took me four years to get it the way I wanted to," Rivers Samson said of the brownies made without eggs or butter in the face of skeptics who told her it couldn't be done.
Today, Allison's Gourmet has developed into a full-line of treats that can satisfy the most discriminating sweet tooth.
Beyond baked goods, there is fudge, caramel, toffee, brittle, peanut butter cups, peppermint patties, chocolate covered caramels and truffles. Coffee and tea baskets are also available.
Everything is made using organic, fair trade, vegan and whole food ingredients. All the baked goods are made with oat flour, making Allison's Gourmet a completely wheat-free company.
"It's important to me that our ingredients are pure. I'm a perfectionist," Rivers Samson said.
Rivers Samson likes the challenge of taking a favorite recipe and adapting it to fit a vegan diet.
Equipped with her understanding of flavors, textures and how ingredients like eggs and dairy products function in a recipe, she studies and recreates.
"It's kind of like breaking down a language and translating it … "It's more of an alchemy rather than a direct substitution. In that sense it's more of an art as well," Rivers Samson said.
Elegantly packaged, the highly sought after baked goods and candies are comparable to something you might find in an upscale confection boutique.
In 1997, when Rivers Samson became vegan, the term hadn't yet reached mainstream.
Today, a shift has occurred putting vegan cuisine all the rage among chefs and popular culture. Now a household word, former president Bill Clinton is leaning toward a vegan diet while other stars such as Alicia Silverstone, Joaquin Phoenix and Ellen DeGeneres are making the lifestyle chic.
The customer base of Allison's Gourmet is a mix of health conscious vegans on a budget to celebrities as varied and notable as Paul McCartney and Paula Anderson.
"Some don't even realize we're a vegan company, they just love our products," Rivers Samson said.
People adopt a vegan diet for a variety of reasons including health, concerns for the planet and the welfare of farm animals.
In a July 2012 Gallup poll, 2 percent of the population responded that they were vegan, amounting to about 6 million people in the U.S.
Samson's path on an all plant-based diet began for health reasons when she witnessed family members around her suffering from what she calls "diseases of the fork." In 2006, her obese mother died at 59 of heart disease when Rivers Samson was 20 weeks pregnant.
Over the years, Rivers Samson's vegan choice has come with an added bonus – her deepened compassion for animals. She works with many animal organizations, including Animal Place, a farm animal sanctuary located on McCourtney Road.
She and her daughter Olivia, now 6 and also vegan, make a point of visiting their friends, including a pig named, "Ruby" at the farm regularly.
"It's kind of like going to church for me, being able to connect with the animals and nature," Rivers Samson said.
With December here, holiday orders are in full swing and staff at Allison's Gourmet are working at a frenzied pace. Though her business grows every year, Rivers Samson makes an effort to keep it small enough where everything is still made by hand. She says she is grateful to work with a team of local women "who each excel and are perfectionists in their areas of our efficiently run business."
Though she doesn't sell her products on any local store's shelves, she is happy to meet local customers at the Nevada City post office for pick up, as late as noon on Christmas Eve.
In readers' polls for VegNews magazine, Allison's Gourmet has won awards for "favorite brownie" and "favorite online baking company."
Rivers Samson is a regular contributor to the magazine and in her column, "Veganize It," she offers up recipes for vegan versions of everyday traditional meals. Comfort foods like macaroni and cheese and tuna sandwiches get revamped with Rivers Samson's knack for vegan alchemy in the kitchen.
"To me there is every reason to be vegan. The food is delectable and fulfilling. There is no such thing as deprivation in my vegan diet," she said.
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Contact freelance writer Laura Brown at email@example.com or (530) 401-4877.