George Vutetakis grew up enjoying the cultural traditions associated with preparing and eating healthy, flavorful Greek Mediterranean cuisine. In the 1970s, he traveled to India, where he was also inspired by the food. From this foundation, the Bloomfield Hills resident developed a passion for healthy, plant-based cooking which he has channeled into over four decades of success in the food industry as part of the plant-based food revolution.
Vutetakis, who has been a vegetarian for 50 years and a chef for 45 years, says his interest in yoga led him in the direction of vegetarianism.
“We are consistently advised to increase plant-based foods for better health and every culture has plant-based, vegan elements – that is a benefit to having so many cultures in the Detroit area,” Vutetakis explains. “James Beard used to say that Detroit was one of the best ethnic food cities in the country.”
In 1981, Vutetakis became a founding chef at Inn Season Cafe in Royal Oak and the owner four years later. The restaurant featured a farm-to-table concept before it became trendy and Vutetakis was greatly influenced by his involvement with farmers and farmers markets.
After two decades at the cafe, he sold the business and began writing and teaching. He and his wife, Sara Hill, also began renovating 1920's era homes in Birmingham, Royal Oak and San Diego, with an emphasis on culinary gardens and “charming chef’s kitchens as the heart of the home.” They moved to San Diego during this time. In 2010, his book, “Vegetarian Traditions: Favorite Recipes From My Years at the Legendary Inn Season Cafe,” was published. The book is being re-released this year in an eBook format.
“Michigan has a different kind of farmers market than San Diego. There’s nothing like kale kissed by the cold fall. There are incredible foods here [in Michigan] that you can’t find anywhere else – celebrate it!” he explains.
While promoting his book at the Birmingham Farmers Market in 2011, Vutetakis connected with the late Jack Aronson, well-known philanthropist and owner of Garden Fresh Gourmet, the largest fresh salsa company in the world which is headquartered in Ferndale. Aronson hired him as director of research and development, and he happily moved back to Birmingham.
“Working closely with Jack was a journey of enlightenment into the larger food industry,” says Vutetakis. “I went from a busy 50-seat restaurant to developing products in the packaged food industry – from feeding thousands to feeding millions.” During this period, he and Aronson created SEED, an incubator program to help food startups benefit from Garden Fresh’s success. “I learned a great deal about giving back from Jack and was heartbroken when he passed away last year.”
When Campbell’s Soup purchased Garden Fresh in 2015, Vutetakis continued working with Campbell’s where he developed vegan products for the fresh food division and shared his plant-based food expertise. Currently, Vutetakis continues his mission to promote and develop organic and plant-based products as a consultant and business owner.
In 2020, Vutetakis’s Birmingham-based Only Plant Based! Foods launched with a line of well-received mayonnaise, sauces, and dressings from Northern Ireland. The plant-based products are designed without factory farms, negative environmental impact, and climate-associated disruptions. Products are sold online, in local gourmet stores and to the food service industry.
“Food is a foundation of how we enjoy daily life and a significant way to create community and affect change,” he says. “Sharing food is a language of its own. Cooking for someone else fills you up. It’s something we can still do in these uncertain pandemic times.”
For more information: www.thevegetarianguy.com, www.onlyplantbasedfoods.com
Story: Tracy Donohue
Photo: Chris Ward