The vegan chef and baker shares his personal journey to veganism, his experience on The Great American Baking Show, and much more in our exclusive interview!
When it comes to vegan baking, Chris Tucker is innovating the plant-based bakery scene. The hairstylist-turned-vegan chef and baker specializes in creating European-style recipes with a touch of Southern charm—examples include cream puffs infused with the flavors of peach cobbler, and éclairs filled with sweet potato pastry cream. During his time in London on The Great American Baking Show, Tucker was given the opportunity to showcase the recipes he had been creating for his hair clients, and the recipes turned out to be a hit on the ABC television show. After returning from London, Chris continued crafting baked goods for his clients and made the transition from styling hair to whipping up recipes in the kitchen full-time. In 2018, Tucker opened his own business, Betta With Butta, where he continues to create custom vegan cakes, cookies, and more.
We spoke with Chris Tucker about his time on The Great American Baking Show, his journey to a vegan lifestyle, and the inspiration behind his business, Betta With Butta.
VegOut (VO): Tell us about your experience on The Great American Baking Show.
Chris Tucker (CT): Being on The Great American Baking Show was such fun! Personally, I had never been to London, so the entire thing was such a new experience for me. I immediately fell in love with the city and could absolutely see myself living there one day. Don’t get me wrong, for the length of time that the show was filming, there wasn’t much time for sightseeing, but I was able to extend my trip at the end of shooting, at which time my parents joined me and we did all the touristy things. Filming was grueling, emotional, overwhelming, exciting, and altogether something I would do all over again if given the opportunity!
VO: What is the inspiration behind your business Betta With Butta?
CT: The inspo for Betta With Butta came from the simple nature of supply and demand. In my past life (before stepping into my vegan chef role), I was a hairstylist. Being in the kitchen has always been part of my DNA, and I couldn’t run from it anymore after being on the show. When I returned from London, I turned my current hair clients into catering clients. In [preparation] for being on the show I had already introduced my clients to this foreign side of me [that] they never knew about. I would constantly bring in baked goods and talk about what I was experimenting with in the kitchen. I already had the clients, I just had to look at them from a different perspective. I started doing their cakes for birthdays and catering their smaller events. The business just grew from there! My motto has always been, and still is, that everything is Betta With Butta (nowadays that Butta just happens to be vegan!).
VO: We understand that you draw much of your culinary influence from the European style of baking. How do you combine this with your Southern roots?
CT: I love the method the European style of baking uses, and it plays a big influence in my recipe development. Being from the South, my flavors tend to lean more towards the homestyle Southern influence of my grandparents’ restaurant that I grew up working at. These days I may take a cream puff (very Euro) but infuse the flavors of a Southern peach cobbler. On the Bake Off, I remember Paul Hollywood thinking that an éclair I made wasn’t going to work for him but then he ended up loving it. The éclair (again, very Euro) was filled with a sweet potato pastry cream and topped with a toasted meringue and candied pecans. This was a nod to a sweet potato pie (very Southern).
VO: Why did you choose to go vegan, and how has transitioning to a vegan lifestyle changed the way you bake?
CT: My vegan journey has been quite a long road. I started by giving up red meat and only ate chicken and fish. I then dropped the chicken and would finally give up the fish as well about 10 years later. I was vegetarian for the longest time but had this preconceived notion that because I was a baker, I could never give up dairy. My husband and I had been told about What the Health more times than we could count, and one day it’s what we decided on for our viewing “pleasure.” The moment the doc ended, we cleared our fridge of every animal product, thus starting our road to veganism! I couldn’t, in good faith, continue putting out products from Betta With Butta that I knew were either harming my clients, the environment, or the animals, so from that point on, all of our products became vegan as well. It has definitely been a learning curve, but it’s been one that is extremely fascinating to me at the same time. The science behind the vegan market, and what something simple like the brine from a can of chickpeas can do, is mind-blowing to me!
VO: Which of your recipes most represents who you are as a vegan baker?
CT: One recipe that best represents me as a vegan chef is my GF/V Chocolate Chip Cookie. Reason being, I have never had someone taste one of these cookies and not say that it’s the best cookie they’ve ever had (vegan or otherwise). My goal as a vegan chef is to prepare food for people (who may or may not be vegan) and have them enjoy it because it’s great food. I aspire to be the vegan chef people call upon when they want to gather a mixed group of people—with all different eating habits—serve them an incredible meal, and then shock them at the end by telling them it was completely plant-based. I don’t think there is anything that can’t be veganized.
VO: It says on your website that charity is at the core of your business. Which local and national organizations have you recently partnered with?
CT: Yes, we believe in giving back to the community in which we serve as well as nationally. We launched our own initiative over the pandemic that focused on providing families who had been economically impacted due to COVID-19 with birthday cakes (free of charge) for their kids. Blowing out a birthday candle and making a wish is something all kids should have the opportunity to do, and we wanted to take part in that. I did a call-to-action on Instagram, and within a couple of weeks we had garnered bakers from around the world, including Canada, India, and the UK, as well as countless states here nationally. At Christmas, we partnered with The Alexis Project for a toy drive and collected almost 500 toys for their organization’s Santa’s Workshop where they allow parents to come in and shop for their children. It was so much fun to be a part of and just the start of our partnership with that organization.
VO: What’s next for Betta With Butta?
CT: I don’t like to limit myself to what may be next because the possibilities are endless! I will be making a trip to Detroit in September for a guest residency at Frame, where I’ll be serving an entire Southern vegan meal as a nod to my grandparents’ restaurant, Tuckers Inn. There will be fried chicken, collards, mac ‘n’ cheese, corn casserole, and many other fun courses before and after. If you’re in town, join us!
Follow Chris on Instagram at @betta_with_butta to stay up to date on his vegan lifestyle and see what he’s up to next!