Encinitas’ Sandra Hurtault is a uniquely French vegan chef, creating gourmet cuisine made without meat or any animal byproducts.
The plant-based Parisian runs Ma Table Végane, a private chef, catering and event management service focused on high-quality, organic and expertly crafted vegan food. Since 2021, she has offered up her vegan private dining experiences, meal prep, larger events, classes and more.
Recently, Hurtault was a contestant on America’s first and only 100 percent vegan cooking competition show, “Peeled.” The show will premiere Sept. 24 at the Directors Guild of America Theater in Los Angeles, a red carpet event that will include vegan celebrities, activities and changemakers. After the premiere, the show will stream on Unchained TV, a channel known for its animal rights content.
Hurtault has been vegan for seven years. Her health really started her on the journey, motivated by her fitness routine, finding that a plant-based diet was the best for her recovery and performance. She also appreciated that environmental impacts and animal welfare are at the core of veganism.
“I was and I am still convinced this is the healthiest and most compassionate lifestyle someone can choose,” she said. “While my meals were initially very simple and lacked nutritional balance, with time I learned to adapt my cooking skills to create incredibly tasty and nutritionally well-balanced food.”
But … a French woman who doesn’t eat cheese? C’est incroyable!
“If I can do it, everybody can,” Hurtault said. “I make a beautiful, nut-based vegan cheese.” She has been working with a vegan artisan cheesemaker and has created camembert and bleu cheese that have even fooled her French father.
Prior to becoming a chef, Hurtault worked internationally in finance and real estate. Life was hectic and she was always on the go.
“I was happy to be successful at a young age and I was grateful for the opportunities, but I’m a creative at heart,” said Hurtault, who has been cooking since she was 8 years old.
Born and raised in Paris, she grew up surrounded by cooks in the kitchen. “My mother was a beautiful cook,” says Hurtault, whose grandfather was also trained by Le Cordon Bleu School. In Paris, the focus was always on making everything from scratch, the freshest ingredients plucked from the garden or farmers market.
Hurtault came to San Diego in 2010 to learn English with a friend who was in an au pair program. She learned English and got her MBA and was quickly hired by a start-up in the financial market in La Jolla. She worked her way up the ladder and became a country manager at age 24. She lived in Dubai, China and New Zealand before returning to California in 2017 and opened her own business, a housing company that she ran for four years.
As Hurtault is in America on an entrepreneur visa, during the pandemic she wasn’t able to leave the country because of the travel ban and couldn’t see her family for two years. She was able to reflect on her career goals during the quiet downtime of those quarantine days.
“I had more time to rethink my priorities,” Hurtault said. “I was 35, maybe it was time to do what I love to do.”
At the time she was mostly cooking for herself and her husband, who has been a fitness trainer and vegan nutritionist for 30 years. In 2021, she decided to start an Instagram for Ma Table Végane, showing off her creations and offering her services as a personal chef.
Her feed of food displays her rustic, elegant and well-balanced organic dishes: from acorn and butternut squash risotto with tofu lardons, stuffed zucchini blossoms and mustard micro greens to confit kumquat and dark chocolate baked gluten-free donuts. “Vegan artistry is what this venture stands for,” said Hurtault.
As a personal chef, her dishes are inspired by her French and European heritage as well as her travels around the world. She can fit any type of occasion and lifestyle and is comfortable catering to her clients’ wide range of nutritional needs and allergic restrictions. She prides herself in being knowledgeable in vegan nutrition and enjoys cooking exclusively with organic/pesticide-free whole foods and minimally processed ingredients — she works with homemade vegan butter and nut milk, all made from scratch.
“I love to make gnocchis with cream sauce made of cashew butter and add morel and porcini mushrooms,” Hurtault said. She makes a strawberry tart with a shortbread crust and a creamy, eggy custard that she says everyone is shocked to find out is vegan.
She has some hush-hush celeb clients for her meal prep and private dining services. “I’ve never left a home without happy faces,” she said.
Every month, Ma Table Végane also hosts an event called the Vegan Boss Lady’s Dinner. A small group of women from local sustainable businesses come together to network and enjoy a three-course vegan feast with all proceeds going to Amma.org, supporting Indian spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi’s charitable activities.
Through her Instagram, Hurtault was contacted by a VKind Studios producer who was starting a new vegan cooking show in Las Vegas. Hurtault was shocked that she reached out because it was just as she was starting out with Ma Table Végane, but the producer was intrigued by her unique approach: “You don’t see a lot of French vegan food because it’s very difficult to make vegan,” she said.
Hurtault immediately said yes to the opportunity to participate in the show. Filmed in Vegas, she competed against three other chefs in a competition with challenges with elements similar to shows like “Top Chef” and “Chopped.” In each episode, cheftestants are either named the hottest vegan chef or get “peeled” into the compost.
The show’s hosts are Dr. Shabnam Islam, a leader in the health and fitness industry, and Babette Davis, whom Hurtault called a “71-year-old firecracker.” Davis is an accomplished raw food and vegan chef, restaurant owner and motivational speaker. Judges featured on “Peeled” represent a diverse panel of celebrity chefs, vegan aficionados and plant-based industry experts including Chef Josie Clemens from season 20 of “Hell’s Kitchen” and Dr. Miles Woodruff, the CEO of Sophie’s Kitchen, the bestselling seafood alternative.
All of the contestants are playing for charity. “It demonstrated the compassion aspect of veganism, so that was lovely,” said Hurtault.
Hurtault said she was impressed how well-oiled the filming ran even though it was a new show. She said they took great care of the cast and it was a lot of fun. She has to stay tight-lipped on who wins “Peeled” but is excited for everybody to be able to stream it this fall.
With pandemic travel restrictions lifted, Hurtault has been able to return to France, most recently last month. She traveled through Paris, Bordeaux, Armagnac, Cognac and Brittany gleaning inspiration to bring into her cooking and include in new recipes for her clients to enjoy.
Living her life now as a professional vegan chef, she doesn’t miss her career in finance, in fact she doesn’t even think about it — it felt like a different world of stress and anxiety.
“Now I just see happiness and joy and I feel much more comfortable in that world,” she said.