It's Giving... 'Next Level Chef': Why This Reality Contestant Loves Plant-Based Cooking (Exclusive)

"I want you to go home and think, 'I feel satiated. I feel full. I feel loved."

Bianca Piazza - Author

Apr. 23 2024, Published 9:00 a.m. ET

Headshot of plant-based chef Gabrielle Chappel along with graphics and Green Lovers's "It's Giving ... Earth Day" logo
Source: Courtesy of Gabrielle Chappel

For Brooklyn-based Gabrielle "Gabi" Chappel, a contestant on Season 3 of Fox's reality competition series Next Level Chef, sustainability is an ongoing mission, a trial-and-error learning process.

Chappel's initial path as a digital producer led her to Epicurious' "4 Levels" series, which saw her develop and test recipes as a "Level 2" home chef.

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Her innate love for cooking blossomed, inspiring her to take the Plant-Based Culinary Arts program at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in 2021 — even though she is not vegan herself. That's right — even though Chappel still eats meat, she is using her platform to promote the incredible benefits of plant-based eating.

Since then, Chappel has focused her appreciation for local, seasonal ingredients and blended global cuisines (think Japanese and Eastern European infusion), bringing her skills to Brooklyn's Michelin Star restaurant Olmsted, farm-to-table catering events, pop-ups, and more.

Headshot of Brooklyn-based plant-based chef and 'Next Level Chef' Season 3 contestant Gabrielle Chappel in front of a brick wall
Source: Getty Images
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"What you're eating is directly connected to the planet, whether or not you realize it," she tells Green Lovers in an exclusive interview.

We spoke with the New York chef just in time for Earth Day about her dive into intentional, plant-based cooking, Next Level Chef experience, and pivoting away from single-use plastic.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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GREEN MATTERS: Can you tell us about your plant-based cooking journey?

GABI CHAPPEL: Though I'm a plant-based chef, I consume meat. I try and be agnostic and eat what feels good, and most of the time that's plants.

I remember my high school teacher/track coach showing us the documentary Supersize Me. I thought, "That's what you're putting in your body?" He also talked about eating locally. I grew up in an agricultural Pennsylvania town, so hearing his relationship with meat — he bought a cow every year and got the animal butchered — that was the seed planted in me.

The idea that I don't want to eat meat unless I know where it comes from resonated. I combined how I feel when I eat meat with recognizing it's cost-effective to not eat meat — avoiding meat is good for the planet and animal rights.

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GM: How did ICE's cooking program open your eyes to new cooking methods?

GC: The foundation of that program is macrobiotic cooking. It boils down to foods that were eaten traditionally in Japan for healing and overcoming sickness. The program is built on principles that food is medicine, food is good for the planet, and sourcing ingredients locally and with intention is important.

Now I have a basic fundamental understanding of nutrition and how the body integrates food. Having people in my life experience problems with certain foods, celiac disease, and autoimmune disorders, I recognized how food can heal. When I do pop-up dinners, if I'm doing it vegan or plant-based, I feel like I'm nourishing people.

GM: The Earth Month 2024 theme is Planet vs. Plastics. How do you minimize your use of virgin plastic in the kitchen?

GC: Breaking up with plastics, or single-use items, is about having the space to say, "I recognize that I'm using a lot of plastic wrap. It's not cost-efficient and it's something I use for work. What's an alternative?" It's as simple as, "I ordered takeout and it came in a quart container. I'm going to keep this for upcoming pop-ups. I'll save it for my own personal use." It comes down to doing small things that stick over time.

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GM: What inspired you to apply to Next Level Chef? How did you bring your passion for sustainable, farm-to-table cooking to the show?

GC: In 2022, my casting director friend from Penn State asked me to be on the show. I declined, as I'd never seen it. This year, she asked again, and I thought, "What's the worst that can happen?"

It was interesting going into Next Level Chef considering my program only really covered how to cook veggies, and I'm going to have to figure out how to cook animal proteins. My knowledge of vegetables ended up being the thing that made my dishes stand apart.

The beauty of the show is that it's about mentorship. It's about working with Nyesha Arrington, Richard Blais, Gordon Ramsay, and having them bring the best out in you and teach you.

This article is part of Green Lovers’ 2024 Earth Day programming, It's Giving... Earth Day: A series about the people and organizations who are “giving” Earth Day 24/7. We hope these stories inspire you to embody the spirit of Earth Day all year round.

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