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Venezuelan Musician Shares Love of Vegan Cooking With the World

Dani Debuto, in a black apron, sprinkles salt over a dish on a table with a pile of flat bread and other food and wine. Two women on either side of him, look on, smiling.

Dani Debuto, of the band Zeta, is used to sharing food in community. Lately, he's finding a food community online. (Courtesy of Dani Debuto)

Dani Debuto is a founding member of Zeta, a collective art piece that started in Venezuela and whose members currently reside in south Florida. Zeta is primarily known for their musical aspect, which combines hardcore punk with polyrhythmic Afro-Caribbean percussion and elements of 70's era Psychedelia. They also express themselves through film, design, and even food.

Dani founded the group in 2003 along with Juan Ricardo Yilo. Early on, they traveled to places like Mexico and Argentina and were drawn to a DIY community of artists that changed the way they thought about their art and their lifestyles. Many of the people they met followed a vegan, plant-based diet, an idea that Dani instantly connected with.

The first time I saw Zeta was at a music festival in Florida, and I was immediately struck by the intensity of the music, their stage presence, and the fact that they had cooked enough vegan mac and cheese for the 300 or so people in attendance.

For years, Zeta has toured relentlessly, and Dani cooks for their audiences whenever possible. Usually, Dani can find a kitchen to borrow for an afternoon, otherwise he will make something that doesn't require cooking. Dani told me he does this both to introduce people to plant-based cooking, and also to create a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere at the shows.

Dani also cooks for the band on the road. He told me it's important for them to eat healthy food to maintain the energy and clarity required for long drives, loading and unloading equipment, and late nights performing six or seven nights each week.

Since the pandemic has put a stop to almost any live music for now, Dani decided last summer to start offering cooking classes online over Zoom. Each month, he makes a menu of four courses. The class meets once a week and he cooks one item from the menu. Recent menu items include Venezuelan pan de jamón, vegan shawarma, a tofu báhn mì sandwich, and coconut ceviche served in a hollowed out pineapple.

Participants get a list of ingredients ahead of time, so everyone cooks together and shares a meal at the end of the class. Dani and I talked about how much we miss gathering and eating with friends due to the pandemic, and the class has helped fill that void for Dani and his students.

“I learned from people that taught me with love,” Dani told me, “and I appreciate that, so I just try to do the same.”

You can learn more about Zeta at joinzeta.com, and you can find Dani and his cooking on Instagram @plantbasedcookingwithdani.

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