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Photo by Rob Bartlett

Shaun Noonan of Dixie Dharma spreads the gospel of plant-based eating 

Shaun Noonan, one of Orlando's most well-known proponents of veganism and the man behind Dixie Dharma at Market on South, is poised to spread the gospel of plant-based eating even farther. Soon, another Dixie Dharma outpost will open inside Henry's Depot, the food hall taking shape in Sanford, and his high-end veg resto/art gallery concept Curate opens soon in the Milk District.

While Noonan cites three non-vegan chefs for making him the restaurateur he is today, don't hold that against him. "My mentors weren't all sunshine and pats on the back, but I try to pass along the positive parts and look for moments in every day where I can pay it forward," Noonan says.

"Chef Michael Carlson of [Chicago's] Schwa taught me more than this magazine has space to list but, most importantly, acceptance. Chef Graham Elliot taught me patience, and chef Kevin Clark of Atlanta's Home Grown GA taught me how to take all that Michelin-star knowledge and tone it down." That's when things really came together for Noonan as a chef who, very early on, learned to pay no heed to the ephemeral aspects of the business. "All that trendy flash and dazzle comes and goes. Remember when everyone thought it was ground-breaking cuisine to cook a pig? Chefs running around with pig tattoos? If anything, relevance comes by looking at the current trends and doing the polar opposite. Respect your food, respect your staff, respect your customers and the rest comes naturally."

Indeed, the issue of respect in the industry, or lack thereof, has been given a long-overdue spotlight lately. Noonan, for one, says it's high time. "I've been disgusted with the level of chauvinism in the industry since I started over 20 years ago. Finally these creeps are being held accountable and it's fantastic to watch." And for the scores of workers who've fallen victim to these "creeps," Noonan has some advice: "I'd recommend a well-placed, firm, and highly professional punch to the jaw of whoever is harassing you. Then shoot me an email ... we're looking to expand this summer!"

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