From Obscurity to Mainstream: The UnTurkey Story

Share Article


Nugent Communications

2151 Old Oakland Road #396

San Jose, CA 95131-1541

408.433.9411 Tel.

503.210-7019 Fax


Now & Zen, Inc.

Vegan Food Products

San Francisco, CA 94107

415.695.2805 Tel.

415.695.2843 Fax




Flocks of great American UnTurkeys, numbering in the thousands, are flying from their roosts in San Francisco, California to cities and towns across the country where they will soon find their way onto many family holiday dinner tables

This rare and remarkable species of unbird, scarcely known just two years ago, has quickly moved from obscurity to mainstream. After all, the UnTurkey is lean, tender and tasty, has neither bones nor fat and is easy to prepare.

The first UnTurkey, “hatched” by food stylist, cookbook author and restaurateur, Miyoko Nishimoto Schinner, in the early '80s, is part of an unique vegan food style she developed over several years and detailed in her first cookbook, "The Now & Zen Epicure."

UnTurkey quickly became one of the most popular menu items at the Now & Zen Bistro, a restaurant Miyoko operated in San Francisco for five years. This was especially true around Thanksgiving and Christmas. In 1996, when patrons began requesting UnTurkeys to serve at home, she decided it might be time to produce them in quantity for the wholesale food trade. The restaurant, judged one of the "Top 30 Vegetarian Restaurants" in the United States by Natural Living Today Magazine, featured the distinctive recipes found in the "Now & Zen Epicure."

Miyoko closed the restaurant last year in order to concentrate on growing the wholesale end of the business, which she started in 1989 with a line of elegant non-fat, non-dairy cakes and tortes, made primarily from tofu. In addition to UnTurkey and the cakes and tortes, the expanding Now & Zen food line includes recently introduced UnChicken, BBQ UnRibs, UnSteak-Out and Hip Whip, a dessert topping.

Initial sales of UnTurkey were very modest and limited largely to the San Francisco Bay Area. Then, in 1997, UnTurkeys were presented at the Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore, MD where they were one of the big hits of the show. Before the four-day trade show ended, Miyoko had written orders for more than 5,000 UnTurkeys! In 1998 the number rose to just under 20,000 and in this, the first year UnTurkeys are in national distribution, sales are expected to exceed 30,000.

UnTurkeys, shaped like the real thing, are made of seitan (wheat protein), covered with a "skin" of yuba, a soy product, and seasoned with Miyoko's special blend of herbs and spices. They are stuffed with an organic sprouted bread stuffing and accompanied by a generous supply of flavorful gravy. UnTurkeys are available in two and five pound sizes. They are sold frozen but can go from oven to table in from 45 to 60 minutes.

So far this year, Now & Zen has donated more than a thousand UnTurkeys to the San Francisco Food Bank.

Miyoko's second cookbook "Japanese Cooking: Traditional and Contemporary," a handsomely designed, soft covered, 174 page volume containing 96 all vegan recipes, was recently released by Book Publishing Co.

Miyoko, born in Japan to a Japanese mother and an American father in 1957, moved to Mill Valley, California with her parents when she was seven. She attended Mill Valley's Tamelpias High School, where she was active in sports, drama and student government. Following high school graduation, she enrolled in St. John's College, in Annapolis, Maryland. There she earned a degree in philosophy, gained some renown for her "gourmet" cooking, developed an interest in jazz and began a dual career in cookery and music.

Following graduation from St. John's in 1980, Miyoko returned to her birthplace to study shakahachi, a traditional Japanese bamboo wind instrument. While in Japan, she also continued her study of food and nutrition while pursuing her singing career. She scored successes in both areas.

Miyoko established a wholesale bakery, producing two flavors of pound cake, which were sold through leading department stores in Tokyo. She also advanced her career as a jazz vocalist, singing regularly in hotels and nightclubs in and around Tokyo, and recording a popular album of children's songs. It was during this period that she began creating the food style that would later become the basis for her first cookbook and her restaurant.

Bouyed by her successes in Japan and encouraged by her parents, Miyoko returned to California in the fall of 1988 to establish Now & Zen: An Enlightened Bakery with the financial support of her father, John Porter. At that time, Now & Zen's product line consisted of cakes, tortes and other pastries made primarily from tofu and other soy products but styled in the French tradition. They were sold to restaurants and through health food stores.

However, in 1990, because of reversals in his own business, her father was forced to withdraw his support. Miyoko continued alone, baking cakes in her home kitchen early in the morning, making deliveries and sales in the afternoon and singing in San Francisco Bay Area Jazz Clubs in the evening.

The San Francisco Examiner dubbed her the "New Age Betty Crocker" for her innovative food creations while she was known as the "Japanese Sarah Vaughn" on the local night club circuit. She abandoned her singing career in 1992 and today divides her time between business and family. She still sings but only to her three young children, her husband, San Francisco attorney Michael Schinner and, occasionally, in the shower

Now & Zen, recently cited as one of the "Top Fastest Growing Companies in the Bay Area" by the San Francisco Business Times, now has 20 full time employees and produces, six sweet and four savory products. The sweets include Zesty Orange Crème Cake, Lemon Chiffon Cake, Spicy Carrot Crème Cake, Black Forest Cake, Triple Chocolate Ganache and Hip Whip, a dessert topping. The savories include UnTurkey, Breast of UnChicken, BBQ UnRibs, UnSteak-Out. The company also produces a special line of low fat vegan cookies and cinnamon rolls, about a million a year, for United Airlines.

Miyoko plans to introduce an average of two new vegan food products each year and currently has several in development. "My aim," says Miyoko, is to create exciting vegan foods that are healthful and appealing, even to dedicated meat eaters."





Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Jim Nugent
Now & Zen, Inc., Vegan Foods
Email >