Some Serious Eaters shudder when they hear the word "vegan." Not Jessica Mahady, founder and organizer of Veggie Conquest, a regular vegan cookoff that threatens to convert even the most carnivorous New Yorker. Jessica took some time to tell us about how the Veggie Conquest came to be, and where to find some of the most delicious vegan dishes in the city.

20090924Jessicamahady.jpgName: Jessica Mahady
Location: New York City
Occupation: Founder/Organizer, Veggie Conquest

How did the Veggie Conquest get started? I am a food TV show junkie. I watch Good Eats, Top Chef and Iron Chef--obsessively. Veggie Conquest started as an idea for a potluck: People would make different vegan dishes, all with the same secret ingredient. I talked with friends about it. The idea grew. Before I knew it, we were planning a full-on cooking competition with a website, fabulous judges and sold-out events. It has taken on a life of its own!

When and why did you decide to eat a vegan diet? Twelve years ago, I was on a student trip to Israel, and everyone on the trip had a choice of meat or vegetarian meals. The meat was awful. No one even knew what it was. So one day I sat at the vegetarian table. It was so much better! I started to think more about what I was eating. I hadn't thought before about how farm animals have feelings and fears, and can bond with each other and us, just as our pets do. I realized I could be healthier and happier by going vegetarian. I went vegan two years later.

How would you convince a skeptical Serious Eater to try vegan food?
Come to a Veggie Conquest event and try for yourself! You will not be disappointed!

Vegan (and non-vegan) eats, after the jump.

What's one of your favorite dishes that has come from a past Veggie Conquest? I'm blown away by the amazing food our chefs have made. Our first event was in August, and the secret ingredient was apple. Every chef had to make an entree. Our first place winner, Juile Tran, made an incredible Baked Apple and Seitan Phyllo Purse. Our taster's choice winner, Jennifer Lynskey, made a Rustic Apple, Zucchini and Eggplant Ravioli.

Tasting tickets are sold out for this Saturday's event, but when's the next one and how can people find out about it? We haven't set a date yet, but we will announce it soon--I promise! You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to email alerts on our website.

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Vegan doughnuts from Babycakes. [Photo: Kathy Chan]

Describe your dream New York meal. A rooftop with a view. A bunch of friends. Vegan Southern comfort food. Dessert by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I'm not picky, but it should involve pastries--and no beets.

Where are the best vegan dishes or items, in the city and where can we find them?Lula's Sweet Apothecary in the East Village. An ice cream parlor with unbelievable homemade non-dairy ice creams. 

Vegetarian Dim Sum House in Chinatown: I just check anything off of the dim sum menu. It is all wonderful!

And the Lemon Piccata at Candle 79. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

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Vegan sundae from Lula's. [Photo: Kathy Chan]

What are your favorite local hangouts or places you might be considered a regular?
Lula's Sweet Apothecary: The ice cream is like nothing you have had before, whether you are vegan or not. The place small and cozy. Everyone is so nice. S'nice is a regular spot of mine. I love counter service sandwich shops. And Boneshakers: A place in my neighborhood with an amazing tofu scramble sandwich. And the place is decorated with bikes. I like bikes.

Best late-night eats?
Foodswings in Williamsburg-- best vegan junk food. Perfect place to go after a night of drinking with friends!

Undiscovered gem? Peacefood Cafe is new, but it is quickly catching on. The food is great, the atmosphere is relaxing, and it is totally affordable!

Best source for vegan shopping? For food: Trader Joe's is my day to day choice. Integral Yoga Natural Foods fills my bulk bin needs. Clothes and shoes: MooShoes locally, Cosmo's Vegan Shoppe online.

What's in your fridge that you'd be embarrassed to tell us about? Four jars of almond butter, each three-quarters finished. It just hardens up at the bottom, but I hate throwing away good food.

Everyone has a go-to person they call for restaurant/bar recommendations. Who's yours?
SuperVegan or my friends Cathy Resler and Demetrius Bagley of  Vegan EATup.

What's the best recommendation he/she has given you?
Cathy introduced me to Sacred Chow, when I first moved to NYC. It is still one of my very favorites.

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