Leilani Munter - A Vegetarian Hippy Chick With a Race Car

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"Never underestimate a vegetarian hippie chick with a race car." - Readers of The Deck Chef know that I love racing and race day food. What better way to cover both of those topics than an article on Leilani Munter!

She is the fourth woman in history to race in the Indy Pro Series, the development league of IndyCar and she set the record for the highest finish for a female driver in the history of the Texas Motor Speedway when she finished fourth in 2006. Her accomplishments have landed her on the pages of USA Today, Italian Vogue, Glamour, The New York Times, Washington Post, Reader's Digest, Esquire and a national ad campaign for Lucky Brand Jeans. Her tag-line read "Leilani Munter, Saving Rainforest's One Race at a Time."

About Leilani - Leilani Munter is biology graduate turned professional race car driver and environmental activist. Discovery's Planet Green named Leilani the #1 Eco Athlete in the world. She is a recipient of ELLE Magazine's 2012 Genius Award and Sports Illustrated named her one of the top ten female race car drivers in the world.

Leilani holds a bachelor's degree in Biology specializing in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution from the University of California San Diego. Since 2007, Leilani has been adopting an acre of rain forest for every race she runs. She is politically active and has made several trips to Capitol Hill to speak with members of Congress on behalf of clean energy legislation. Leilani is an almost lifelong vegetarian and was one of the first activists to arrive at the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. She's been to Taiji, Japan three times to document the dolphin slaughter depicted in the Academy Award winning documentary "The Cove."

With family ties in the music community her brother-in-law is Grateful Dead guitarist and singer Bob Weir“ Leilani's motto is "Never underestimate a vegetarian hippie chick with a race car." She documents her efforts to go green on her eco site carbonfreegirl.com.

Favorite food or foods - "As a young girl, I remember going to Hawaii, where my mother was born and raised, and tasting mango, guava, and passion fruit for the first time. You can get some them here on the 'mainland' but they really don't taste quite the same as they do when they are fresh off the tree."

Cooking at Home - "My husband and I share the cooking in our home. We both have active careers, so the cooking duties are divided. We have a deal that whoever is not cooking, has to do the dishes. I don't like doing dishes so I always prefer to cook."

"It's fun. I am creative and often I dont use a recipe or measure the ingredients. I will keep adding different things and tasting it until its perfect. We both love spicy food and we have a lot of peppers in our garden that we use. It's great because we just open the back door and pick all the herbs and peppers we need fresh out of our garden. There's something so nice about making a meal from vegetables you have grown yourself.

Being a vegetarian - "I love animals and so I do not eat meat or any dairy products due to the horrific conditions they live in on factory farms. However, I think non-vegans would be surprised to hear that I eat of a lot of the same meals that people who are not vegan eat, I am just eating an animal free version of it: I love pasta, curries, veggie pot pies, I even found a vegan version of macaroni and cheese that I love!"

I became vegan a little over a year ago as I learned more about factory farming conditions and the dairy industry. The decision came after watching Forks Over Knives, Earthlings, Food Inc, and a speech online by Gary Yourofsky. I have been vegetarian almost all of my life. It started when I was six years old when I found out what meat was. I was horrified. My mother also was a vegetarian during those years. At one point all three of my older sisters were also vegetarians, but only one of them stuck with it, so two of the four daughters are vegetarian. I have two nieces who are vegetarians (the daughters of my older sister who is vegetarian) and while my husband was a meat eater when I met him, he has since become a vegetarian. He grew up in New Zealand where meat is a big part of the culture so I am very proud of him for making that change in his lifestyle for the animals.

Pre-Race Diet - (Note to readers. As with any athlete, race car drivers often prefer a specialized pre-race meal or diet. The diet usually pertains to their favorite meal that won't upset the stomach as well as provide nutritian and energy. The meals are also combined with fluid intake as drivers can loose upwards of 8-10 pounds during a long race on a hot day.)
"I usually eat a meal with lots of carbs the night before a race - pasta or a curry or stir fry over rice or something like that. On race day, I can never eat much at all. Mainly on race days I just hydrate. There is just too much adrenaline in my system to eat much those days."

Any SHOUT OUTS? - "Yes, I would like to thank my parents and my big sisters for their support. My husband for being there through this crazy journey."

What's That One Race? -  "One of the most exciting races was my debut in the Indy Pro Series at Kentucky Speedway. I qualified fifth and had a great car. I lost some positions on a restart and dropped all the way back to thirteenth but my car was so dialed in I raced my way back to the front, going three wide up by the wall to make passes - man it was a blast."

"Everything fell apart when I was setting up to pass the cars in front of me running fourth and fifth. They touched wheels on the front stretch and my team mate who was right in front of me cut a tire going in to turn one at about 205 mph. I got caught up in it and it ended my race. It was a fantastic race up until he cut his tire, I would have definitely had a top five finish."

"Another highlight is qualifying for my first race at Daytona in 2010. There is something magical about that racetrack, legends have been made there and lives have been lost there, so getting to race there is a badge of honor for any race car driver.

Any Advice you Pass Along? - "Just stick with it and don't give up just because you've had a rough time. Racing is a tough sport. You will have good days and bad days in racing, but just keep your chin up and don't give up. The people who last in this sport are people who are persistent, people who keep going when most give up on it. You have to be able to get knocked down and be able to get right back up again, knock the dust off your pants, and keep going."

Recipe Time -  Check out Leilani's Recipe for

Leilani's Raceway Risotto with Wild Mushrooms

  • 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/3 cup vegan margarine
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 to 2 red chili peppers, deseeded and chopped
  • ½ pound wild mushrooms, halved if large
  • 1/4 pound button mushrooms, slice
  • d2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1 cup white wine
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped


  1. Soak porcini mushrooms in 1¼ cups of very hot—but not boiling—water for 30 minutes.
  2. Drain, setting aside the mushrooms and soaking liquid.
  3. Pour vegetable stock into a saucepan and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
  4. Melt margarine and olive oil in a large, deep skillet.
  5. Add onion, garlic, and chili peppers; cook gently for 5 minutes.
  6. Add fresh mushrooms and drained porcini; cook for 4–5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  7. Stir in rice and cook for 1 minute.
  8. Strain soaking liquid and stir into the rice with a little of the hot stock. Cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is absorbed. Continue to add more stock, a ladleful at a time, until rice is tender and risotto looks creamy.
  9. Add wine along with remaining stock. When all liquid is absorbed, season with salt and pepper.
  10. Remove from heat; add chives and parsley.

Cove Racing Photo by Craig Davidson - Additional Photos via carbonfreegirl.com.

Kent Whitaker

Kent Whitaker, also known as "The Deck Chef," is a culinary writer and cookbook author. He's also penned Young Reader and History titles. The former winner of the Emeril Live Food Network Barbecue Contest also covers football, motorsports, and bass fishing. Kent currently lives in East Tennessee with his wife, son, and a couple of dogs that love when he fires up the smoker or grill.

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