Up until a few years ago, Mat Franco wasn’t a household name. That all changed in 2014 when the magician won over the judges — and the American viewing audience — when he nabbed the honor of winning America’s Got Talent, which led to a primetime special for the Rhode Island native.
Today, Franco calls Las Vegas home and performs 46 weeks of the year in the Mat Franco Theater at The Linq, treating audiences to his award-winning show Magic Reinvented Nightly.
Franco may be one of the most recognized magicians of this generation … but there’s more to him than just performing magic. Two years ago, he began his journey into a vegan lifestyle and has been vegan for nearly a year.
On going vegan
“For me, it’s about compassion for animals,” he says. “I also find it to be a healthy way to live.”
The 30-year-old performer grew up on a diet of the normal kids fare — chicken fingers, burgers, french fries, fast food. “The normal American diet,” he recalls. But then things changed.
“I’m like the guy who watches the documentary and tried to become vegan the next day,” says Franco who credits “What the Health” for flipping the switch and giving him that nudge to make the change. His fiance, Tianna, who went vegan before him (after being a vegetarian since her teens) also inspired him to go vegan.
“Once you get away and you do no meat, no diary, you find it pretty easy,” he explains. “A lot of people, they have trouble with dairy, trouble with cheese because they love cheese. For me, I don’t particularly love cheese so letting that go wasn’t an issue. And, frankly, everyone’s situation is different. I never loved meat, it was just something I was fed growing up. It was fairly easy [to go vegan] because I was never naturally drawn to meat products, it was just kind of there.”
Since Franco made the transition to vegan life, he’s feeling less sluggish and more active.
“Honestly, I feel great. I feel good about it from an ethical standpoint, but also physically, I have more energy,” says Franco. “I’m able to wake up earlier, get my day started in a better way and I don’t get sick anymore. That’s a crazy thing. I used to get sick fairly frequently and I don’t really know what to attribute it to, and now if my allergies get the best of me or I feel a little bit of a sore throat coming on, it doesn’t turn into this big ordeal where I am bedridden for days. I am able to sort of bounce back as if its just a quick head cold. I think that’s awesome.”
Going vegan in a city like Las Vegas also makes it easier thanks to the massively growing vegan scene. Franco credits the easy transition to the number of vegan restaurants in Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Vegan Food Guide, which highlights some of the best spots for vegan food around the Valley.
Magic on the road
However, traveling on the road is another story for the magician. When he and his team travel, they make sure to stay near a Whole Foods or find one from one destination to another. Franco also taps into sites like Yelp to find vegan options when he’s performing out-of-state.
“I was just on the road this weekend down south and I really didn’t know in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, what I was going to find,” says Franco. “I found some really good full vegan restaurants as well as restaurants that have vegan options. The internet is key.”
Dishing on dishes
When Franco is in town, he’s likely at one of the spots mentioned in the Las Vegas Vegan Guide, and definitely can be found at vegan restaurants like Violette’s Vegan Organic Cafe & Juice Bar or VegeNation.
In fact, one of his favorite dishes is at the global street food spot.
“I always look forward to the buffalo cauliflower from VegeNation,” he says. “That is always a huge win. You kind of can’t go wrong no matter who you bring to that restaurant when you order the buffalo cauliflower.”
“You can never go wrong at the Wynn,” he explains. “If I have to take a business meeting and I’m with people that don’t share the same eating habits as me, it’s always a safe bet to go to the Wynn because they always have options at their restaurant which is great.”
Franco’s contribution to the cooking at home, toast with hummus. “Tianna is the real cook.”
When he’s not eating out, he’s likely eating something cauliflower-based at home, thanks to Tianna’s home cooking. “She’s the real cook,” he says.
His favorite dish is kung pao cauliflower bites found on the Tasty app. Franco’s go-to cookbooks include Hot For Food Vegan Comfort Classics, Minimalist Baker and Vegan Bowl Attack … although he’s still waiting for a veganized version of cheese curds.
“Before going vegan, I used to enjoy whenever I watched football games … I would always get cheese curds,” he recalls. “I’ve never seen a good vegan cheese curd … that would be interesting to see.”
So you want to go vegan?
Photo By Denise Truscello
Franco is quick to offer advice for those who want to dip their toes into the vegan lifestyle and make the transition. His biggest point — try it … and take it slowly.
“Read as much as you can, learn about it, enjoy the lifestyle,” he suggests.
For grocery shopping, Franco advises to shop as if you’re vegan … even if you’re not there yet, so there aren’t items in the home which are tempting.
He suggests that whatever is the hardest for a person to give up should be the last thing they give up. “It’s not about torturing yourself, there is no torture. Those of us who do it love it … so give it a whirl and enjoy the process and the results.”
Catch Magic Reinvented Nightly Thursday – Friday at 7 p.m. with an additional 9:30 p.m. performance on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.
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Diana Edelman is the founder of Vegans, Baby. She previously lived and worked in Thailand where she spent years working for an elephant sanctuary and has traveled around the world speaking about the realities of elephant tourism. She is a public speaker who has appeared at SEED Food + Wine, VegFest Puerto Rico, VegFest Toronto and more, a journalist and entrepreneur. Diana is also behind the Vegas Vegan Dinners at James Beard Foundation’s James Beard House.