At home with chef Issa Prescott of Life Bistro

Health concerns pushed Issa Prescott, shown in his home kitchen in Midtown, toward changing his eating habits, and he eventually went vegan. Life Bistro, his restaurant, serves up plant-based versions of American comfort food. (Ryan Fleisher for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ryan Fleisher

Credit: Ryan Fleisher

Health concerns pushed Issa Prescott, shown in his home kitchen in Midtown, toward changing his eating habits, and he eventually went vegan. Life Bistro, his restaurant, serves up plant-based versions of American comfort food. (Ryan Fleisher for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Issa Prescott’s childhood home in Sylvan Hills was health-conscious, with his mother serving mostly vegetarian food. But when he was in first grade, Prescott tried a chicken wing at school, and his attention quickly turned away from roasted veggies and salads.

Then Prescott hit his 20s, and his doctor saddled him with some alarming news: He had prehypertension, a condition that also impacted his grandfather, who died in his early 40s.

“That’s when I really started changing the way I ate,” he said. “I did it gradually. Like, I said, instead of doing fried chicken, I’m going to bake my chicken. And it went from that to, “OK, I’m not going to do poultry. Then I was a pescatarian for a year or two. Then I finally went vegan.”

Life Bistro chef Issa Prescott, shown in his home kitchen in Midtown, went vegan but missed scallops, so he created a version using king trumpet mushrooms. (Ryan Fleisher for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ryan Fleisher

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Credit: Ryan Fleisher

It was a decision that not only positively impacted his health, but his entire life. In 2016, he started a cold-pressed juice business, then launched an Instagram account, @atl_vegan, showcasing pictures of the vegan food he made at home. In 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic started, he opened Life Bistro in the neighborhood where he grew up learning to cook from his mother, who worked in education but cooked in her spare time (her recipe for barbecue tofu was published in The New York Times in 2022).

The restaurant, which serves up plant-based versions of American comfort food including Portobello Steak Rasta Pasta, Grilled Oyster Mushroom Carbonara and a Fried Shrimp Po’Boy, is set to expand next year with a stall in the forthcoming Switchman Hall food hall in Peoplestown.

At his home in Midtown, Prescott experiments with new dishes that sometimes make it to the Life Bistro menu, and sometimes just become part of his at-home meal portfolio.

Chef Issa Prescott says he thinks lemongrass doesn't get the attention it deserves. Here, it plays a role in King Trumpet Mushroom Scallops with Lemongrass Bechamel. (Ryan Fleisher for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ryan Fleisher

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Credit: Ryan Fleisher

Q: What’s your favorite thing to cook at home?

A: I always have a well-rounded meal with a carb or a grain, and then a green vegetable. So my favorite thing to make is a seasoned pasta, not with a creamy sauce, but it will be buttery and have an olive oil base. I’ll make that with roasted oyster mushrooms seasoned with all types of fresh herbs and smoked paprika. I make my own all-purpose seasoning that I also use at the restaurant. And I’ll pair that with a kale salad. I could eat that three to five times a week and I would not be upset about it.

Q: What are some of your favorite ingredients?

A: Give me any kind of mushroom and I can build a meal around them. My two favorites are oyster mushrooms because the texture is almost perfect and they’re extremely versatile. You can cook them on the stovetop, you can put them in the oven, you can deep-fry them and you’re going to be pleased with the results. And then the king trumpet mushroom — I’ve made bacon out of that. I’ve made a carbonara, and I do the scallops. You can slice it thin and use it in sandwiches.

Q: What do you cook when time isn’t a factor?

A: That’s when I’m getting into making sauces. I really enjoy making sauces from scratch. So if it’s a breakfast food, I might make a breakfast bowl and do a roasted tomato sauce, which requires me to roast the tomatoes in the oven, and I’ll blend that up when it comes out, along with other seasonings. Then I’ll make some potatoes and a chickpea flour omelet, and I’ll make some vegan bacon out of mushrooms, slice some avocado, and put that sauce I made before on top. So it’s the kind of thing where it has to be on the weekend, where it’s early and I have the whole day, right? Because each thing that I’m making in there has its own process to it.

Q: What’s a dish that you make to impress guests when they come over?

A: My sweet potato bacon. I’ll put it on a lot of different things. I might make a salad or sliders or something the bacon would pair well with. But basically, it’s shredded sweet potato, deep-fried. And then right before it starts to turn brown, you pull it out so it’s nice and crispy, add some agave and smoked paprika and salt and it has a very similar flavor to bacon. It’s a little chewy. The first time I made it, I didn’t call it bacon. I was just cooking, and my family was here. And they were like, “What is this on here that tastes like bacon? What did you put on this? It’s so good.” And I’m sitting there in the kitchen thinking, “What are they talking about?” And then I realized it was the sweet potatoes, it was all coming together to give this bacon flavor. It just tastes good. Even if you don’t think it tastes like bacon, it can turn any dish from just being OK to just being fun.

Q: What do you think is the most underrated food? Like, the unsung hero of ingredients?

A: I feel like lemongrass doesn’t get enough attention. It adds so much flavor and depth to sauces, and just a meal in general. And they have it in your regular grocery store. It’s not that exotic, but you don’t hear people talking about it. Onions and garlic get all the attention.

Life Bistro. 2036 Sylvan Road SW, Atlanta. 404-464-5139,

King Trumpet Mushroom Scallops with Lemongrass Bechamel

After starting to eat a plant-based diet, one of the things Issa Prescott missed most was scallops. “Scallops are one of those things that are unique and just a fun thing to eat, but when you go vegan, you don’t get to have them anymore,” he said. “There isn’t a better replacement for these than the king trumpet mushroom. When you cook it, it becomes instantly tender. It still has that natural buoyancy that scallops have, and they almost have their own fish flavor. And the mushroom absorbs all the flavor you put on it, so you don’t have to marinate them for very long.” It’s not on the menu at Life Bistro yet, though Prescott said it could make an appearance at some point.

Lemongrass Bechamel

This recipe makes about 1 cup of plant-based bechamel. Reserve 4 ounces of the bechamel for the King Trumpet Mushroom Scallops. The remainder can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to five days for another use.

2 tablespoons plant-based butter or grapeseed oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemongrass, finely diced

1 garlic clove, minced

2-3 sprigs of thyme (leaves only)

1/2 shallot, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, plus more to taste

1 teaspoon onion powder

3/4 cup cooking white wine, preferably chardonnay

1/2 cup coconut milk

Juice from 1/2 squeezed lime

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

Make a roux. Melt butter or oil in a saute pan on medium heat. Add lemongrass, garlic, thyme and shallots.

Once the shallots are translucent, sprinkle in the flour with salt, white pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. Cook for 3 minutes before butter/flour mixture begins to brown.

Use a whisk and slowly whisk in white wine. Reduce the heat to medium and let it reduce for five minutes before adding the coconut milk, lime juice, nutritional yeast and additional salt and garlic powder based on your flavor preference. Whisk until smooth.

Makes about 1 cup.

Per 2-ounce serving: 196 calories (percent of calories from fat, 74), 3 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams total sugars, 2 grams fiber, 14 grams total fat (7 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 603 milligrams sodium.

King Trumpet Mushroom Scallops

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons olive, grapeseed or avocado oil, divided

Juice from 1/2 squeezed lime

1 teaspoon thyme, plus more for garnish

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon kelp seasoning (for fish flavor)

8 ounces king trumpet mushrooms, sliced in shape of scallops (about 8 mushrooms)

4 ounces Lemongrass Bechamel (see recipe)

In a medium nonreactive bowl, combine 1/4 cup oil, lime juice, thyme, salt, white pepper, garlic powder and kelp seasoning. Add mushrooms, stir gently, and cover. Place in refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Heat a cast-iron skillet or stainless steel skillet to medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil.

Discard any excess marinade and add mushrooms to the skillet, cooking for 3-5 minutes on each side. Mushrooms are ready when they begin to brown and are tender.

Divide mushrooms between two plates. Drizzle 2 ounces of the lemongrass bechamel over each serving of mushrooms. Sprinkle a few leaves of fresh thyme for garnish.

Serves 2.

Per serving: 342 calories (percent of calories from fat, 85), 4 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams total sugars, 2 grams fiber, 32 grams total fat (6 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 725 milligrams sodium.

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