Growing up, Cara Nicoletti was never told to eat her vegetables. Instead, she spent her childhood hanging around her grandfather’s butcher shop in Massachusetts. Meat was the family business—and business was good. Her grandfather Seymour was a third-generation butcher, and while his daughters didn’t take up the profession, all worked at the store. Nicoletti, 36, ran the counter and eventually graduated to making sausages because, “It was apparently the least dangerous thing to do, even though there’s like a million ways you can die doing it,” she tells Glamour. And at home it was meat, meat, meat. So it wasn’t until Nicoletti began working in New York City kitchens—first as a pastry chef—that her love affair with vegetables began.
Nicoletti, who now rarely eats meat at all, is known on Instagram for her technicolor sausages, which come in shades of fuchsia, lime green, orange, and more. Nicoletti’s blends combine vegetables, herbs, and other unexpected ingredients to make to make her signature off-beat sausage flavors like borscht, banh mi, and chicken parmesan. The idea for them first came to her while working in a butcher shop a decade ago. Nicoletti was discouraged by how many people—like her younger self—were only eating meat. She was desperate to get people to diversify their diet, and decided to try a trojan-horse approach. “Part of the process of hiding these vegetables in the sausage was not saying, ‘Here’s a chicken sausage with mushrooms and spinach,'” she says. “Instead I’d rename them as a meal in a casing so people would think, ‘What’s a matzoh ball soup sausage? That’s funny, I’d buy that.’ And then it just so happens that it’s 30% vegetables and you’re eating less meat.”
Her chicken tikka masala, pho, and other delicacies have since gone viral—though Nicoletti is adamant that the fleeting fame associated with Internet popularity was never her intention. “In this Instagram age, and especially being a woman in a super male-dominated industry, I think a lot of people want to look at what I’m doing and say that I’m only doing it for the ‘gram,” she says. “And I don’t give a shit, I really don’t. But the thing I always fall back on is that these are actually incredibly well-made and really fucking delicious. So come at me all you want, but actually try them.”
As her platform expanded, opportunities to move out from behind the meat counter came fast. After teaching a sausage making class to a VICE executive, higher-ups asked her to star on a Munchies show. Nicoletti became the host of The Hangover Show, for which she made dishes like cheeseburger fried rice, avocado toast pizza, and bacon egg and cheese wontons that would “cure your hangover.” After that ended, Nicoletti developed Open Fire with the brand, where she cooks with chefs across cultures.