Valarie Wadsworth-Delieto and husband Lee Delieto are the consummate hosts. Whether hosting out-of-town visitors at one of their cozy AirBNB properties with Old Florida vibes, close friends and family for one of their renowned dinner parties or recipe-sharing get-togethers, the pair finds solace and indulgence in their collection of historic Gillespie Park homes. Beyond their personal home—which remains on the Historic Home Registry of Florida—are four additional bungalows that make up Val and Lee’s color-coated compound of quaint rentals. 

After galvanizing experiences, like motorcycling cross-country to California wine country and an extended roadtrip throughout Italy, the couple fervently adapted to foodie-forward cuisine, grew a penchant for top-shelf vineyards and adopted the habit of generously hosting visitors—much as they were once welcomed by friends and strangers alike in Italy. The couple had a separate extension built on the other side of the pool. This standalone extension consists of a modern dining room, lounge area and a temperature-controlled wine cellar holding a treasury of worldly vintages from all the travels that they are more than happy to share with guests. 

And the Delietos’ passion for hosting community feasts and intimate dinner gatherings has not faltered now that they’ve become whole food, plant-based vegans. If anything, it’s attracted more visitors, each intrigued by the healthful, delicious opportunities Val provides, without ever needing to stop by the butcher or freezer section of a grocery store. Everything Val cooks with is fresh, organic and sourced locally from farmers markets, natural food merchants or her own garden, and made entirely from scratch, including crackers, jarred marinara sauce and nut butters. And any leftover scraps of food are taken out back and recycled into her personal compost garden. 

Val and Lee recall the movie theatre date night they had two years ago with another couple, who convinced them to come see a controversial documentary film called What the Health? It turned both their worlds upside down—causing a paradigm shift in their day-to-day decisions and culinary lifestyle. They made a commitment together to wean themselves off meat, dairy, refined sugars and processed foods. At first it was quite difficult, they say, finding things to cook at home or appropriate dishes to order at restaurants, especially with non-vegans. But then it became second nature. Supportive friends and family, helpful wellness blogs, lots of cookbooks and a growth of health-forward dining options in Sarasota contributed to converting the couple to diehard veganism. Still wine lovers though, definitely still wine lovers. 

No matter what dietary lifestyle one leads, if an invite is bestowed upon from the DeLietos, an immersive evening at the Vegan Bungalow Cafe looks a lot like this. Following ringing the doorbell and being warmly greeted by Val, Lee and Desi the chihuahua, guests are poured an aperitif glass of wine. While awaiting for dinner to be served, they can spend the better half of an hour getting lost in two bookshelves worth of Val’s clean-eating cookbook collection—from hip, creative vegan alternatives to intricate chef-inspired, plant-based recipes and ways to lead a healthful lifestyle. The crisp, garden-fresh scents from Val’s cooking will begin to waft throughout the hallways, so best step outside to control the anticipatory salivation. 

Guests surrender poolside to nosh on an exquisite presentation of light bites to start, while watching the setting sun over the cluster of rooftops and behind live oaks. Meanwhile, authentic Italian tunes or serenades from Frank Sinatra—whatever Lee opts to play—fill the back patio with an ambient soundtrack to the evening. Small talk takes over with stories of motorcycle adventures, farmers market favorites, interesting AirBnB guest stories, tips on permaculture gardening, trip experiences and future ventures planned. By this time, the veggies are steamed, the pasta is plated and the second glass of wine is already on its way. 

For the non-vegans, the absence of meat, dairy or oil is not even noticed, let alone missed. Val’s creative cooking skills and resourceful ingredient substitutes make for a wholesome feast that miraculously leaves guests feeling satiably pleased and energized—never shameful or sickly full. So in this regard, dessert isn’t a question, because, of course, there’s room. Bring on the final pour of wine as a nightcap, have a few generous spoonfuls of Val’s guiltless desserts, such as her chocolate mousse tower with a banana brownie, almond crème anglaise and raspberry sauce. By now—between the zero sense of gluttony after a three-course meal, the wine buzz and all around positive vibrations—guests with any preconceived notions of “being vegan” are replaced with pretty convincing ideals that turning herbivorous does not have to be challenging or restricted. If anything, it can be really fun.  

The Preview

Homemade crackers—baked soft, chewy and gluten-free with whole wheat flour, almond meal, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, onion, walnuts and tomato—served with three different types of macadamia nut “cheese”, rolled in herbs or crushed black pepper. 

Main Attraction

Veggie Pasta—homemade, organic Kamut pasta sautéed with enoki mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, spinach, kale, corn, broccolini, roasted chickpeas—finished with fresh rosemary and basil sprigs from the backyard garden.

Grand Finale

Chocolate Tart—Silken tofu, raw cacao, vanilla and maple syrup blended together, molded and chilled—garnished with cocoa powder, fresh berries, dark chocolate shavings, cashews, rice whip cream and fresh mint. 

Follow the Facebook group Val’s Vegan Cafe-Recipe Sharing and her Instagram @valskitchencafe, for vegan dish ideas, party hosting inspiration and local vegan-forward restaurant recommendations.