Some people dream of leaving their 9-5 jobs to pursue their passions, while others take a leap of faith and just do it. Michael Natkin is the latter.

Last Wednesday, May 9, area food bloggers joined Michael Natkin for his Herbivoracious cookbook release party, high above the city of Philadelphia, on the 37th floor of Two Liberty Place at the elegant R2L restaurant. Over trays of beet goat cheese crostinis, grapefruit and avocado crudo, mushroom soy tar tar, addicting risotto spheres and grilled truffle flatbread, we came to know the man behind the Herbivoracious cookbook, which was released on May 1.

This 368-page stunning book is filled with 150 original recipes and 80 beautiful photos that will channel anyone’s inner chef, vegetarian and carnivores, budding chefs and professional cooks alike. According to Amanda Cohen, chef/owner of Dirt Candy, “Michael Natkin is one of the few chefs who is not a professional restaurant chef whose writing I read religiously and who has taught me things I didn’t know before.”

Michael’s deep knowledge and passion for cooking is apparent on every page: each recipe contains extra ingredients of meal planning tips, history and background of dishes, clear and easy to follow instructions, serving guidance and feedback from Herbivoracious blog readers.

Michael Natkin, like his Herbivoracious cookbook, is very approachable. He doesn’t preach about being a vegetarian or embrace meat substitutes, he is on a simple quest to bring bold flavors and good culinary technique to vegetarian dishes.

His recipes respect flavor profiles and cultures, you won’t find a recipe for half Korean and Mexican foods drizzled in Jamaican hot sauce in his book. His recipes cover the globe, ranging from Crispy Polenta Cakes with White Beans and Morel Mushrooms to Caramelized Apple Blue Cheese Crostini, Kimchi Fried Rice to Pappardelle with Eggplant Ragu and Fresh Ricotta.

For the past 25 years, Michael worked as a software engineer in Seattle, but could be found in a kitchen, reading or writing about food in his spare time. He’s been a vegetarian for over two decades and is passionate about bringing bold flavors and good culinary technique to vegetarian dishes.

A few years ago, he took a leave of absence, spending time eating his way through Italy and Israel and in kitchens in New York City and Seattle. Herbivoracous, his food blog, has quickly gained a following since Michael started it five years ago. The blog’s been featured on Saveur magazine’s “Sites We Love” list, appeared numerous times in the New York Times “Diner’s Journal” blog and been recommended by Gourmet Live, Apartment Therapy and many other lifestyle and food blogs.

All that press led Harvard Common Press to approach him about turning his innovative recipes into a cookbook. “Herbivoracious” can be purchased online at Amazon.comindiebound.com, and found in Barnes and Noble bookstores across the country.

(CLOSED) GIVEAWAY ALERT!

Want to win a signed copy of Michael Natkin’s brand-new release Herbivoracous? Click HERE and have a peek at his food blog that inspired his new book. Then, swing by to this post and leave a comment sharing which of his recipes you want to try the most. You have until midnight on Friday, May 18, 2012 at 3 pm to enter. A winner will be selected at random and announced via this post on May 19.

May the best at-home chef win! UPDATE: Congrats, Theresa! You’re now an owner of Michael Natkin’s brand-new cookbook!

Photographs credited to Katharine Friedgen