For this week’s Real Podcast, I jumped on the wrong bus from Waterloo and turned up late for my meeting with Joey O’Hare. That’s OK – she’s a kindly soul, as you might have guessed if you ever saw her on Masterchef: The Professionals.
It’s been quite a while since she came to prominence through that TV programme, but for those of us with an ear to the ground and a mind for fermentation, she’s only gone from strength to strength. So, when one of the Real Kombucha team suggested that she might be able to get in touch with her for an interview, I jumped at the chance. As you’ll see from the interview, she’s a kind of interviewee chef made in heaven. It’s rare to find someone so passionate about what they do, who also has the confidence and eloquence with which to spread the word so well.
So, strap on your ear goggles (or simply read the interview on our website, if you prefer) and join us as we bounce around subjects that include her beloved fermentation, kombucha (obviously), her food author recommendations, her ideas around vegcentric cooking, her involvement in the growing startup All Plants, and of course her favourite London veg-first restaurants.
You’re well known for having a veg-first approach to cooking, and you’re also known for being a big fan of fermentation. I want to come to all of that, but also I’d like to chat about All Plants, which is what you’re doing now. But first of all I think it’d be a good idea to go right back to the first time you remember being amazed by the kitchen.
Oh my gosh! What a question. Weirdly, it’s not the kitchen but it’s certainly a food memory, I remember loving apples from a young age. I grew up in Hampshire, and there was a couple of apple trees in the garden. I’m one of four kids and we used to use them for all sorts, whether it was apple fights, playing tag with the apples, and we’d then go and collect a bunch and peel and prep them down and they’d be used for crumbles and things throughout the autumn and winter. Or, literally, we’d be playing in the garden and we’d get hungry and grab an apple as a snack. I still love apples. I pretty much do have an apple a day.
Was there anybody that influenced you? A key person you wanted to be like?
Yep. It’s a bit of a cliche but certainly my mother, who is a fantastic home cook. She’s very, very humble and says that she’s learnt everything from me in her later years, but she didn’t [laughs]. She was always a real natural, and we were lucky to grow up on nothing fancy but just home-cooked food. So there was no ready-made freezer food; it was mum’s shepherd’s pie or bolognese. And beans and greens – we had lots of veggie stuff as well. So dad, occasionally, would dig up some pretty gnarly cabbages from the little veg patch [laughs] and enjoy those cooked up in a one-pot-wonder style.
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Hugely looking forward to the Wild Suffolk Stage at @aldeburghfood this year – a celebration of all that is hyper local, sustainable, and good to eat ???! On Saturday at 10:00 I’ll be making use of some of that foraged Southwold sea lettuce in a few ferments – come along! I dehydrated it last month, and blitzed it into a wonderful umami seasoning. * #suffolkfood #wildfood #wildsuffolk #aldeburghfoodanddrinkfestival #vegcentric #foodwithtime
So they were cooking out of the garden then?
A little bit. They had a small veg patch but they made it go really far, and we were lucky to always have those fresh flavours and that fresh approach to family cooking which I remember loving from a young age. And I certainly had a large appetite from a young age [laughs]. So I always enjoyed my food and learnt to appreciate it first and foremost from my mother.
How does it go, then? In the early days, you’re there with your mum and you’ve got your apples all around you and it’s a very Hampshire childhood…
So, how does the young Joey start to become a chef?
That’s a good question. It’s a growing love of food and an awareness of food. And then, for various reasons, I became increasingly picky in my late teens. My relationship with food became quite unhealthy and I became quite unwell. I became slightly fascinated and fixated with food whereby I didn’t want to eat things I hadn’t cooked myself, for sort of very horrible, controlling reasons! But very, very fortunately for me, that transpired into something more positive. In becoming more hands-on with food, I learnt to fall back in love with it, as it were, and then I made the decision to go to cooking school rather than university initially after 6th form. And so I went to Ballymaloe in Ireland, which was so fantastic. I cannot sing its praises highly enough. And I kind of went from there.
Whenever you pick up a Joey O’Hare interview…
One of those millions of Joey O’Hare interviews out there…
All of those two!
Haha! Anyway… you pick up these interviews, you read about Ballymaloe, but I think a lot of people don’t know what that is. Unless they’re involved in the food industry, of course. Can you explain it?
Yes. So, Ballymaloe is two things. It is a cooking school but with a key difference. The most wonderful thing about it is that it’s a cooking school on a working, biodynamic farm. So rather than teach you how to make and omelette or a sauce, you go right back to the source of food, and you see it and appreciate it in a very holistic sense. So it gives you a strong appreciation for provenance, a strong appreciation for seasonality and cooking in harmony with the land and nature. It gives you a real appreciation of food, from root to shoot, farm to table, and zero waste as well. And a bit of hard work! The students are put on different chore shifts and rotas each week. It might be collecting the eggs, or going and collecting the herbs that day, or feeding the chickens. So it’s very, very hands-on.
So, how did you hear about that? Is it something that is well known in that world?
It’s very renowned. I couldn’t cite when I first heard about it. I think I’ve always been aware of it. I’ve always felt proudly Irish, yet I’m very ignorant of my Irish heritage, and I’ve always loved Ireland. So I was really excited to spend some time there after 6th form.
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Fresh salad, in the Glasshouse’s. We grow in organic soil. #ballymaloecookeryschool #cooking #learntocook #learnatballymaloe #cookerycourse #growcooknourish #12weekcookerycourse #cookery #cookingschool #cookeryschool #careerchange #cookingfromscratch #ballymaloecookeryschoolgardens #ballymaloebreadshed #cookerycareer #giftvouchers #gifttokens #ballymaloecookingshool #recipesthatwork #cookingcareer #knowwhereyourfoodcomesfrom
And so, from Ballymaloe you went straight into the kitchen in a job? You mentioned earlier that you went back to university…
Yes [laughs]. My route through my twenties was an interesting one! Immediately after Ballymaloe I did six months in France. There’s an Irish chalet company that recruits chefs and takes them out to the Alps, which was awesome. It was a really good practice to cement everything that I’d learnt over the three months course, and routinely cook three courses for 16 people, which was really very useful and formative.
So, then I knew that I wanted to be a chef and I had the bug, so very naively I printed out my “CV”, which was basically my name and the fact that I’d done Ballymaloe and six months of work [laughs], and a map of Michelin-starred restaurants in London (which is where my parents were living at the time – I was living at home so I started with the closest, being quite a practical soul). I just went knocking on doors, and I was really lucky in that the first place that I showed up at was Roussillon, in the Pimlico and Chelsea area. There was a young American chick who was on her way out and they hadn’t found a replacement, so the chef was like, “well, can you start tomorrow?” And that was actually Alexis Gauthier, who is a big vegcentric and vegan chef now. I’m sure we can touch on him later.
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Where comfort food meets seasonal goodness… miso roasted portobello, potato & pickled red onion salad: November’s seasonal vegan number for @gbchefs and my favourite in the series to date. Find the recipe over on www.greatbritishchefs.com and defo serve warm ✌️?. * #vegcentric #seasonalsalad #foodwithtime #veganrecipeshare #veganinspo #eatmoreplants #plantpower #potatosalad #misomushrooms #wintersalad #healthycomfortfood #seasonalveggies #supportlocal #greengrocergoodness #shopsmall #shoplocal @seasonsofengland
Absolutely. OK, so that takes you up to work… your first job.
Yes, I was 19.
I found it quite interesting that you went back to university after that to study English, and that you were interested in words.
I love words. I love language. I was in restaurants for a couple of years, and Alexis actually encouraged me to get a degree in culinary arts. I did it while I was full-time working in kitchens, but in college one full day a week. That was a two-year programme at Westminster Kingsway.
In my mid-twenties, having worked seven years, I was having a really tough time in the kitchen. It’s notoriously hard, and I certainly found it so at times. I just thought I wanted to keep my options open. I had always thought that my career would be in food, but maybe not literally at the grills and the pans. I dreamt of food writing or editing or publishing. I’d always been very strong at English Literature at school and I loved it, so I applied and was fortunate to get a place at Queen Mary University of London and did English Literature there.
Do you have any favourite food writers?
I do. I love Gill Meller. His writing is so beautiful and such a pleasure to read, but he alludes to everything that’s beautiful about food beyond just flavour and the fact that it’s nourishment. He talks about connection, community, culture, landscape, sustainability – his writing bleeds into all these other areas that food permeates. It’s just so beautiful.
Obviously you came to a kind of prominence through Masterchef: The Professionals. That must seem like quite a long time ago to you now.
It really does! It feels like a lifetime ago. It was filmed in the summer of 2015, and then it aired in the winter. But yeah… ages ago.
What did it do for your career?
Er… first of all, it was so much fun. It was completely terrifying and probably took a couple of years off my life in terms of stress [laughs]. But it was so fun, and I was lucky that the intake that we had that year was just such an awesome group of… I want to say guys and girls, but I actually didn’t meet another girl in my route through the competition. I only met male chefs. I’m not trying to be sexist there! But such a lovely group of guys, and we all stayed in touch with each other on social media and got together at charitable events and cookups – things like that.
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About last night! Another fantastic charity dinner with the masterchef gang hosted by @thefroge1, masterminded by the incredible @chefandiwalker & @adamhandling ???? You two! ?. Money raised for @ssafa_armedforcescharity and a great time had by all. * #chefselfie with @danilocortellini @ellywentworth & @deanowestcar such fun cooking with you guys! * And now for night one of @plenishcleanse pop-up at @carousel_ldn ? A beast of a prep day knocked on the head, and currently en route – whoop! * #cheflife #charitydinner #masterchefprofessionals #reunion #creativecollaboration #teamworkmakesthedreamwork
Personally, what it gave me was a huge whack of confidence that I was really lacking previously. The fact that I was able to keep up and make it through to the final 12, for someone who had spent a lot of time as a private chef as well as a chef in a restaurant in the first part of my career, was really helpful.
Both of us keep saying, “we were talking about this earlier”. We had a chat before we started recording…
We had a coffee [laughs].
…but very briefly, we touched on Matt Campbell who was a big friend of Real Kombucha. He helped and introduced us to a lot of people, he was a fascinating chef and he was amazingly into his fermentation. I think there are similarities there, because that’s something that you’re known for as well. Were you the year before him on Masterchef: the Professionals?
I think I was two years before Matt. Firstly, that’s a huge compliment. Thank you. Matt was a completely extraordinary chef and an amazing guy. I never had the pleasure to meet him in person, sadly. We sort of supported each other on social media and had one of those very odd 21st century friendships where you message lots and you feel like you’re up-to-date with each other’s lives because you see so much about what the other one is doing. But we didn’t meet in real life, which is a huge shame.
But yes, much like Matt, who was a real innovator in vegan food (and I wouldn’t say that I’m anyway near his level) I love to take vegan cooking into that more elevated space where it’s really quite culinary and it’s celebrated just as much as an art, and there’s finesse to it. It’s not just a secondary choice for culinary delights.
I’ll let you go back to that thought, but the other thing that strikes me as a similarity is that Matt was also a private chef beforehand, so he came from that background and up through that route, too.
Yes, which I think is – like anything – good and bad. But there are loads of great benefits to being a private chef. Number one, you have full creative responsibility, which can be really empowering and forces you to keep innovating and think creatively. You can’t rely on anyone else for ideas and inspiration, necessarily. And it forces you to do a bit of everything. So, arguably, there’s a risk that you become a jack of all trades rather than a specialist chef, but I don’t think that’s the case. And even if it is, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think being able to stand up proudly having cooked everything from the canapés to the petit fours is pretty cool.
Yes, absolutely. In the music industry they talk about “cutting your teeth”. I suppose it’s the same as serving an apprenticeship. Being able to do all the things is hugely important.
I certainly think so. I feel very grateful for my experience in both restaurants and private homes, because what I got from restaurants – Michelin star places like Roussillon – was that kind of precision and that Best Kitchen Practice, where you’re held to very high standards. Clean, smart, efficient. You’re part of a brigade so there’s the whole teamwork thing there that’s perhaps missing if you’re solo or freelance. But there’s the responsibility and creative freedom that I love from the freelance side of things. So I’m super grateful for both.
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We are absolutely devastated to hear of the tragic passing of Matt Campbell, an immensely talented young chef who we had become very close to over the last few months. Our thoughts go out to his family and to the cheffing community at large, who have lost a great friend. If you want to do something in his memory, we know that he was raising cash for the Brathay Trust. You can continue to donate to his page by clicking here: https://www.justgiving.com/fund…/MattCampbell-LondonMarathon We're missing you already, Matt. Thanks for your incredible enthusiasm. RIP.
So, let’s go back to the point we were making before. We briefly touched on that similarity between Matt Campbell’s and your interests in fermentation. You talk very eloquently about fermentation, and passionately. I can see you shrinking![Laughs] That’s because, embarrassingly, I talk about little else!
You coined the phrase vegcentric.
Yes. It’s a word I’ve used to describe how I cook pretty much since Masterchef.
You’re not actually vegan yourself, are you?
No. I may as well be. I love a plant-based diet. It’s one that really suits me. I respect it for the environmental conscientiousness that it has, and its healthful nature. But I’m a chef and a massive foodie, and if I go out to different restaurants as a treat (not the whole time!), once a month or for a celebration, if it’s a chef that I am really interested in and really respect, and I can see that there’s great provenance and that they’re supporting what seem to be very responsible farms and farming practices, then I would happily enjoy and appreciate a little bit of animal protein from time to time. But that is very few and far between, so that’s why I say vegcentric. It’s not advocating full vegetarianism or full veganism; it’s prioritising seasonal veg and putting that at the centre of the diet for sustainability reasons. And then, if one chooses, opting for animal protein in moderation, and that’s very much on the periphery of the diet.
I hope it’s quite an inclusive word, and it’s sort of a label that’s not quite a label. To me, it’s the most sustainable and healthful diet for all of us. I would argue that you can be a vegcentric vegan if you’re prioritising British seasonal veg in your diet, because let’s not forget that white bread and margarine sandwiches can be a vegan diet, and that’s not healthy for anyone [laughs]. But if you’re putting seasonal plants at the centre, that’s fantastic for you and the planet. I think a vegetarian can be vegcentric, and I think an omnivore can be vegcentric.
You mentioned before that you’ve been using that vegcentric term since Masterchef. How about the style? Were you interested in the plant-based thing beforehand?
I’ve always loved veggies, but no – I must be honest. Around the time of Masterchef, I started reading some books by the American food writer Michael Pollen. He’s a food journalist, and I find his work so sensible and so inspiring. I think he make more sense than any of us on food. He’s a fascinating man, and he really influenced my own thinking on food. Vegcentric is his line of thinking repackaged slightly. So I had a growing awareness for it around 2015. I can’t claim to always have been that way inclined, but it’s a sort of process that I found very interesting, and I’ve tried to educate myself about it as it’s gone along.
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These were just some of the delights from last nights #Hareonthehill @Joeyscooking supper club (including Joey's infamous cheesecake ??)! Absolutely delicious, so much thought had gone into each dish and there was a story behind it! The company made the evening even more of delight!
After Masterchef, you started your own pop-up, Hare on the Hill.
I did, and my USP was that it was a vegcentric supper club. And I hope that that speaks to something I mentioned earlier about vegcentric being inclusive rather than exclusive. It’s not about what we don’t include in the diet. It’s about one diet for all of us that ticks all the boxes and is very inclusive. So the way I structured menus was… well, I always did croquettes for starters, because who doesn’t love something deep-fried and salty to start a meal [laughs]? But there was always two croquettes with a lovely sauce. One would include meat or fish, and one would be vegetarian. And then there were sharing plates on the table and one or two might have meat or fish, like a rillettes or a pâté with some sourdough, and then there’d be fermented pickles, and then there’d always be a vegetarian option and a grain-based salad as well.
So the sharing course was “one menu for all”, which made my job in the kitchen more about creating the best dishes I could, rather than thinking, “Who’s vegetarian?” or “How many pescatarians have I got?” or “This person needs a different dish”. It was all sharing, all very communal, and then the main course was always plant-based. It wasn’t necessarily vegan, but incase I had any vegans in I would never rely on cheese or eggs to be the bulk of that. So, celebrating plants at the centre of the main course and the centre of the meal. A vegcentric menu that people seemed to enjoy, and I liked the communal aspect of it that meant that, in such an open and sharing forum like a supper club, the vegan dish didn’t need to be the poor man’s option, or that you felt strange because you had to have the vegetarian main course. It was all very inclusive.
Had you noticed at that point that people were moving towards that sort of thing, or were you just happily surprised that everybody seemed to have gone the way that you’ve been going?[Laughs] No, people were [going that way]. It was very much a rising tide. All of us now talk about eating more plants in our diet, and I think that started about three or four years ago.
I feel like I’m about to open the cage doors and let you run riot, because you love talking about fermentation. But, obviously with me being here as a representative of Real Kombucha, fermentation is our thing. So, tell me about your interest in fermentation. I guess I’m interested in where it came from – did it come out of your interest in plant-based stuff, or was it there before? – and I’m also fascinated with the idea that fermentation can be seen as part of the artist’s palette; you can do some much with it. So what does fermentation bring you as a chef? Go!
Go! [Laughs] Such good questions! I’m excited! So… to answer the first half on where it came from, I think it totally was simultaneous with my growing interest in a vegcentric diet. That’s because I think the two go hand in hand. I would go so far as to argue that the complex flavours of fermented foods and condiments are vegan (or vegcentric) cooking’s closest ally. I love a plant-based diet – I’m pretty much vegan myself – and I would never be rude about plant-based cooking at all, but just by nature of having a smaller larder in terms of ingredients you can draw on, it runs the risk of being less exciting than an omnivore’s larder. Just numerically speaking. And animal proteins do interesting things under heat. They caramelise, and very effortlessly for the chef, they give fantastic and complex flavours which are harder to create in the plant kingdom. Not impossible, but harder.
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Fermented Suffolk veggies with Southwold sea lettuce from this morning’s demo @aldeburghfood. In great company here on the Wild Suffolk stage with @licketyice @pennybunbakehouse @wild_food_boy @hedgerowcordial and @glemhamhall #game ?. * I’ll be making cabbage, celery & fennel kraut shortly on @tiptreetearooms stage too – if you’re here come along ??. * #aldeburghfoodanddrinkfestival #aldeburghfoodfestival #fermentation #localfood #localvegetables #sustainablefood #vegcentric #foodwithtime #shopsmall #shoplocal #greengrocerveg #southwold #guthealth #preserve #wildfood #foragingisfun #fermentingisfun #sealettuce
And that’s where I think fermentation comes into the plant-based chef’s larder. The beautiful complexities of flavour that layer up over time in ‘krauts, kimchis, misos, kefir – that is so helpful for creating food that is completely exciting, that you’re so looking forward to sitting down and eating. And even just a little inclusion of a fermented product can totally enhance a vegcentric dish.
Give me an example.
Argh! [Laughs] Well, basically, anything with a bit of miso before you roast it is super easy. I brew a lot of dairy kefir. That’s pretty much the one thing that stops me being fully vegan…
It’s sitting right here, bubbling away.
Yes, there it is next to the water kefir. That has got such a savoury tang that I’m completely addicted to. I use it in a lot of savoury dressings, so that whizzed up with some fresh herbs makes a sort of creamy green sauce with far more intensity and complexity than you could ever hope to achieve through a mayonnaise-based sauce or even a crème fraîche or yoghurt sauce. It’s like the best yoghurt and crème fraîche dialled up to 10! So that’s an example of a really simple fermented food hack that quickly injects a lot of complexity.
I suppose the idea that you can cook with ferment-based sauces suggests longevity or a long period of gestation, because you’re essentially dealing with slow cooking or slow creation. So is it a good idea for somebody to have these things around the house, bubbling away like you’ve got there, or are you talking about the kind of thing that people can just buy in and throw into their food?
I think, if people don’t have the time or inclination, you can totally buy it. There are great kombucha brands now – of course there are [laughs] – but you can get good kimchi that is unpasteurised, so you’ve got lovely live bacteria – the food feels very living. You can buy great quality miso. I really think people should make their own ‘kraut, because (a) it’s so much fun, and (b) it’s so easy and cheap. When you buy it it’s not cheap and you lose out on the fun.
But that’s another example. I’m big into zero waste as well, and the byproduct of ‘krauts and kimchi is the brine – that probiotic-rich ferment liquor that’s sitting in the jar. I use that half the time instead of vinegar. A few spoonfuls of that in my lunchbox to take to work is brilliant. It’s got all the acidity and zing and complexity that you could wish for.
You mentioned kombucha… have you cooked with it?
I’ve used it in the sense that I understand it. If you cooked with it you’d be killing… not the flavour because it would still taste delicious, but the beneficial live bacteria. I’ve used it in things. Going back to Hare On the Hill, there was a pre-dessert course that was this dinky little vegan cheesecake set in little glass teabag holders that I bought for, like, 50p each (they ended up being the best investment ever! The amount of time those guys got used was crazy!) Anyway, it had a little ganache on top to offset the creamy base, and it was always something quite zingy. I had over-brewed my kombucha, which tends to make it slightly vinegary – almost a nice shrub flavour – and I did a kombucha shrub granita on top of the vegan cheesecake. They offset each other beautifully. So that’s one example. Salad dressing is another big one. Again, not cooking but using it to enhance plant-based cooking.
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Pumpkin problems solved! Sweet chilli squash with kale & toasted almonds; little firecracker this one ???. The latest in my series of seasonal #vegan salads for @gbchefs; link in bio ?. * #vegcentric #veganfood @thefeedfeed.vegan #veganrecipeshare #whatveganseat #seasonalvegan #eatingwiththeseasons #seasonalsalads #seasonalfood #seasonalliving #winterveg #supportlocal #foodwithtime #autumnfood #winterfood #sweetchillidreams #greatbritishchefs
I have great plans to try and put some of this stuff together, but I have to admit that I’m not even slightly a cook or a chef. So the great plans will first involve learning to be a cook or a chef…
Haha! Or just do really easy stuff. Kombucha popsicles in the summer! You know you get those plastic moulds? Freeze it down. It’ll be great.
You could stick some fruit in it, or maybe if you want to make it sweeter (because it looses sweetness when you freeze it), a dash of elderflower cordial and you’ve got a Dry Dragon popsicle! Dry Dragon with a bit of elderflower in a popsicle would be stunning, I think.
Cool, well you heard it here first. Joey O’Hare’s Kombcuha Popsicles!
You can have that as a bit of new product development [laughs].
So… Hare On the Hill. What happened to that?
It naturally ran its course. It was super hard work. I was cooking from here, from this tiny little Brixton kitchen, and renting a friend’s food photography studio in Clapham. The venue was stunning. In fact, I’m humble enough to admit that the venue was probably the best thing about it! It was just so cool [laughs]. It had all these beautiful props and styling, and gorgeous lighting. I just absolutely loved it, and I’m so proud of what we were able to achieve. And I say “we” because we built up this band of merry helpers, and it was so much a collaborative team effort. Some of those people have become best friends.
We had a ball, really enjoyed it and it was so fulfilling. And I was taking on other bits of freelance work and recipe writing for different plant-based brands, and, naturally, I think I got everything out of it that I hoped to achieve. I wasn’t ready to make the leap from semi-permanent supper club to real bricks and mortar restaurant. That was next-level scary. I have so much respect for the people who do that, because I think that’s extraordinary.
Is that something you’d like to do one day?
I think yes and no. Yes, in the sense that you always fantasise about it, but no in terms practicality. I don’t think that’s my course. It is so much hard work. Like I said, I have crazy levels of respect for the chefs who turn their hand to it, take a risk and make it happen. I have had some experience in that, being responsible for the management of a cafe site in this case, and it is back-breaking stuff.
But with your love of words then surely it’s a Joey O’Hare cookbook for you, right?
I would love to do that. I’m not ashamed to say that that’s absolutely the dream. Whether that’s on my own way into the future, or with All Plants, who I work with at the moment and I’m sure we’ll come on to. That’s very much on our radar as a brand. I would love to work on a cookbook, for sure, and in the meantime I blog a bit on my personal website, www.foodwithtime.com, and I share recipes about fermentation and big seasonal salads.
Well, you did one for us recently. (You can read that here.) Thank you very much for that.
Yes! You’re welcome! But, yes, I write about seasonal one-pot wonders and very accessible but (I hope) interesting and exciting cooking. I blog about that there. It would be wonderful to write a book.
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Will eating more plants make me a supermodel? ? The question on everyone’s mind. But let’s reset our expectations. In this episode of Living on the Veg, we tackle health. Don’t get us wrong, eating plants is better for your skin, hair, heart and energy levels, but eating more plants is bigger than your butt ?♂️ Our relationship with ourselves, others and the planet are what make the difference between true health and physical perfection. S’all about the bigger picture. To watch the full length video, head over to our YouTube channel ⚡️
That does lead us very neatly onto All Plants. Tell me about All Plants, because it’s quite an interesting thing.
All Plants is awesome! In a nutshell, it’s a vegan foodie startup… although I don’t think startup does it justice. It’s smashing it! It’s such an amazing and inspiring company, founded by two very cool brothers. One comes from a foodie FMCG background, and one comes from a consultancy background. They have wicked complimentary skillsets. They’ve built up a team of about 30 in the office and 50 in the kitchens. We’re growing quickly.
50 in the kitchens?! That’s not a startup!
I know! It’s impressive what our outputs are. We’ve had a fun Veganuary, that’s for sure! Lots of people taking up the pledge and signing up. We make really delicious and exciting plant-based convenience food. It’s direct-to-consumer, which is awesome. It’s a subscription-based model. Customers order in boxes of six, whether that’s single-serve meals or double-serve meals for you and a partner or flatmate, and you can choose the regularity with which you receive your delicious suppers.
OK, so what’s the difference between that and something like Hello Fresh?
So, there are a few models like Hello Fresh where you get the ingredients and then you cook it at home, whereas this is ultra convenience. So you can microwave the meals or oven-cook them. All the cooking is completely done for you. It’s a really planet-forward company, so we’re pretty much carbon neutral, all the packaging is recycled or recyclable. Over 40% of our customers return the insulated boxes, which is really nice because reusing is actually better than recycling because obviously you’re producing less new stuff. So we reuse all the packaging. The guys have gone through everything… the attention to detail in terms of our sustainable credentials is just so inspiring. I totally recommend people checking it out!
But what do you do? [Laughs] You’ve just sold it, but what do you do?
I’m a senior development chef, which is a great role. I started in November and I look after some EPD (existing product development), looking across our range at how we can really drive culinary excellence in everything that we do, and looking for micro-refinements. But to be honest, the range is so strong at the moment…
So, you just kinda sit there?![Laughs] Yeah, I just sit there. It’s great! And then I do NPD (new product development) – listening to customer feedback and noting areas that they really want to see dishes in, whether it’s comfort food or really adventurous street food-style dishes. We have a small team and we ideate around those briefs. It’s a really interesting process. It’s very easy to make something delicious at a domestic scale, but then managing that process through to a large-scale cook by the kitchen team… it’s great fun. There are so many challenges that you wouldn’t even think of. When you scale up a recipe, it is never just straight maths. It’s not, “Oh, let’s increase it by 200”, or whatever, because garlic will do one thing, ginger will do one thing, salt will do one thing… It’s like you’re a puppeteer and you dangle all those strings and look after those ingredients throughout the scaling process.
It’s an interesting point. We find that with kombucha as well. People make the assumption that if you can brew a four-litre Kilner jar of kombucha, you can do it in a 400 litre vat because of maths. But actually, science gets in the way!
Science gets in the way, all sorts of things get in the way. With kombucha, it’s the methodology as well. Even just the amount of negative space you might have in a fermentation vessel can dictate the rate at which it ferments. So you can’t say, “Oh, it’ll ferment in a week as normal”. And you guys will have the added variations in temperature and daylight. There all sorts of variables at play, and it’s not just a simple equation. I wish it were, but it’s not. Actually, I don’t wish that at all. It’s quite fun.
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Oh @bigvlondon boy did you read my mind ????. BEST #vegan burger ever (and stunning burger regardless). Textural, highly seasoned wild rice patty with what tasted like tons of sweet/deep sautéed onions and herbs. All the hot sauce, relishes and caramelised onions on a delightfully fluffy bun. Winner ?? @boroughmarket. * #vegcentric #veganburger #eatmoreplants #sundayfunday #whatveganseat #veggieburger #plantpower #vegcentric #condimentheaven #bigvlondon #boroughlondon
Somebody said something interesting to me the other day. They said, “the great thing about being vegan is that you have to become mindful in the kitchen”. As you’ve just said, you have to think about what you’re left out and what you’re going to put in its place. So you have to become thoughtful about what you’re doing, rather than just bang, bang, bang – pulling stuff out of a freezer, or whatever.
Exactly. And mindful in two respects: one, mindful as in vegan cooking makes you work a little harder as a cook because if you put a steak in a pan, if that’s your jam, that will be delicious because of the way it caramelises, whereas veggies aren’t necessarily going to give you that complexity straight away, so you’ve got to be mindful and think, “how am I going to inject texture and umami and depth”. Maybe it’s different temperatures, like a nice cooling sauce on a warm curry. You’ve got to be creative and playful to create something super exciting.
So you’re mindful in that respect. But also, I think, because you are making a decision that is very planet-forward, that bleeds into all that you do. So you might opt for things that aren’t packaged in tonnes of plastic. You might be thinking more about implementing zero-waste policies in your kitchen, so using all of the veg, not just hacking off the top and tail and throwing it in the bin. I think it naturally draws out other more mindful behaviours in the kitchen, which is a great thing.
All Plants… is it London-specific? Do you have to be in London to use it?
No, not at all. It’s UK-wide. It’s fantastic. You can get it anywhere.
You just logon to…
www.allplants.com [laughs] I think we’re running a cool campaign at the moment where you can nominate a friend and you both get £20 off and we plant a tree. There’s lots going on – lots of reasons to sign up.
Just to bring it back to London a little bit, because that is where we are… I’m interested in the idea that a recent report said that Bristol is the most vegan city in the world, but I think there’s no doubt that London has such a wide range of plant-based and plant-first options now in terms of eating out.
Yes, it does.
And it has rocketed from just a few years ago. The idea that being vegan is a struggle is absolutely not the case anymore.
No, we’re very lucky.
If you are going to go out… Er… Nope! Let’s cut the question shorter!
Where are the three best plant-based restaurants for you at the moment, in your opinion?
Oh, good question. Two immediately spring to mind and I like them because they’re so different. One is uber-fancy, Michelin star, crazy special occasion, and that’s Gautier in Soho. And that’s going back to the first head chef I ever worked for, Alexis Gautier. He has really pushed vegan cooking into “Haute Cuisine” (he’s a Frenchman, so I don’t mind using that phrase!) He has a whole vegan tasting menu with wine pairings, and it’s proper, stunning cookery. It’s nice to see that challenging the fine dining space as well. There are a few other chefs doing it, which is wicked, but I think Alexis is doing it brilliantly. So that’s somewhere that’s really exciting.
Do you spend a lot of time there?
Haha! No, I don’t! I did go a year ago. He’s so nice. He recognises me and says a big hello. He’s so friendly. But, no… I wish I could spend more time there.
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Vegan tasting menu @gauthierinsoho with best plant-pal @lauren_lovatt ??. * Alexis Gauthier & Gerard Virolle were the first head chefs I worked for at Rousillion back in the day; it was invaluable classical training for which I’m forever grateful. 10+ years now (?) and they’re still leading London’s vegetable game! It’s so inspiring to see vegan food taken into a fine-dining sphere, and made so elegant and utterly delicious. * #gauthier #gauthiersoho #vegan #veganmenu #vegantastingmenu #londonfoodie #londonvegan #finedining #londonfinedining
And another one, totally different end of the spectrum, but there’s a new brand called Club Cultured. They’re three lads who are fermenting their own tempeh here in the UK, and (a) it’s delicious tempeh, and (b) they do these wicked club sandwiches and arancini balls, and it’s just really highly flavoured – awesome flavoured street food. But they haven’t taken it too far down the vegan junk food route – we’re seeing a lot of that at the moment and it totally has its place, it’s just not how I personally enjoy eating. Tempeh being the whole fermented soy bean smashed into a kind of patty. I suppose the closest thing in a club sandwich would be the chicken breast, and texturally it’s not too far away.
Where are they based?
I think they’re a kind of pop-up, so they move around to different street feasts and markets. They appeared at Vegan Nights recently, which was great. I have a lot of respect for what they’re doing. I think they’re smashing it and I think their food is delicious.
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@thelittlelondonvegan pose? Completed it mate ??♀️. • We are loving our new home @houseofveganldn and loving feeding all you hungry fellows. But feeding the queen of vegan puts a big fat cheesy grin on our face ?. • Here is our Club Rib in all its glory! Just look at that beauty ?. • Don’t forget that our co-creator and head chef Connor has trained in Michelin starred kitchens. Have a private event coming up you need a caterer for? Look no further than @clubcultured we will create a unique cultured menu to suit your needs. Spread the Word. Spread the Love. Spread the Culture ??♂️. ? @jolley_chris
And thirdly, I would say… there’s a new restaurant on Mare Street called Plant Hub, which I respect because it’s not just a cafe but also a culinary academy and they have a good events schedule. There’s life-drawing classes with vegetables and, y’know, naked models [laughs]. There’s cooking courses and lots going on that’s spreading the vegan message beyond just vegan food on a plate – kind of what that means more broadly, which I think is really cool. So, yeah… those are my three.
Excellent! Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you so much for having me!
And if people want to find out more about what you’re doing?
Yes! Instagram probably is the best.
Can I just say, I like your Instagram for two reasons. One, that it’s your typical foodie Instagram thing, but I like the interjection of the books.
Oh, thank you!
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HOW have I only just read this. Eating Animals is so measured, intelligently written (even beautifully written), unspeakably harrowing ?, and deeply thought-provoking. * Most books I’ve read on meat-eating vs vegetarianism have focused on the environmental impact of diet. This one focuses on the realities of factory farming (mostly in the US) and the morality of eating animals. It is compulsively readable and unforgettable. DO IT. * #eatinganimals #foodwithtime #beyondtheplate #plantpower #eatmoreplants #vegcentric #sustainablefoodchoices
It gives you something to think about and some recommendations for things to go off and read. I’ve got a couple of things on my reading list that I got from you.
I like it too, because people comment back and say, “Oh, that’s great – you’d really enjoy blah blah!” So I get recommendations, too. It’s a great space to share. I must do more of that, actually. I read a lot, but I only save my best, best books to share on Instagram… one of which has been Eating Animals, which has been influential on me of late.
Find out more about Joey O’Hare via her Instagram account, @joeyscooking, or her website: www.cookingwithtime.com. You can grab your Real Kombucha, brewed for open minds, from www.realkombucha.co.uk. Podcast music by Airtone.