How And Why I Became A Vegan Chef | The Vegan Society

How And Why I Became A Vegan Chef

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I’d always loved cooking as a child – there are corners of my bedroom in which sparkly notebooks boasting the words “Tallie’s recipe book” in my 8-year-old hand can still be found. A few instances of being adamant I didn’t need a recipe to make complex dishes I’d only ever seen made in the Masterchef finals later, however, and my confidence was slightly shaken.

It wasn’t until I became vegan as a teenager – because I love animals too much to eat them or their by-products, I say from atop my soap box – that I took cooking back up again. Very quickly indeed, I shifted from none-of-my-family-are-vegan-and-I-need-food-to-survive mode, to spending all day restless to get home and try a new recipe, cook an old favourite or figure out what exactly to put on a plate to avoid chasing after my brother with some broccoli on a fork bellowing “It’s delicious, just try it!”

I spent about a year growing – in knowledge and in confidence – as a home cook. During this time, I began throwing my family dinner parties to experiment, and I lived with a wonderful vegan family as an Au Pair, where my cooking came up against the harshest critic of all: The Two Year Old.

My food having held up against the judgements of my meat-loving grandparents, a toddler, and one very spoilt plate-licking dog, I was absolutely sure that I wanted to spend my career cooking – and learning more about – food. And of course, it’d have to be plant-based cuisine – I couldn’t wait to immerse myself further in the rapidly developing world of vegan food.

Immediately, I ruled out conventional catering college: I was not willing to work with animal products. I spent about two (agonising, gruelling, endless!) minutes worrying about what other options I’d have, before a quick google search presented me with an array of vegan cookery courses. Plenty of high-profile schools in the UK have dedicated vegan courses, including the world-famous Leiths School of Food and Wine! However, the majority of these are one-day programmes, and I was looking for a more in-depth study.

Enter, Demuths – an entirely vegetarian cookery school in Bath. Here, I could take a 10-day fully-vegan course, taught by dedicated vegetarian chefs. I took the ‘Vegan 5-day’ course in November 2017, and the ‘Vegan Diploma’ in January 2018, which spanned two weeks.

Here, I built up a really solid foundation of cookery knowledge, learnt some interesting new recipes and techniques, and picked the brains of my teachers (“So how exactly do I get to where you are?” repeated ad nauseam). You can read my full blog post about the experience here.

Armed with confidence and credentials, I finally felt ready to… tell people I was looking for a cooking job without actually doing so to avoid rejection. After a few weeks of experimenting with my newly-polished skills at home, and enjoying the smug satisfaction of intending to one day be a chef, I finally made a concerted effort to do so.

I made a list of my favourite vegan restaurants in London, and planned to contact them one by one. As incredibly jammy, really rather unheard of luck would have it, whilst pulling up the contact information of the very first business on my list, I found them advertising an internship.

An unpaid internship – the pendulum of my luck swung back to neutral territory. Whilst working for free is no-one’s idea of the jackpot, it’d be my first time in a professional kitchen, in one of my favourite restaurants, a mere six weeks after finishing my diploma. I didn’t hesitate before applying.

The next three months I spent working part time (20 hours a week) at the restaurant. I spent a lot of time on batch prep work, learning how to complete each task uniformly and effectively. I kept a beady eye on the senior chefs’ plating as I got elbow-deep (literally) into making 4 kilos of guacamole. Eventually, I went from giddily telling my mum about how much kale I prepped that day (no, really), to learning how to run a section during evening service by myself.

Whilst there had never been a guarantee of a job after my internship, staff turnover in the service industry is rapid, and I was offered a job as a chef at the same restaurant once my three months were up.

All of this had been undeniably hard work, but I was sure at the end of each week that I wanted my career to revolve around food. In fact, I was as sure as I’d been at 8 years old scribbling down my top-secret pasta sauce recipe; as I had been whilst begging my god daughter to please just eat the small green thing, that was definitely not a pea, and whose presence in her pasta I could not explain; as I had been walking through ankle-deep puddles (in very much non-waterproof shoes) in Bath to get to a day of cookery class. So I, of course, accepted the job, and was suddenly, officially a vegan chef.

Tallie Samuels is a vegan chef who has worked in top London restaurant Wild Food Cafe, and is now building up a catering business which focuses around celebrating plant-based ingredients which are accessible to us all.

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