The 14-year-old superstar chef shares his desire to bring people together
Tell us about your vegan story, Omari.
When I was seven years old my mum was sick. I wanted to research what could get her back on her feet and feeling better. I found out about veganism and also saw the way animals were treated for food and clothes, and I didn’t like the way that was happening. So I decided to become vegan.
So you were interested in health as well as the animals?
Yes. My dad was busy going to work, and he taught me and my older brother how to do bits of cooking. My older brother stopped because he didn’t want to do it anymore. So I started cooking in the kitchen by myself. And my brother said I was doing an amazing job and he decided to film me and put it on YouTube. And that’s how it started.
And what happened after that?
After that I created my company Dipalicious making different dips. I ran a pop-up restaurant in Boxpark in London for a week. I’ve had my CBBC show What’s Cooking Omari? and my recipe books Omari McQueen’s Best Bites and now Vegan Family Cookbook.
What have you enjoyed the most?
Out of everything, I’ve enjoyed the restaurant the most, as it’s the first restaurant I’ve ever had. I loved that I got to bring people together through food without harming animals.
The TV show was really fun. The best part of it was that I got to include my family in it. They got to be involved with everything.
Has there been anything that’s been a bit trickier?
Writing the books has been difficult. I have dyslexia and I don’t really know how to spell. It’s a learning difficulty so I find spelling and reading and writing hard.
My mum home schools me, so she teaches me how to spell and how to read and write. And when I wrote mistakes in my book she would check it for me, and if the spelling was wrong, she would teach me how to spell better.
Do you enjoy being home schooled?
It’s really amazing! I get to learn a lot more. When I was at school, whenever I was learning in class and they had something on the board, it would change much quicker than it does at home. My mum actually asks us when we’re finished with what’s on the board, whereas at school it would change too quickly and you wouldn’t be able to remember what was up on there.
The new recipe book is all about encouraging people to eat together. Why is that so important to you?
It’s mostly about bringing people together and vegan people cannot eat meat. So the people who do eat meat, they can eat vegan food no matter what. And I just wanted to bring people together without harming animals. So the people who eat meat, they can start being convinced to go vegan.
The new book looks so fun and colourful – how much are you involved in how it looks?
The book is all about party food, so I wanted it to have a party theme. There are photos of me and my family wearing party hats and with confetti. I love working with my family. It’s so much fun.
What do your friends think about all of your achievements?
They think it’s amazing. I convinced two of my friends to go vegan, just by telling them what I know – like cow’s milk is for cows. And the rest of them, they don’t want to go vegan but they’re proud of what I’m doing.
What is your favourite recipe from the upcoming book?
That would have to be my chocolate cookie dough cups. It’s one of my favourite party foods, I just put a vegan twist on it. I asked all my family what their favourite party foods were and if they weren’t vegan I would just give them a vegan twist.
How do you go about veganising a recipe?
On a Friday, me and my dad do this thing where my dad picks something that’s not vegan and I try to make it vegan. I take out all of the animal products and replace them.
Your book also mentions being environmentally friendly. Is that something that’s important to you?
Yes. I wish people knew about all the plastic in the sea and the way animals are being harmed by it. And I wish people knew that veganism isn’t that we just sit down and eat grass and salad, because that’s what some people say.
And you’re also interested in teaching people about nutrition.
Yes, I do Top Tips Tuesday on my YouTube channel. I tell you different facts about fruits and vegetables, why you should eat them and why they’re good for your body. One of my favourites that I’ve done was all about guava.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m going to open a chain of restaurants all around the world. And I also want a bus restaurant so me and my dad can ride around the world and sell my dips, snacks and meals. And I also want my kids’ ready meals in stores and my dips in stores as well.
Omari and family photography by Haarala Hamilton Photography.
This article was first published in our membership magazine The Vegan 2022 Issue 1.
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