avant garde chef
Simon Smith

As you may have seen from mine and Ariane’s new year’s resolutions, we’ve both gone vegan!

It made total sense as I’ve been vegetarian for the past 11 years for ethical reasons and now that I’m eating more plant-based, I’m reaping the health benefits too.

But, I’m still a self-confessed lover of fast food so when I stumbled across Gaz Oakley (AKA Avant-Garde Vegan), the 25-year-old chef who makes ridiculously tasty plant-based food – and whose debut cookbook Vegan 100 is out now – I knew I’d found my ideal vegan guide.

I caught up with him to talk all things vegan cuisine to get some dairy-free inspiration like how to make your own vegan mozzarella…

Why did you turn vegan?

I’ve been vegan up to three years now, and I was actually training in the gym more or less every night on your typical weight lifting diet, eating lots of protein and lots of calories, and I just didn’t feel too good on the inside. I wanted to make a change and I watched a few documentaries and a few activist speeches on Youtube. I watched one speech by a guy called Gary Yourofsky and it literally made me go Vegan overnight so I haven’t eaten meat since I watched that. I instantly felt better coming off that high protein diet.

What do you eat after you gym now?

I eat a lot of chickpeas, tofu, greens and pulses and things like that. Actually one of my most viewed videos on Youtube is my high protein meal prep where I cook 16 dishes for four days worth of meals. And that’s gone down really well. It just shows you how to get high amounts of protein in for when you are working out with a tasty vegan meal.

What’s your go-to vegan ingredient? 

Coconut milk comes into play for so many of my recipes because it’s really fatty and creamy so it helps set things. I used it to make an amazing panna cotta and then cornflour comes into play a lot so those two are my little hacks that I use quite often.

How do you make vegan cheese? 

I make my vegan mozzarella with cashew nuts and tapioca starch as the main ingredients as tapioca make it go stringy. Then, I add miso paste, garlic and a few other spices to get that really bold umami flavour.

What are vegan-friendly stock cupboard essentials?

My cupboards are full of pulses – I love chickpeas. And then you want to try and inject as much flavour into your dishes as possible with a nice selection of dried herbs and spices in your cupboard.

How do you think we can educate people about the truth behind meat and dairy farming without being preachy?

I just try and let the food to the talking. I think the more people are shown how good vegan food can taste and look, I think the more people will ultimately go and start eating it. So I guess if people watch my videos and recreate the dishes, that will create more of a wave.

What’s your ultimate comfort food dish?

I guess something really hearty. I’d probably choose my KFC (kruelty-free chicken) pieces or vegan fish and chips – anything with a bit of stodge to get me back up and running.

What’s your tastiest but healthiest vegan recipe? 

I love my Sriracha meatballs with grilled vegetables, is basically like a rainbow on a plate, and its got some amazing flavours. It’s also really light and refreshing, very hearty.

How do you find eating out as a vegan?

It’s getting so much better now, all the major UK restaurant chains have got a vegan option on the menu now but I always think ahead and try to plan it a day in advance. If I’m going somewhere that doesn’t have a vegan option, I’ll ring ahead to let them know I’m coming just to pre-warn them. Worst case scenario, there is always something like chips or a salad on the menu! And when I’m abroad, I’ll generally book Airbnbs so I can cook for myself in the apartment. But there is a great app, Happy Cow, that uses your location and tells you nearest vegan restaurants, or a restaurant that has a vegan option.

What are your tips taking a great pics of your food?

It all comes down to how beautifully presented the food is of course but you need to set up the pictures nicely. I have a lot of different backgrounds at home, lots of different props and beautiful bowls. It’s all about styling it, not just about the food but you can definitely get some props in there to lift the picture up. And, always take pictures in natural light, without a flash. I use a Canon 700D camera.

What mistakes are we likely to make in our first few months being vegan?

Some chains often have a falafel wrap on their menu but it will sometimes come with a dairy-free yogurt so just be careful when you’re thinking you’re going for that vegan option as it might have something non-vegan in there!

Vegan 100: Over 100 incredible recipes from Avant-Garde Vegan by Gaz Oakley is out now (Quadrille, £20) 


About Delphine

Procrastinator. Early bird. Big fan of dogs and the outdoors. Will eat anything vegan (especially if it involves potatoes.) Zero-waste striver. Never without curled lashes.

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