Exclusive: Interview with Vegan Chef Doug McNish
Chef Doug McNish is a busy guy. When he’s not serving up delicious vegan cuisine at his restaurant, Public Kitchen, in Toronto, he’s working as a consultant, an educator, a speaker, and a committed plant pusher and activist, all with the intense focus and passion of bringing organic, whole, vegan cuisine into the mainstream. Not surprisingly, he’s also an author of three awesome vegan cookbooks that demand to be placed on your bookshelf.
His latest book, Vegan Everyday: 500 Delicious Recipes, is already receiving rave reviews and includes mouth-watering recipes like Chocolate Hazelnut Waffles, Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna, and Cauliflower and Chickpea Tacos (its recipe is even featured below).
McNish is also set to serve up his tasty vegan fare at Ecorazzi’s Toronto Vegan Food and Drink Festival next month, so naturally we wanted to catch up with him and discuss his new book, veganism, and – what else? – food.
Why did you make the switch to a vegan lifestyle?
So, I started cooking at the age of 15 professionally. I fell in love with it. I wasn’t a vegan chef. I was your traditional meat and dairy chef. I fell in love with the kitchen and I knew that’s what I wanted to with the rest of my life. It became my passion, my life, my everything. Flash forward to six years later when I was 21 years and I was 280 pounds. I knew I needed to change in my life but I didn’t know what that was. I started working out. I didn’t change my diet at all. I didn’t think of the correlation. I was actually shown a video of animals in slaughterhouses, a PETA video, and it just changed me. And it was then and there, I thought, oh my god, what am I doing? It was that AHA moment that most people have. And I stopped eating meat that night. I continued eating fish and products with animal products, like mayonnaise. Only because I didn’t know what else I could do. Over the course of a few months, I lost weight, I started feeling better, I started to learn more about the environment, about health, and then five or six months later, I went vegan. That was over 11 years ago.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to make the switch to a vegan diet?
I run a business, I have a beautiful wife, I have a wonderful life, I feel very grateful and blessed. All of these changes in my life, I have always taken the time to get to know them, to understand them. That’s my take on changing your diet, and the way you think and feel, I don’t think it should be overnight. That’s my personal opinion. People ask me how they can change their diet, and I always say, treat it like you’re dating someone. Take your time. Get to know it, get to know the products, the ingredients. Get to understand how a belly filled with lentils will make you feel. People are so used to eating processed foods without any nutrition or fiber, and then they eat a bowl full of lentils, and they’re like, “I’m gassy, I’m farting a lot.” [Laughs] Maybe don’t eat two bowls of lentils to start, just have a side of it, and see how you feel. My take on it: take your time and go slowly.
Why do you think there’s a general aversion to eating vegan? Is just because we’ve been conditioned to eating animal and animal byproducts?
I think there’s a couple answers to that question. First of all, I think, yes, we are conditioned. We are told to think a certain way, to eat a certain way and anything else is weird and different. And I think that’s crazy. The second part of that is a lot of vegetarian foods, up until ten years ago, were bland and tasteless. There were few companies and restaurants doing high-end food. I’ve been a vegan 11 years, and up until a few years ago, a lot of the products were just awful. There was a stigma that vegetarian food tasted bad. And the last part, I think that a lot of people are scared of change. I think people are comfortable doing the same thing everyday, to act like a robot. I think change is awesome. I think people should embrace it more.
More importantly: what is a dish from your new book (“Vegan Everyday: 500 Delicious Recipes’) that you would make to convince them?
I’m on a book tour right now, and I’ve been demo-ing a lot, and I would have to say my Tempeh Croquette. The recipe is on page 411 in the book, and they’re a good example, in my opinion, at least, of vegan, non-processed protein that’s easily digestible, and it will leave you feeling good, and they’re easy to make and they taste delicious. But to be honest, anything in this book. I have to say that. [Laughs]
You have two other books out, so what was the impetus behind writing this one? Who’s it for? The newbie vegan or the dedicated one, or both?
The first two books are all raw, vegan and gluten-free, and while I absolutely love raw food, I do, I love traditional food, too. I am a chef at heart. I love frying things, too. I love things in moderation. So, to me, to be able put out a book – and I have to say, I am a classically trained chef, and I am not even trained in raw food — so this is an homage to all of my years in the kitchen, creating. So this book is for everyone and anyone. For someone who doubts a vegan diet, they say, ‘you can’t have a French onion soup.’ Yes, you can. You can’t have a vegan soup or a sauce? Yes, you can. It encompasses everything. Soups, stews, baked goods, dips, so much more.
What excites you about cooking?
I’m at the Evergreen Brickhouse every Saturday, one of the largest outdoor markets in Canada. Food excites me. Food that’s grown locally by a farmer with a family that actually cares, that excites me the most. When I show up at Evergreen and see what’s growing, what’s in season, and I get to talk to the farmers and they hand me heirloom tomatoes that they just picked that morning, that excites me. Because I can take those tomatoes into my kitchen and turn them into magic. I have forty pounds of organic produce on my counter and it’s like, “Okay, guys. What can we do with this today?” Well, we can grill this, we can steam this, we can dehydrate this, and we can batter and fry this. I absolutely love it.
You’ve been cooking vegan food for a long time now. What do you know now that you didn’t know when you first started out?
That’s a good question. I think the best way to answer that is, you don’t need a new set of cooking techniques to create vegan cuisine. It’s everything that we already know. The searing, the roasting, all of those things work the exact same way. I admittedly was nervous at first. I didn’t know what quinoa was, what chia and flax seeds were. For me it was learning what those ingredients were and how they react to each other. You know, applying traditional cooking methods to them work well, if not better, than traditional cuisine. So, I would say that. And nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast is awesome.
What are some of the must-have staples that every vegan should have in their kitchen?
Well, nutritional yeast, for sure. Hemp seeds – easily digestible protein. I love tahini. Tahini has so many applications. Wheat free tamari. It’s amazing what one-teaspoon of what wheat-free tamari will do to a sauce. I really like miso. Anything from an aged miso to a light, non-aged miso is awesome for soups, sauces, and dips. Raw cashews. Cashews are such a dairy replacer once they’re soaked and blended. I challenged almost anyone to create a traditional French sauce with just a cashew puree. Those are my favorite ingredients.
From morning till night, what kind of meals are you eating?
To be honest I am a very simple eater. Besides tasting all of my food in my kitchen, when I get home, my favourite meal – I’m very boring – is brown rice, steamed greens or vegetables, I love tempeh, avocado, and some sort of sauce. I love tahini sauce. Someone interviewed me on time and asked me what would be my last meal, and I think that would be my last meal.
On a night off, where in the world would you like to dine?
Ooh. Good question. Oh my. I have such respect for Matthew Kenney and for what he and his team are doing in California. He just opened a new restaurant called Plant Food and Wine in Venice, California and so I would say that.
How has veganism enhanced your life?
I think that becoming conscious to the fact that we are doing such terrible things to animals, to the environment, to our own health, it made me become a better person. It made me understand. It opened my eyes to so many things, to everything you can imagine, to being an ethical businessman. It’s made me who I am now; it’s allowed me to be a good person.
Check out Doug’s awesome recipe for his Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Tacos, below:
Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Tacos
This new twist on traditional Mexican fare will add spice to your diet — along with a wide range of nutrients. I like to serve these with Queso Dip.
• Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C)
• Baking sheet, lined with parchment paper
1?4 cup grapeseed oil 60 mL
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice 45 mL
(see Tips, left)
2 tsp chili powder 10 mL
1 tsp ground cumin 5 mL
1?2 tsp fine sea salt 2 mL
Pinch cayenne pepper Pinch
2 cups drained cooked chickpeas 500 mL
1 head cauliflower, cut into 1
bite-size florets (about 4 cups/1 L)
2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage 500 mL
1?2 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro 125 mL
1?2 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper 125 mL
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 30 mL
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice 30 mL
1?4 tsp fine sea salt 1 mL
1?2 ripe medium avocado 1?2
1?2 cup water 125 mL
1?2 cup extra virgin olive oil 125 mL
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice 45 mL
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice 15 mL
1?8 tsp fine sea salt 0.5 mL
8 to 10 small gluten-free organic corn 8 to 10
taco shells (see Tips)
1. Filling: In a large bowl, whisk together grapeseed oil, lime juice, chili powder, cumin, salt and cayenne. Add chickpeas and cauliflower and toss well. Spread evenly over prepared baking sheet.
Bake in preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.
2. Slaw: In a large bowl, toss together cabbage, cilantro, red pepper, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Set aside.
3. Avocado Drizzle: In blender, combine avocado, water, olive oil, lime juice, lemon juice and salt. Process until smooth and creamy. (Store leftover drizzle in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)
4. Assembly: Spoon chickpea-cauliflower filling into taco shells. Top with slaw and a liberal amount of avocado drizzle. Serve with lime wedges and hot sauce on the side.
Use either chickpeas you have cooked yourself or canned, preferably with no salt added. When using canned legumes that contain salt, be sure to rinse and drain them thoroughly before using.
If cooking dried chickpeas, you can use your slow cooker or cook them on the stovetop (see page 182).
A hand-held citrus reamer can be used to extract the juice from lemons and limes. Available in most kitchen supply stores, this tool would be ideal to use for the citrus in this recipe.
Choose organic taco shells to avoid GMOs, and check the label to make sure they are gluten-free and do not contain any added wheat.
If you prefer, serve the Avocado Drizzle alongside.
MAKES 8 TO 10 TACOS
Courtesy of Vegan Everyday by Doug McNish, 2015 © www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.