Heaven's been invited to talk about all things vegan on ABC radio. Tune in now as she shares her view on what great vegan cooking is and some insights on the latest plant-based trends.
Are you proud on behalf of your vegan compatriots (ONA, a restaurant in France, for being the first vegan restaurant to ever receive a Michelin star)?
Yes I am. I think it's really fantastic to see this category being recognized in the industry because it's been overdue.
What's your vegan cooking 101, Heaven?
Look, I think it's got to be the basics. You really have to have a wide variety of foods on the table. I think it’s about wholefoods, It's about as little processing as possible, and then just experiment, have fun!
What are of the basic substitutions (for meat)?
We've got a lot of different things now that are available. Chefs use things like chickpea brine for aquafaba which acts as an egg white replacer. You've got vegan nut cheeses now, faux meats have come a long way... There are a lot of varieties out there now that people can try.
Talk to me about faux meat, because I think one of the reasons why people might have a negative impression of some vegetarian or vegan cuisine, is that it has tried hard in the past to replicate animal products rather than allowing the ingredients to seeing on their own.
Look, I know it can be a struggle for some. We call them (faux meat) “monk meat”, so it’s been around for a very long time, particularly in the Asian culture, but now we're seeing some really interesting takes on it. I think you're right about wanting the vegetables to speak for themselves, but I do think that there is a place as well in the faux meat category, especially when you've got people who maybe are not used to a predominately plant-based diet and are wanting to transition, or people who just want to have a burger. I mean there's nothing that beats a great burger.
How do you think those burgers are coming along? Impossible burger is almost there, but in my opinion not quite.
Yeah, look, there are some good products out there. I don't think it should be about imitating things to perfection. They should really stand on their own as great food products. So I want to pick up a good burger, and eat it and go “that's delicious”. I'm not looking for it to necessarily replace beef, but that's for me, as opposed to somebody who is a carnivore who may be looking for more of a transition type of foods. So I think it depends on why you’re coming to try and eat that type of food, but I like things that taste good regardless of whether it's a faux meat or a non faux meat product.
My producer Emma says that she's had a great fake duck at your restaurant. How do you do that?
Yes, haha. Our ducks are actually made over a 2-day process, and that's been on our menu for gosh – almost 30 years now. It's an incredibly popular dish, and I can’t giveaway industry secret, but it does take a couple of days to make it, to smoke it, to get it to have that sort of texture. And then it is about adding the right seasoning in and accompanying with other things that make you relate that dish to a meat dish. So you know, putting a patty in a burger is going to make you feel like you're having a burger, at that sort of thing. But the ducks are incredibly popular – every time I try to take it off the menu, I get a barrage of complaints.
Don't mess with success, Heaven.
What's the most versatile vegetable?
I would say soy is actually one of the most versatile products. You've got TVP that comes out of it, you’ve got soy, soy milk… it does a lot of the different faux meat products. And then it can stand alone as tempeh as you suggested earlier on, so I think it's a very versatile product that can be used in a lot of different ways. But my personal taste, it always comes back to whole foods, fresh vegetables, things that are “pasture to plate”, and locally produced foods that we can gather that are going to be the freshest possible ingredients.
You mentioned soy milk, obviously there's a huge preponderance of different milks. I've dramatically reduced the amount of dairy that I consume in terms of milk, and I'm partial to almond milk. What's your take on the best vegan milks?
I'm still a soymilk fan personally. I know that's not everybody's thing but I think not all soymilk are made the same, so you really do have to go and try all the different varieties out there. An Asian soy milk is going to be very different from a store-bought soy milk that's been put in a box for a very long period of time. So doing a fresh soy is a really lovely thing and it's actually not that hard to make yourself fresh at home.
How do you make it?
So you take the soybeans, you cook it down and let it come to the boil. Then you have to skim the top off it and then squeeze it through a straining bag to get all the milk out of the soy beans. Do it with fresh non GMO beans and you'll get the best results.
Fantastic. Do you get fashions in plant-based food? Are we at peak with cauliflower?
I think we’re done with the cauliflower. Haha. I think cauliflower has had its days in that respect. I think it's still valid on a menu but I don't think we're going to be seeing cauliflower steaks anymore. There are definitely trends and I think right now Australians are looking towards more locally produced foods and foods that are also Australiana in its taste and flavours. Being able to add local flavours that are unique to this country is really lovely.
So you’ve been open for 33 years at Bodhi, what was vegan food like 33 years ago?
It was limited, there wasn't a lot of variety out there, there definitely weren’t a lot of restaurants out there, I think there wasn’t anyone else doing what we did, especially the yum cha industry, so we've seen a lot of trends come and go over time. But definitely since around 2010, when the World Health Organization came out and said we should be eating a more predominant plant-based diet, we really started to see that uptick of people wanting to be a little bit more adventurous and try plant-based foods. And then from there we've just seen it go gangbusters. So I think people are a lot more open-minded now about it and you have to really come to this and let go of any negative connotations that the word “vegan” may conjure up. Come with an open mind and an open palate, and see what that food has to offer.
Do you still get some people who think it's not a meal if that’s not meat on the plate?
That's true. We used to see about 75% of our customers would be vegan and vegetarian, and now we're seeing this really big split of 50/50. So we do see a lot of carnivores come in, and there's nothing better than seeing people who are prejudiced towards vegan food come in, try the food for the first time, and watch their eyes open wide as they see and taste what we have to offer. And then of course when they come back, it's even better.
I got a text message from Diane who says “I haven't eaten red meat for 40 years, I couldn't bring myself to swallow it if it was offered, but I had a burger recently and it was so good, I had to ask them to double check if it was seriously really vegan, and that it was.” So a vote of confidence for those new vegan burgers.
Yes, there's a an interesting new products coming out of Byron bay that I tried over the Christmas holidays, which was a faux burger, which was divine, I think they're about to hit the market shortly, so keep an eye out for products like that that are Australian as well.
Click here for the ABC Radio interview.