VeggieVisionTV catches up with vegan chef Lynn Nicholson and finds out what inspires and fuels her passion for creating show stopping recipes.
Great chatting with you Lynn – after trying out your super hamper we are looking forward to finding out more about you….. So let’s start with how did your catering career begin?
Well food has always been a part of my life. My Nan was an excellent pastry chef and my Mum always cooked everything from scratch. Meal times were always important, we sat at a table, we talked, we shared our day, our positives and discussed anything that was on our minds. Food was always exciting, we looked forward to meal times, which, I feel is important, nothing worse than looking down at a plate and thinking, yawn!
As I grew older I went on many courses, back then I was not even vegetarian, however I feel this has really helped me as a vegan chef. I know what tastes and textures people are looking for which is why I get very upset when I am served a vegan option that is bland and tasteless, it just shows a lack of love for the food being prepared. It is either that or it is loaded with chili as if that is going to make it better!
I was also lucky enough, in my former life in the corporate world, to meet many top chefs, one of which said to me “ for God’s sake, stop pissing about and do what you are meant to be doing!” So, many years later, here I am!
Hahaha! Amazing Lynn – and we couldn’t agree more – vegan food can be incredible!
We hear you have lived in Spain and South Africa – what were these countries like for you vegan wise and how have they influenced your recipes now?
For me, the best way to learn about any international dish is to cook with those who do it every day. I learnt to make tagine in the Sahara, with the couscous ground between stones so when I travel I always take the time to learn! I lived in Spain for 11 years and would study the dishes and amend them to vegan, for example, the paella is one of those dishes that every household, and region, makes differently, but through watching you discover the secrets, the extra touches that turn a dish from just a name to an experience.
The same applies to my time in South Africa, Lily, my kitchen assistant who became my friend, taught me so many tips regarding food, I loved being able to communicate through food with her, she did not speak English, but our shared love enabled us to communicate, cook and learn together. I believe there is so much more to food than just the ingredients, love makes all the difference.
You specialise in vegan wedding catering – what can people expect when booking your services Lynn?
We work with couples to create their own bespoke menus. I firmly believe that food should represent the couple and therefore we spend time asking about their favourite dishes, food they love and together we create a menu they are excited about, not simply selecting from a list of options. Being vegan myself I want their guests, many who are not vegan, to experience what we really enjoy eating and hopefully, through silent activism, we change their minds about eating vegan food! More than tofu, salad and mung beans!
Love it! Tell us Lynn, are vegan weddings becoming more popular?
I am not sure it is about them becoming more popular, I think couples are becoming stronger in their choices mainly brought about by the fact that many pay for their own weddings. I think couples no longer accept “we are paying for the wedding and we get to choose the food”, people are now beginning to understand and respect the couples choices, they may not be vegan themselves, however just like any other wedding where beliefs are strong, it is polite to acknowledge their choices.
Have you ever had non vegans wanting a vegan wedding?
We have had situations where only one of the couple were vegan, and there is always a little bit of apprehension but, after they see the menus and understand what we can do, they soon get excited! We have also had situations where there is a compromise put in place, the main wedding day can be vegan but they want a hog roast in the evening! We ALWAYS decline these. For me, I am vegan for the animals, I have co founded an animal sanctuary and pigs are my favourite animals, so the thought of being anywhere near a poor animal being cooked for hours is not going to happen. Honestly, if that is seen as a compromise I would rethink my choices!
Good for you Lynn – that would be horrendous….
Now of course we have tried one of your hampers and it was fantastic. What can we expect to see hamper wise from you in the coming months?
The year of the pandemic has been tough however I do believe that from every negative comes a positive and the hampers have been going really well. We have launched hampers online now, all bespoke to each clients requirements with specials throughout the year, such as the Valentine hamper you received, but with the change in wedding guest numbers, and the ongoing restrictions, we also have “VFP Wedding In A Box!”. This gives couples all the food they need for a picnic style reception but, as you would imagine “Pimped Up”.
You have your own cookery book too – what sort of recipes are in this?
My books are really scrap books of my journeys. The first book covers my time in Spain, the stories of the rescued animals at the sanctuary, along with a range of vegan recipes that anyone can make. The aim was to create a book that could be left out for anyone to read, look at the pictures of the animals, see the recipes and hopefully make the connection towards becoming vegan. I also wanted to create recipes that would inspire people to get into the kitchen and create wonderful food, so no “crazy” ingredients, no long winded methods, just straight forward, home cooked, delicious food. The second book, due out as soon as I can complete all the recipes, is about my journey to South Africa and my time there, with the same style, a scrapbook. Book 3, eventually, will be about my time in Brighton with the restaurants, that is going to be a colourful book and so many more ideas in the pipeline!
Tell us about your vegan journey?
I went vegetarian at 15, basically it was all a bit new then and I basically lived on Findus cheesy pancakes, and Findus french bread pizzas! I dipped in and out of being vegetarian, but I never really liked eating meat, and like many others, I thought vegetarian was good enough, I mean, no one dies for dairy do they!! Whilst there are many negatives about social media I think the fact that so much information is out there to learn and educate ourselves from, I can no longer understand why anyone remains vegetarian for long if your reasons are for the animals.
It was later in life that I became vegan. I cannot explain exactly when it was, I never liked milk, ever (classroom nightmares of warm milk in the window) never was a big red meat eater, eggs had to be cooked to oblivion, I mean, all the signs were there, the big thing for me was cheese. I decided to go cold turkey on the cheese, which must be around 9 years ago now, for a month. At the end of the month I tried a piece of cheese and honestly, it was like having a mouthful of vaseline. I never ate it again. Then one day I was cooking eggs and I actually thought I was going to throw up, that was it, fully vegan.
Having an animal sanctuary also enabled me to learn more and to pass on that information to others who were curious about being vegan. I remember a time, with a chicken called Susan, when a young boy came to stay with us and when I was asking about what food he liked he replied “chicken curry”. His mother looked mortified as she knew it was a vegan house, but I said nothing and went and picked up Susan and passed her to him. He cuddled her and asked her name, I told him Susan and then said, she is a chicken and that is why we do not eat chicken curry. He looked at Susan and I saw the connection being made. When he left he told me he would never eat ham again because he loved Elvis (my favourite pig!) I could not have been happier. He made his own choices and through the animals he made the connection.
Anything else to share with the VeggieVision TV viewers?
I would really like to take this opportunity to thank all the couples who have supported VFP through this pandemic. It has been a huge journey, so many couples have had to postpone their plans, sometimes more than once. I hope we have helped in keeping people focused and positive throughout, but they should know that their support has kept me going, truly amazing people, thank you x
Awww thats super – thanks for speaking with us Lynn and looking forward to chatting again soon!