London based Brazilian vegan chef Vanessa Almeida has a cookbook, a café, a blog and her own vegan cheese business. Never compromising on flavour, her nutritious recipes are a real treat for the senses. We had a chat with the human dynamo to discover the secrets behind her inspirational life.
Have you always been vegan? What led to you becoming vegan?
I was pescatarian and then vegetarian for quite some time but when I moved to the UK I started watching investigation videos and documentaries, reading books and getting informed about how the food got to my plate. After a while, it just didn’t make sense to me not to be vegan, so I made the change and I have to say that it was one of the best decisions of my life.
What does veganism mean to you?
It means everything to me, I’ve changed my whole life because of it. Soon after going vegan I started to discover ingredients that I’d never heard before and a whole new world opened up to me. I started cooking like crazy, veganizing old family recipes and creating new ones. I knew there and then that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I quit my job and started doing markets, pop-ups, residencies and all the vegan festivals. I wanted to share with people the joy I felt when cooking and to help them find out that vegan food is good food that simply happens to also be vegan. Ultimately, being vegan means to live a compassionate life not only in regards to animals but also with the planet and other human beings.
The menu at the Essential Vegan Café is packed with delicious dishes, do you have a particular favourite?
I guess the Brazilian inspired ones are very close to my heart, especially the Moqueca Baiana and the Feijoada.
What can people expect from the café aside from tasty vegan food?
Great coffee, cakes, art and a relaxed and inclusive place where everyone is welcome.
Your cookbook is inspirational, I’ve used it not just to cater for vegan family members and friends but also people with allergies and on various restrictive diets – were you aware when you started developing these recipes how important that book would be to so many people?
That makes me very happy. Inspiring people to cook was always the main goal. To publish a cookbook is a labour of love, it’s intense but very rewarding. When working on the book, I was also studying nutrition with a focus on veganism. I wanted to make a book that would not only make vegan food easy but that also included nutritional notes to help people to plan their diet.
As well as keeping the blog active and exciting, running the café (and preparing the fresh food) you also create your own artisan cultured nut cheeses. How do you manage to balance all of these creative projects? What do you do to unwind?
As with every new business, the long hours are part of the job. I always say that to work in the kitchen you have to really love it as it’s physically and mentally intense. On the other hand, talking with customers and seeing how they enjoy the food gives me a lot of energy back. We have a wonderful team at the cafe and the work is fun. On my day off I like to spend time with my husband and our dog Habib.
Are there any cruelty free brands that you couldn’t be without? Which brands can you personally recommend?
Oh there are so many. For plant based milk it’s Oatly, for cleaning I use Bio D and for beauty products I use Lush and The Body Shop.
If someone were considering adopting a vegan diet what advice would you give them?
I would say, if you are considering a compassionate diet, be compassionate to yourself first and take your time. I normally advise people to first go vegan for breakfast for a couple of weeks, try new products and find out what works for you. After that go vegan for lunch, visit your local supermarket and look for the vegan alternatives for your favourite dishes. Start cooking, visit websites and buy a couple of cookbooks, make it fun and exciting. When you are comfortable with the food and new lifestyle, go vegan for dinner and you’re done.
Veganism is about so much more than diet what tips have you picked up over the years on avoiding animal cruelty in your everyday purchases?
The best thing to do is become part of a couple of facebook groups, visit the vegan festivals and do a few trips to your local health shop. There are new ethical brands coming to market everyday, I think it’s a lot easier being vegan today than it ever was before. I like to check the products, the brand behind it and choose the best product for me and for the animals and planet as well. I try to buy as locally as possible as well.
At your dream dinner party what would you serve and who would you invite?
As it’s a dream dinner party I would invite Frida Khalo, Nina Simone, Angela Davis, Stevie Nicks and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and I would cook a Brazilian feast for them.
What is next for Essential Vegan? Are there any ambitions left to fulfil?
The cafe is still very new but I want to start doing cookery classes again and focus on families and children to make cooking together a new family tradition.
You can discover Vanessa’s recipes and order her book from her website:
You can taste Vanessa’s delicious vegan treats for yourself at The Essential Vegan Café, 6 Calvert Ave, Shoreditch, London, E2 7JP.
This interview first appeared in the July ’18 issue of Natural Mumma Magazine
Images by Essential Vegan.