Story Vivienne Pearson. Photos Cheryl Styles.
Imagine having to deal with something you find ethically offensive every day in your job or course of study?
This is the case for chefs (and wannabe chefs) who are vegan. ‘This was the case when I was 16,’ says Veet Karen, who recalls being told that as a vegetarian she had no chance of becoming a chef. ‘And, unfortunately, it is still the case today.’
The exception is the Vegan Cooking School that Veet has created. ‘I created the course I wanted to do!,’ she says. Initially a vegetarian cooking school, it morphed into vegan two years ago, following Veet’s own personal move to a vegan diet.
The course is modular, meaning that participants can sign up for as much as they like, or build on foundation learning at later time. The second round of graduates of the ‘full monty’ – the nine-module Vegan Chef Training Program – put all their training to the test at their graduation held last weekend.
I spoke to the graduates as they were preparing the menu for the 50-plus-guest graduation lunch. Despite knowing that the course is the only vegan-specific cooking school in the country (and possibly beyond), I was amazed to discover that only one of the eight students lives in the Byron Shire.
Sam Holt, 22, hails from England. ‘There’s nothing like this in England,’ he says. ‘There are vegetarian cooking schools but they cost so much for just two days.’
Stacey Jamieson, 30, from Brisbane is keen to use knowledge from the course – which includes modules on establishing a food business – to create her own business, starting with a pop-up pasta bar.
Amanda Attard, 47, from the Gold Coast, is a food blogger who plans to start vegan cooking workshops. As an ultra-marathon runner, she is also benefitting personally from her learning. ‘Nutrition has been so important in this course,’ Amanda says. ‘Media tell you that you need protein from animal products but when we think of a meal in this course, Veet will ask: “What’s the protein in that and is it a whole protein?”’
‘There is more vegan food around but not all of it is wholesome,’ says Stacey. ‘A lot uses highly processed ingredients and is high in salt or fat.’
For some, personal health is the main focus. Mandy Patrick, 57, is from a town in southern NSW with a name that sounds like a new fermented drink, Savernake. She came to veganism as a result of personal health issues and needs to manage various food intolerances in addition to her vegan diet. This is another area covered comprehensively in the course.
The graduation feast included Thai sweet corn cakes, mushroom soup with raisin port and cashew sour cream, and polenta with rosemary and paprika and pumpkin sauce. For dessert, there will be cakes galore, including a four-layered wedding-style Chai cake, a Turkish Romance cake and a black-bean-and-chocolate brownie.
Some of a cakes are raw, a focus of one of the nine modules; others include Ayurveda, macrobiotics, fermentation, menu planning, food photography and hands-on practical catering.
For those who move through the modules together, a strong sense of group develops. ‘It’s interesting how well we all get on,’ reflects Amanda. ‘Food passion has brought us together.’ All will miss this camaraderie when they return to their regular lives. They (and their families / housemates) will also miss the amazing food that they take home from the course most days!
Veet’s Vegan Cooking School. The next courses commence in August/September this year. For full details, see: www.veets.com.au.
Happy chefs, incl Veet third from right
Graduating vegan chefs