In this blog post Head Chef at the Brehon Hotel, Killarney and founder of the ChefCollab, Chad Byrne tells us about his journey so far and how he's finding the Veganuary challenge.
I’m half way through this experience and I can honestly say that I have never felt better.
I’m not sure if it's a placebo effect, but looking at a bowl of beautiful fresh fruit on mixed oat porridge, with a carrot, ginger & apple juice for breakfast makes you feel vibrant and ready to take on the day. I have to say, I feel that I really benefited from going vegetarian the first two weeks leading into my veganism, I'm not sure I would have been able to go cold turkey on all animal products straight away.
While it's only changing a diet, it's also a changing my lifestyle. With only positive benefits, from losing half a stone in weight in my first three weeks, to a general feeling of vitality throughout. Although in the first week I did feel a little lethargic, some B12 supplements have helped me get over that.
I'm getting the chance to take a new look at different ingredients. Ingredients I wouldn’t have even broached before, different cereals and grains. It's been a real eye opener!
There's been a lot of home experimental cooking happening, although I'm not sure my girls are a fan of everything I’m doing just yet. Kids will be kids and sometimes a bit of Carbonara or Bolognese will only suffice for them. In work, this challenge has given me a bit of a pep in my step. We can all go through the motions of being a chef, sometimes feeling really inspired to sometimes not at all, the same can be said for any profession. However, Veganuary has challenged me and taken me out of my comfort zone.
I thought that if I could go vegan for a month, I could become more adventurous with food.
Cooking for a vegan. Being able to think about what would they like from a different perspective. If you try veganism, your approach to food and more importantly, vegan food will be totally different. Don't just take out the dairy and meat in a dish on the À la carte and call it a vegan dish by doubling up on the veg. Vegan dishes needs proper substance, proteins, carbs and crunch.
I found the best way to learn was by making my daily specials in work. During this time I would also be cooking for myself, my own lunch or dinner for that day. You would be damn sure to make it tasty if you're eating it yourself!
Smoked Sesame, Cumin, Blackbean BonBons
Mango and Yuzu, Shaved Slaw
Crispy Veggie Pakoras
Made with Gram flour and spices, onion & tomato chutney, nigella seed
Savoy Cabbage Pockets
Filled sweet potato,split lentils, cashew nuts , crunchy veg topping ,smoked cardamom
Spiced up Potato, broccoli, hazelnut pancake stack
Butternut squash jam, spinach and basil, raw beet salsa
Polenta and Hazelnut “Burger”
Fennel slaw, Harissa & Tahini spread, tomato, baby spinach, pickled carrot, pumpkin seed bun
I don’t claim to be an eco-warrior or plan a campaign on saving the whales, but it’s nice to know that I am making a positive impact on the environment.
I have a genuine buzz and sense of contentment from actually doing something positive for animals, although there is grumblings on both sides regarding that matter. A lot of which is meat industry propaganda but also plant-based propaganda. It’s nice to be in a happy, medium place... Yes I will sit on the fence on this one... and let the campaigners fight it out themselves.
Initially, I was dreading becoming a vegan. I can go without meat and fish, it’s the animal by-products that worried me. Simple things like a toasted cheese sandwich, I felt would be hard to do without, but after a concerted effort your mind operates differently. A 'what will I use instead?' approach opens up so many ideas.
I’ve started to take a more active role in the vegan community as well. I've been writing a blog, helping with local projects, like our upcoming vegan pop-up in Killarney which will raise money for "soil to shoots and fork" classes in a local school, and also launching a wider and more varied selection for vegans at our hotel, The Brehon.
I’ve embraced it, my larder at home is very different to what it once was, filled with grains, pulses, veggies and fruit.
Whole foods are key and spices are your best friend!
My cooking has become far more inclusive with a few tiny tweaks. Gluten has almost vanished from my cooking too which I wasn’t knowingly planning on doing.
A fantastic quote I read From Laura Anne Bradley from @IndieFude
“I wont be embracing Veganuary because it’s not the right fit for me, instead I’ll be continuing to make many ethical, sustainable choices all of the way through 2019. Just as I have through 2018.”
That to me puts things into perspective, when Veganuary ends for me, I will reduce my meat and animal by-product use by 80% easily, but I will also be living by Laura's mantra. It’s only been a positive experience so far with lots of learnings had.
Well almost only positive, I've lost a lot of friends this month, I'm sure by the 31st we will be friends again LOL. They enjoy winding me up about it, but you have take the banter too! Oh and the word vegan has become a huge part of my vocabulary now, as you know we enjoy speaking about it.
On a serious note though, I would urge any chef to try it, even for a few days. It will stand to you. It will give you a sense of respect about catering for vegan needs. Simple things like a cashew spread offered instead of butter, or an oatmilk instead of cows milk. Tiny tweaks like this can really give a sense of caring. This will not be for everyone and that's cool, but it is nice to try.