What are the challenges a vegan chef has to face when deciding to publish a cookbook? What is the path to reach a completely cruelty free lifestyle?
We ask Brett Cobley - London based creator of EpiVegan and author of: What Vegans Eat – in a very interesting chat which opens new horizons and gives us a chance to know more about his future projects.
Before we start talking about your book, could you elucidate more on your personal vegan experience. What were the challenges with it, especially at the very beginning?
My own vegan journey started with a conversation I had at work. I was an engineer at the time and a colleague told me he had seen a documentary about blood tests carried out on vegans and non vegans. It said that the tests on vegan people were really good and healthy and it made me curious; so I googled the pros and cons about being vegan and found a video called: 101 reasons to go vegan. It was an hour long and I thought I wouldn’t see it all, but after two minutes I was hooked. When it ended, I decided I would never eat meat or dairy products ever again.
It finally made clear what we are doing when we are eating them, as it is powerful and impactful and made me understand that the worst thing a person can do is to destroy the soul of another; so it all started to make sense. I ate purely fruit, nuts and veggies for a couple of weeks, because I didn’t know exactly what to do, but I was so passionate about following the vegan lifestyle that I didn’t want to make any mistakes. Then, I went to my uncle who knew a lot about it and he told me there are lots of restaurants in London and that many simple dishes are already vegan. I started experimenting with my food immediately after: buying vegan cheese, making pasta and pizza and writing recipes, which people seemed to receive very well online. I was posting three meals a day and people kept on asking questions about them.
At this point I didn’t even have a profile pic on my account, I just wanted to share ideas about what people could have, but then a friend suggested going on camera to show them what I was doing, to help them with their personal vegan journey.
At the same time, I came across the Minimalism documentary and it was as powerful as the vegan documentary I have mentioned. As it deals with the fact that we constantly take more than we require, it made me analyse my life in a different way and led me down the path of selling my car, my house and quitting my job. Afterwards, two things happened: I won a TV programme on ITV, called: The Big Audition (a competition between ten chefs) and I was offered a book deal. I was nomadic for a year when I was working on the book and I found myself at a crossroads: I could continue do what I was doing, but I felt I was much more useful if I tried to help people.
Your book (which I love!) is very different to any other cookbook. It is simple and straight to the point. You certainly don’t get frustrated because you can’t find all the ingredients or because a recipe takes ages to be prepared. How did the decision to write it come about?
I’m not classically trained as a chef, in any way, which probably comes across in the book (I try to write everything in a very simple manner), but I worked in kitchens and bars. When I sat down to talk about it with the publishing agent (she’s vegan herself) we connected immediately. One thing that we both agreed upon was that we would mention at least 80% of the ingredients that you can get locally. Most of the dishes can be prepared easily and quickly at home, because I wanted to take away all of the excuses from people who say vegan food is complicated or not accessible. I also didn’t want to replicate someone else’s style, so I sat down and brainstormed about the things that inspired me, such as Italian style cooking. My mum travelled to Italy many times when she was younger and I grew up hearing stories from her. That led me to travelling around Italy, as well and once I stayed in a B&B in Tuscany where I invited all the locals around and made pizza for them, because I like to share food and experiences. It’s something that’s very close to my heart.
Your EpiVegan channels include posts, videos and podcasts. What do you like the most about the podcast experience, in particular?
I’ve always liked podcasts and I’ve found I gain so much from them in terms of inspiring people. I want to be able to touch as many people as possible, as they ask me questions all the time about my vegan experience. In this sense, the podcasts allow me to reach them on an intimate level, even if they don’t have to be there, as they can listen to them for a few minutes on their journey to work, for example. The feedback is good and people like it when there is a talk, so I thought about the live podcast events where you have a little crowd and can chat on a personal level, so I’m definitely trying to host my own live events, using social media to advertise them.
It’s very important to me to involve the inspiring people that I meet every day and the people that I love, in my podcast events. I would like to eventually take them on tour in the States and in Europe, anywhere I’ve got a good fan-base.
This brings us to the next question. What projects are you working on at the moment?
At the moment, we are chatting about a second book. I have lots of new ideas and I want to keep it on the same level as the first one, with food that is accessible, rather than being just a pretty picture on a page. Taking what I am doing around the world is something that I am also really passionate about, as I love travelling and being able to look people in their eyes, hug them and answer their questions live.
After your Powerful Wisdom video with Zak Abel in 2018, you recently shared another funny moment with him, on IGTV. Are you going to collaborate again in some form?
We talked about doing some other funny, relaxed videos together and I would also like to try and organise videos like that with other people, too. I’d like Zak to get involved in a live podcast event and interview him, so that’d be an interesting way to collaborate, as people really seem to like it when we do things together; so it’s definitely something I’m taking into consideration. We’ll see…
Brett will also give a talk at Vevolution on 16th November, at the British Film Institute in South Bank London. Don’t miss it!