Catering students get a taste of vegan cookery

Our Catering students received a seitan masterclass this week from Alistair, chef and co-owner of restaurant Vegged. Based on Sheffield Road, Vegged boasts a 100% vegan menu and our students got a chance to learn about the range and versatility of meat replacements in this week’s workshop. We caught up with Alistair to find out about the importance of plant based cookery and his route into the industry.

Why have you visited our Catering students today?

“Me and my business partner spoke to some of the students a few weeks ago as part of their meat-free week. I got talking to a staff member from the Catering Department and we organised for me to come in to do a workshop on how to make seitan.

I thought it was a great idea to establish links with the college and to get the students learning about meat replacements. I don’t think the curriculum teaches anything like making seitan and I always try to spread a positive word about veganism, so I thought it would be good to introduce the students to an element of vegan cookery.”

Tell us a bit more about your seitan workshop

“Today I showed the students how to make seitan. Seitan is a meat replacement which was discovered by Buddhists over 1000 years ago when they were washing flour. Back then, it was very basic, whereas now we have all these different methods of making food with it and people are discovering new things to do with it every day.

I made a simple chicken-style seitan with chickpeas and gluten, which is called chickwheat. The students have now gone away to recreate the recipe and I’ve also asked them to create a dish which I can put on our menu as a special.”

How did you get into the industry?

“When I was 13, I started working in a café washing pots at the weekend and then I just carried on working in kitchens. I originally wanted to be a graphic designer, so that’s what I focused on when I was at college. However, when I left college, I ended up getting a job as a kitchen assistant at a bigger restaurant and then I worked my way up to becoming a chef and I’ve never looked back since.

It was a few years ago during lockdown that I started Vegged. I was working in a care home as a chef at the time and I looked down at my phone and I’d been tagged in a Facebook post which was someone looking for a vegan chef. I thought it could be a great opportunity and now 3 years later here I am.”

Why do you think it’s important for chefs to learn about vegan cooking?

“We’re at a time when people’s diets are changing to include less animal products and we’re also now aware of so many different dietary requirements. I think it’s important for the next generation of chefs to be experimenting with more than just your typical meat and two veg. The industry is changing so we need to move with it.”

Do you think there are any misconceptions about vegan food or vegan cooking?

“I think there are tons of misconceptions. Some people think that if you’re vegan, all you can eat is boring, bland food. I think it’s actually the opposite. Once you explore all the different ingredients on offer, you soon discover that there are so many different foods you’ve never even tried before that you can now experiment with.

Owning a vegan restaurant, I’ve also learnt that you’ll never know who is and isn’t vegan. Vegans are all different ages, come from different backgrounds and all have different reasons for being vegan. You meet people in their 80s who have been vegan for 40 years and people who have been vegan for 5 days”

When did you decide to go vegan?

“I’ve been vegan for about 7 years now and some of the wastage I’ve seen in restaurants has contributed to my decision to go vegan. I worked at a chain in the past and I had to throw away so much stock that they’d overordered and it really got to me. At the time, I had a friend who’d been vegan for a while, and I started going to more and more vegetarian and vegan places with him. I went vegetarian for a month and then I went vegan pretty much overnight.

I’ve been involved in a lot of vegan outreach and I feel like I can also do that with my restaurant now. We have all sorts of leaflets which people can look at in the restaurant if they’re interested in eating less meat.”

We will be keeping up with our Catering students and the dishes they create for Vegged. For more information on our range of Catering and Hospitality courses, click here.

Find out more about the range of courses and apprenticeships available at Chesterfield College.