Chef Doug McNish shows off his tattoos.

Chef Doug McNish shows off his tattoos.

This year Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival has moved forward a couple of months to take advantage of the glorious summer weather, with celebrations taking place on July 19th and 20th.

On Saturday the 19th of July, at 3pm on the Toronto Star Culinary Stage, Vegan Chef , Educator, and Author Doug McNish will be presenting a demo of all things delicious and Vegan.

Last week we sat down with him for a chat…

Good Food Revolution: Stratford is a very special place for all of us here at Good Food Revolution. What makes Stratford such a special place for you?

Doug McNish: Ontario is an amazing Province made up of special pockets wonderful communities. Not only does Stratford have a special place in my heart because of my mother taking me to see dramatic productions when I was younger, but I know it is a flourishing community providing food to so many in The GTA!

GFR: And what will you be doing at Savour Stratford this year?

DM: I will be demonstrating my Tempeh Croquettes with a Roasted Red Pepper Aioli and Fresh Microgreens

GFR: Will you be utilising any of the bounty of local Perth County ingredients during your presentation? Do you have a favourite local and seasonal ingredient?

DM: I will be using celery, red peppers, fresh dill weed and microgreens from the county

GFR: How is the vegan dining scene in Toronto, and how does it compare to the many other places you have worked/visited?

DM: The Vegan Dining scene in Toronto is steadily growing each year.  Compared to other places, in The USA for example, Toronto does not have as many classically trained chefs running Vegan Restaurants nor do we have as many Vegan Business that support the local food community. I would like to see more business supporting local farmers and using less soy, gluten and processed foods focusing instead on fresh vegetables, whole grains and fruits. What I do in My Public Kitchen and at The Brickworks Market I like to think is a reflection of where the culinary scene in Toronto will be in the future.

Vegan Chef Doug McNish working on some Broccoli.

Vegan Chef Doug McNish working on some Broccoli.

GFR: And when you speak about Vegan local in Toronto, what kind of ingredients are we speaking of?

DM: Kale, Broccoli, Lettuces, Berries, Squash, Onions,Asparagus, Garlic and so much more!  We are so lucky in Toronto to have such an amazing diverse community of food producers and need to support them as much as possible

GFR: You have a really interesting story regarding your transition into Veganism, would you mind sharing that with our readership?

DM: I am a classically trained chef that spent the first part of his career working in some of Toronto’s best kitchens. By the age of 21 I had ballooned up to be about 270 pounds.  I was miserable, tired and depressed, I knew I needed to make a change in my life. I began to work out and go to the gym but I did not change my diet.  It was right around this time that I was shown a video of animals in slaughter houses, what I saw would change me forever.  After making a decision to drop most meat from my diet, I began to see and feel the difference in my life.

Within 5 or 6 months, I made the choice to become vegan, over the course of about 2 years I lost nearly 100 pounds and changed my life forever! Now, ten years later, I am an Award Winning Executive Vegan Chef with two cookbooks, my first book won best Vegetarian Cookbook in the World last year, and a third on the way.  I own my own business in Toronto and am blessed to have an amazingly supportive wife and team behind me.  I focus on Organic Whole Foods in my cuisine and focus on predominantly gluten free recipes

GFR: Did you always want to be a Chef? Never an Astronaut or a Pirate? Or a Vegetable Farmer?

DM: HA!  No, I started in kitchens at the age of 15 and never looked back.  Even though my dad (who is now retired) was a lawyer and later a Justice of the Peace, the kitchen was my calling! Pirate would be cool though, possible to be a Vegan Pirate?

GFR: Who were the most important influences in your career as a chef?

DM: Definitely Arpi Magyar.  He taught me that being lazy in a kitchen is NOT the definition of a chef.  He taught me that food is an extension of who we are but, most importantly, not to be a shoe maker! My mom taught me about different cultures and ingredients and that you can make friends with food! Working for Oliver and Bonacini as a young cook taught me great work ethic and how important it is to keep a kitchen clean at all times!  Even in the middle of service, we were taught to take the time to scrub down our stations and then continue to cook!

GFR: Getting back to Veganism, it was only recently I discovered that many Vegans don’t eat honey… I’d love to hear your thoughts on this?

DM: I think that being an ethical Vegan extends to all living beings regardless of how big, small, arms, no arms etc.  I personally do not use/purchase honey in my life/cuisine at My Public Kitchen but, If there is a healthy organic bread for example that is produced by a farmer that I know and trust, I will consume that bread

GFR: Where in the world have you had your favourite Vegan meal and why?

DM: New York City and San Francisco have the best Vegan Food I have ever tried.  I love Pure Food and Wine in Manhattan for Raw Food and Millennium Restaurant in San Fran for cooked

GFR: I’ve seen you defend the Vegan lifestyle in an admirable fashion on social media, and have been most impressed with your line of argument. When naysayers state that a Vegan diet does not provide a full nutritional profile without supplements, how would you reply?

DM: Without getting too much into nutrition, there are set of daily requirements we, as human beings, must consume in order to live, be healthy, and thrive.  With proper planning/education, It is more than possible to not only meet those requirements, but to exceed them!

GFR: I suppose the big question that Vegans are often asked is how does one ensure that one is consuming enough protein? How do you?

DM: Getting enough protein is only as tough as you make it out to be. There is a recommended daily intake of all vitamins and minerals and as long you are reaching your RDA each day you are safe. The best thing to do is a little research from accredited sources to ensure you have a good grasp of what it is you need to consume

GFR: For people that haven’t had the opportunity to try your food before, can you describe a dish that you think reflects what your cuisine is all about? What characteristics and ingredients distinguish the cuisine of Doug McNish?

DM: I love creating all types of Whole, Organic Plant Based Experiences for my guests from the very basic to fine dining.  For my raw Cuisine, I would have to say my Red Beet Ravioli Stuffed with Herbed Cashew Ricotta Cheese, Sundried Tomato Red Pepper Basil Marinara Sauce, Topped with Crispy Kale Chip. For my cooked Vegan Cuisine, Crisp Tempeh Croquette over a Local Wild Mushroom Red Lentil Daal, Herbed Quinoa Pilaf, Sautéed Garlic White Wine Greens, Sweet Potato Puree and Lemon Dijon Emulsion

GFR: Which dish or ingredients would we NEVER find on a menu of yours? Your pet peeve(s)? …apart from the obvious that is.

DM: You will never find conventional Soy products (or any conventional products for that matter), highly processed foods, foods that contain large amounts of cane sugar or any refined sugars or processed foods from boxes or cans 

GFR: Stratford has always been one of my favourite culinary and cultural destinations. As well as presenting your session at Savour Stratford what else do you hope to do with your time there?

DM: I think that my wife and I are most looking forward to being able to explore the local business and food scene.  We love being able to leave the concrete jungle of Toronto and visiting the communities that make up this great country!

GFR: Thank you for your time Doug, we look forward to seeing you in Stratford!

DM: THANK YOU!  I couldn’t be more honoured to be a part of such a wonderful gathering of like-minded individuals

Jamie DrummondEdinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution
… And he has always been very impressed with Doug’s creations.