Good food isn’t cheap, and cheap food isn’t good. That is the mantra of Toronto-based Vegan Chef, Douglas McNish. After battling many health related issues, Douglas changed his life and diet. This change occurred when a friend showed him an animal rights video, inspiring him to clean up his act and cut out dairy, refined sugar, meat, seafood, gluten, and any other animal products. Since then, McNish has become a beacon of glowing health and an advocate for a pure, clean lifestyle with a fierce commitment to health and organics. What are his secrets? You can read all about them in his cookbooks: “Eat Raw, Eat Well” and “Raw, Quick and Delicious”.
For those who may not know, what is raw food?
Raw Food is food in its unprocessed whole state. It is generally made from nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, cold pressed oils, and seasonings. In addition, the food created is not heated past 114°F to help preserve maximum nutrition and enzymes.
Why raw food?
Eating food in its unprocessed natural state, whether it be an apple or a slice of raw pizza, helps to provide (and sustain) your body with energy. Very simply put, the less processed a food is, the less processing your body has to do to break it down. When your body doesn’t have to spend energy breaking down the food you eat, you feel a general sense of well being. It tastes great too!
What does raw food/veganism mean to you?
Veganism means everything to me. I would not be where I am today without my morals and my ethics. I think that if everyone in this world adopted a more clean, ethical diet, rid of toxic processed foods, the world would truly be a different place.
For how long have you been a vegan?
I don’t really know exactly what date I went vegan, but I think it’s safe to say somewhere in the 8 to 9 year range.
Who inspires you?
Great question! Other classically trained chefs in the plant-based world inspire me. It isn’t easy to go into the mainstream kitchens, or speak to the general public, and do what we do; I take great inspiration from my peers. Anyone in this world striving to make change, to me is an inspiration. It takes a lot of guts to stand up to the status quo and speak out against what you think should be different/changed. Every day I look to these people on social media, in magazines and on TV. And, of course, my wife; after all, she supports a self-employed vegan chef daily, and always has my back!
Why is it important for people in today’s world to cut out dairy, refined sugar, gluten, etc?
When you are able to gain control of what you eat, and cut out the most common allergens, refined flours, refined sugars, gluten, dairy, etc; you begin to notice a whole other world of amazing foods that you never knew existed. These foods are full of vitamins and minerals that your body needs but, never knew existed. I know for me, cutting out dairy was the single best decision I have ever made in my life. Not only did my skin clear up, but I felt lighter, had a better sense of well-being and my hair became softer.
What would you cook to convince someone of how delicious raw food can be?
At a raw food restaurant I used to run, we had a motto: “Desserts convert!” For anyone skeptical of how good raw food can be. I would make them my Chocolate Walnut Brownie with a Banana Vanilla Coconut Frosting drizzled with a Rich Cacao Fondue and Macerated Berries.
You lost a lot of weight and got in shape when you began to go vegan; how much has your life changed, in any aspect, since you’ve gone vegan/raw?
Living in the body of someone who is 100 pounds over weight is miserable. Each day is a test to walk up the flight of stairs at the subway station, or even to put on your clothes and head outside the house. When I began to lose all of my weight I felt like something very heavy had been lifted off of me, literally! Since consuming more whole organic unprocessed foods, my confidence has gone up, I have become better at cooking and in business and, of course, I met my beautiful wife!
What was the transition like, going from a classically trained “regular” chef to a vegan one?
At the beginning it was challenging, I am not going to lie. Most of what I knew had to be flushed down the toilet and re-learned. I was originally taught that dredging a piece of flesh in flour, egg and breadcrumbs, and then stuffing it with cheese and deep frying it was food! I began to immerse myself in all things vegan and organic, and soon came to realize there was a whole world out there I had never experienced. Gone were beef tenderloins and knobs of butter, replaced instead by tempeh and coconut oil. I think that if you cook for a living, we are all students as long as we are in it, and continual learning is a necessary part of success.
What does a typical day being a vegan chef look like?
I am typically awake at 4:30 or 5:00 am each day and begin to answer emails right away. I like to exercise early and then come home and have a green smoothie and a quick shower, then more emails. Depending on the day (I do a lot of things after all) I may be in the kitchen cooking by 7:00 am or, if its an office day, I’ll be on the phone with various suppliers asking questions or putting through orders for the week.
We understand raw food can sometimes be time-consuming; any advice for first-time raw food eaters?
Yes, go slow. I like to use the analogy of dating. When you first meet someone you want to take it slow and get to know them. I like to say the same thing when it comes to changing your diet. If you give it the love, respect and nurturing it needs, it will blossom into a wonderful life long relationship!
What are five basic ingredients that one should have to prepare raw food?
Although not technically raw because it is pasteurized, Nutritional Yeast is one of my essential ingredients. It helps to add Umami (a layer of flavour) and to give recipes a rich creamy flavour. Hemps seeds are a wonderful source of protein and healthy fats and, in a pinch, can even be blended to make a cream sauce. Kale is an amazing source of so many nutrients and it can be used in many different ways, from breakfast smoothies, kale salads or even kale chips. I couldn’t live without the cashew. Cashews are a creamy nut that, when soaked and blended make the most delicious cream based sauces such as Alfredo. Raw agave nectar is a great low glycemic sweetener that can be used in so many ways for so many things; make sure it says raw when buying it to avoid brands that have been cut with corn syrup!
What are the essentials for a raw/vegan kitchen?
A good blender is essential, I suggest a Blendtec; a good food processor (at least 12 cups in volume); a good Chef’s Knife and Cutting Board and, if you decide to make more raw foods, an electric dehydrator is invaluable.
Raw desserts are decadent and also super healthy; do you have a favourite?
I love any variation of a creamy cashew cheesecake, there is a great one in my first book “Eat Raw, Eat Well”.
What are some great starter meals and snacks for a new raw foodie?
Smoothies are always a great place to start. They help you get a load of nutrients into your body and they can taste great! Another great snack is simple, an apple with some raw almond butter and freshly ground cinnamon on top.
What do you think needs to happen in Toronto to educate more people on the raw/vegan lifestyle?
I think that Toronto is actually one of the better-educated cities in the world when it comes to clean food. I know each Saturday at The Evergreen Brickworks, where I serve my food, I see more and more people gaining an understanding of Vegan Cuisine, and it is only growing.
If you could talk to any raw/vegan/holistic guru, who would it be and why?
I would have to say Ghandi. He wasn’t raw/vegan, but he was vegetarian! He lived his life in such an amazing way, expressing compassion and love for all living beings. I would have loved to have shared a green juice with him and pick his brain.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years I see myself being more of a household name when it comes to clean vegan food. I would like to have a series of organic vegan restaurants, continue to consult for luxury brands and, be raising a family.
Any plans for another cookbook?
I most definitely want to write more cookbooks. Initially I was hesitant about the writing process. Being a chef, my strengths lie in cutting, sautéing and making sure a kitchen runs smoothly, not in writing per say. After having completed two books, I feel at ease with writing them, and enjoy sharing my recipes with others.