A story of how a love of ethical food and talent in the kitchen inspired former city worker Vanessa Almeida to open up a new business
For many people, owning their own food-based business is little more than a pipedream. But Vanessa Almeida’s talent in the kitchen, and dedication to animal rights has led her to a career inventing, cooking, and selling her own delicious vegan creations.
Vanessa, who is originally from Brazil, and now lives in Hackney with her husband Neni, is planning to open a vegan coffee shop and café. In the meantime, she has become a well-known face at various markets and pop ups with her stall, most recently at Pump Shoreditch.
She has also written a book – Essential Vegan – which has been shortlisted in the Vegfest 2015 awards.
Vanessa says: “I have been vegan for about four years. I was pescatarian then vegetarian for about 15 years before that, then it got to the point where it didn’t make any sense not to be vegan, from a compassion point of view. I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner, to be honest.
“It was a process for me, watching videos, reading books and finding out more about the meat and dairy industries. Then I started removing certain products from my diet – that took about six months, moving through milk, yoghurt and eggs. The last thing was cheese. I thought cheese would be a problem, but I have never had a craving.
“My husband is also vegan – we did it at the same time. I remember watching videos during my lunch break at my previous job. I was researching about Gary Francine – WHO – who made this video that I then showed to my husband.
“After watching it, he said, ‘that’s it, we should it’. It definitely helps that we are both vegan. For both of us, it was a decision motivated by animal rights. There was never any doubt about the decision.”
It has been a huge change in direction for Vanessa who used to work as a compliance officer at a training company in the city. “I see those people now,” she explains, “and I used to be one of them.
“So angry and stressed – always in a rush. I’m very happy to have moved away from that lifestyle.”
Her current work means she is constantly working with the public, getting feedback on her recipes.
She says: “The reaction has been incredible. At least 40 per cent of the people who eat my food are not vegan. Maybe they like the presentation, or are tempted in by the huge photo of our homemade burger. They say they want to try vegan food, and they do enjoy it.”
Vanessa’s recipes came about when she started veganising all the savoury dishes she used to like eating, along with desserts and cakes.
“My friends – including the meat-eaters – were asking me for recipes,” she says. “Then one of them said I should start a blog, which I did in 2012. At first it was just horrible – taking pictures of the food on my phone. But it started to get popular.
“Around that time, I went to Brazil, and a friend there asked me to host a cookery class. I had so many recipes by this point, that my husband suggested writing a cookery book.
“It was in Portuguese at first, then later I did an English version, which took about a year. The book came out at the end of 2013, so then I started promoting it and going to events”.
At this point, the vegan cooking and book was taking over, with Vanessa looking forward to the weekends, when she’d be working to promote the brand. She knew it would eventually become her full-time career, so it was a case of deciding when it was viable to quit her job.
And now it’s going better than ever.
She says: “My book – Essential Vegan – has been nominated for a Vegfest award – I was so happy when I found out.
“A lot of thought went into it. I wanted to create recipes that are easy to follow, with ingredients you can get anywhere. My plan was to write a compact book that you could plan a whole three-course meal from easily.
“At the same time I was working on the book, I was doing a course on vegan nutrition, and that definitely informed the savoury recipes, which are very healthy. The desserts are more indulgent. But the whole ethos was to be vegan and healthy.
“I have plans for another book, designed for children.”
For now, she will continue taking her stall to pop-up venues, but she has a clear picture of the direction she wants the business to go in.
“When I open my coffee shop, I want to hold cookery classes for families and groups, so children can work together with older people to create meals,” Vanessa explains. “ I want to be involved in the community, and build a real community space, where people come together. I want somewhere people know they can come and spend all day, and children can come and learn.
“This idea comes from my culture in Brazil, families come together to eat, and to eat well.
“I believe it all starts at home.”
Vanessa Almeida’s book Essential Vegan is available from Vegan X shop in Kings Cross and a few branches of Whole Foods. If you buy it from her website (essentialvegan.co.uk), £2 from every sale will go to Animal Equality, which campaigns for animal rights.