Vegan Life Magazine talks to King Cook
Some meals leave you in a disoriented haze, the flavours so intense and the composition so perfect, you’re left dreaming of the pleasure a long time after your plate is empty. King Cook’s Vegan Hard Bowl (available from his Shoreditch BOXPARK eatery King Cook Daily) is that kind of meal. The bravest diners can start with the Scotch bonnet chilli peppers on top. Others dig straight into the yams, dumplings, brown rice and quinoa, all in a delicious curry sauce.
“I can’t define what my food is exactly,” explains King Cook. “Some of it is Thai, this is Caribbean. It’s not about a specific cuisine from a specific location, it’s more about flavours that are personal to me somehow. Every plate has a story, every ingredient has a purpose. I like to play with language when I’m creating a dish too.”
One of his most popular dishes, High Grade (turn over for the recipe) is a perfect example of this. The ingredient names fall into the semantic field of marijuana. “It’s metaphorical,” he says. “You have hemp oil, a smoky sauce, green herbs. It’s about playing with language, but it all has to fall into place too. For example the hemp seeds I use fit into the theme of the dish, but they also provide texture. It has to work, it can’t just be a clever gimmick.”
The chef spent many years training classically-a background he believes has stood him in good stead. He says: “That training informs my food now. I spent a lot of time in really high end kitchens [including Vanilla Black-a Michelin-recommended vegetarian restaurant in London]. When you go to a really good restaurant in France looking for a job, they will tell you to make an omelette. If you cook it for a few seconds too long, they’ll know your level of skill. There is a precision in classical training that is really important in my cooking.”
He turned to veganism after meditating. Being a trainee chef is hard graft, and after long days in stressful kitchens, he would spend time at a meditation class. This led to thinking about the food he was eating and he soon cut out meat, dairy and eggs. He takes the vegan philosophy, in its entirety, very seriously. “Veganism has changed my life,” he says. “Before I was an angry chef. I was touching meat all the time. But now how can I be angry? I’m not working with dead animals anymore, I’m touching broccoli and bananas.”
He evens sells merchandise adorned with the slogan ‘No blood, no bones’, a sign of how unapologetically vegan he is. “I’m not plant-based,” he says. “I’m vegan for the animals.”
Luckily this lifestyle leads into his exciting style of creating food: “You have to see this way of cooking as an opportunity,” he says. “I look at it like this: when someone takes meat away from their Christmas dinner, people are going to be missing something. They are going to be eating side dishes. But as a chef you get to be more creative when you take that meat away. It unlocks another way of thinking. You get to learn about vegetables-really learn about them and all the different types. It’s a whole new world. There are so many different plants and that is exciting. And you have to always respect these ingredients you know-you don’t want to just boil the vegetables until they are tasteless.”
This skill for making vegetables into something delicious is very important: not only is he surrounded by other eateries, he is just metres away from the famous Dirty Burger outlet. With a local crowd who are passionate about meat it’s a remarkable achievement for a year old restaurant to consistently have queues out the door. “I know the area, and know the locals really well. I know what the area needs and what this part of London was missing.
“I don’t want to specifically call this a health food place as I don’t want to get boxed in to a genre like that. I want to be known for making the best vegan food in London.”
And a number of prolific vegans have said King Cook is making the best food. The chef was heaped with praise by popular blogger (and Vegan Life agony uncle) Fat Gay Vegan who said: “I’m not f**king around here when I say this meal is one of the finest you will eat in the UK. This is what skill, talent and dedication tastes like. Exquisite.” Such is the power of the blogger, the day after this post-entitled Best in London-was published, King Cook Daily was crammed with new customers ordering the FGV’s choice of the Full English-a combination of scrambled tofu, mushrooms, tomatoes, sausage, rice, and sauce.
He has also had a number of celebrity endorsements, including one from Professor Green who Tweeted: “I might move to Shoreditch so I can eat at Home and Cook Daily every day. Vegan living made easy.” Diners may have seen the rapper who is a regular customer.
King Cook Daily-the first of many planned venues-has been designed as King’s own kitchen with the décor and the food plotted with precision. “My chef’s whites are hanging up in the dining area: you’re stepping into my space when you come in here.
“There are 10 dishes on the menu. I decided I would make just a few perfect plates instead of always changing things around. Everything is cooked fresh to order and we don’t have any slow cookers or deep fat fryers in the back. It always comes back to quality and taste. Everything I cook has a special meaning but above and beyond that, it has to work on the plate. I call it ‘vegan grub’. It’s fresh, it’s perfect flavours, it all works well.
“I’m excited about where veganism is heading and how much it has grown recently. 2015 was the beginning of something big, 2016 will be a big year. Let’s see how much more it grows in the future.”