The chef-proprietor of Acorn in Bath, one of the country’s finest vegan restaurants and named 4th best vegetarian/vegan restaurant by The Times just a few weeks ago, Richard Buckley is a chef on a mission to educate the country’s foodies on what eating vegan really means.
Passionately vegan yet not seeing it as the defining part of his character or personality, Richard has studied vegetable cookery in some on the country’s finest vegetarian restaurants, including his five-year role as head chef for Demuth’s Restaurant, where he was able to develop and refine his plant-based cooking techniques. Having been raised as a vegetarian, Richard never had your standard conversion experience to eating vegan, simply never viewing animals as food, yet remains pretty relaxed about other people’s diet choices.
A master of vegan cooking, Richard believes there is real magic to cooking with plants; a connection to the land, its people, and nature that is unlike anything else. Now, with the release of his fantastic new cookbook, Plants Taste Better, Richard hopes to share this passion and knowledge he has learned over the years with the country, and in turn hopefully raise the general standard of vegan cooking in the UK.
To celebrate his fantastic new cookbook, Plants Taste Better, we recently spoke to Richard to hear his thoughts on what it’s like to be vegan in the UK, the challenges vegans may face, and why he believes plants really do taste better.
Q – Veganism is becoming more and more popular across the country and this trend isn’t likely to slow down any time soon. Do you think the country’s chefs and restaurants are doing enough to cater to vegans?
A – I think generally they are doing very well. Outside of the main cities it is a little more challenging but the market isn’t as developed there. Considering that over 20% of 18-24 year olds now declare themselves as vegan I think you would be missing a trick to ignore that. Broadly speaking I think where there are a lot of vegans that are well catered for now.
Q – Being raised a vegetarian, do you recall your parents facing a lot of judgment from people ignorant at this choice of diet and how do you think the stigma around vegetarians and vegans has changed in recent years?
A – They had huge problems from healthcare visitors and midwives. Some of them even inferred it was tantamount to child abuse. It was only when my mum began to keep a food diary for me they declared that I had one of the most balanced diets they had seen. My grandfather announced that I wouldn’t grow but had to backtrack rapidly when I overtook him by age 10! I think that ignorance is a thing of the past now. When I was growing, up being vegetarian was a thing of ridicule and you always got asked if you miss bacon or how you live without a burger, now people tend to be very quick to tell you that they don’t eat much meat or that their daughter or friend is a vegan.
Q – Many meat eaters are fiercely passionate about having meat on every main course. What do you wish these people understood about vegan food?
A – Eating vegan shouldn’t be about eating without meat, it is about eating plants. Some of life’s great luxuries are plants; champagne, green olives, sourdough bread, white truffles and coffee. If people shift their focus from not eating meat to eating luxurious plants they probably wouldn’t even notice.
Q – When non-vegan people think about vegans, they often think of them living off of a diet of flavourless and unfulfilling salads. Which dishes would you recommend of yours that would absolutely change their minds about this?
A – Our mushroom parfait always turns meat eaters heads as it delivers such a powerful umami hit. Our Whole Cauliflower dish demonstrates the versatility of a single simple vegetable; once they see how varied and delicious just a cauliflower can be they would struggle to ignore plants as food.
Q – Do you have any advice for anyone considering changing to a vegan diet?
A – Don’t worry about protein, iron or calcium, there are loads in plants. Focus on getting calories. Meat and dairy are really calorie dense and many new vegans report feeling hungry because they just aren’t getting the calorie load they are used to. Concentrate on great quality olive oils, nuts and fermented products like tempeh to get your calorie count up.
Q – As the majority of the population are not vegans, what difficulties do you think vegans still face in society and would you say it was difficult living as a vegan and trying to maintain a purely vegan diet?
A – I think a lot of people still think vegans are a homogenous group. I know vegans who are bankers, RAF pilots and professional athletes, I also know vegans who wear a lot of hemp and go to all the festivals. Just because you decide to fuel on plants doesn’t mean you can be pigeonholed but I don’t think this message has reached the broader public. Putting peoples preconceptions to one side though, it has never been easier to live as a vegan; there is great food available everywhere.
Q – The Great British Bake Off recently announced that for the first time ever they would be bringing a Vegan Week to the show. What do you hope the British public takes away from this?
A – It’s such a great step forward and I really hope that they show that you can create amazing desserts using plants and don’t just focus on the fact they can’t use milk and eggs. If you’re making a strawberry sponge, most of the ingredients are plants anyway!
Q – What do you think makes Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen so special and what do you think other restaurants could learn from the restaurant?
A – We try to make top-quality food from plants, not replace the meat. We look at the vegetable itself and focus on what is amazing about it. Just because you are vegan doesn’t mean you can’t eat really special food.
Q – Why should vegans and non-vegans alike buy your new cookery book, Plants Taste Better?
A – It’s not a book for one-pot dinners or quick after work meals. It’s a book about serious vegetable cookery that moves the conversation from how do you cook without meat to how well can you cook with vegetables. Not all the recipes are long or difficult but it is a book for those who want to take their cooking to another level and learn something about cooking with plants.
Whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian, or meat eater, make sure you check out Richard’s vegan restaurant, Acorn in Bath, set in one of Bath’s oldest building, and be sure to purchase his fantastic new cookbook, Plants Taste Better.