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The Tiny Vegan Chef - An Interview with Andrea Gilbey, Studio Vert's favourite vegan cook.

How long have you been a chef?

I don’t really consider myself a chef, as I’m self-taught, so no formal training in a kitchen unless you can count 4 years of cooking and food science at school. I also worked for two years front of house and as a barista at a couple of restaurants in Australia.

Where did you get your love of food?

My love of cooking came from helping my Mum, from a very young age in the kitchen. I remember standing on a stool to help stir the cake mixture and watching her making these amazing feasts for family dinners and Christmas. When we started SV, I gave up my career in publishing and we decided to commit to this full-time and I suddenly had the time to reignite my passion for food and making other people happy through my food.

How long have you been open?

We opened SV in August 2019 as a bed and breakfast and it was only this Summer that we decided to start offering home cooked vegan dinners for guests. It was a good decision and we’ve had really good feedback about the food, which makes me happy and gives me the energy to keep trying new recipes.

So any plans to open a restaurant soon?

Not a restaurant as such no, especially in such uncertain times, but we are planning to expand our offering. We’ve just launch Tiny Vegan Events which allows us to cater for private functions and deliver 100% vegan canapes.

When did you start cooking vegan dishes or have you always?

No not all, cooking vegan was a huge challenge for me, about 7 years ago I switched to a purely plant-based diet for ethical, environmental and health reasons. Prior to that my cooking was very meat and fish oriented, so it was almost like relearning everything and starting from scratch. I gradually realised that pretty much all of my favourite dishes could be veganised and often tasted even better than they did with meat or dairy.

What is the main factor that prompted you to offer vegan dishes on your menu?

Over 60% of our guests are either vegan or vegetarian and I wanted to offer them somewhere affordable to dine on holiday which wouldn’t mean compromising on choice or flavour. Its also a great platform to showcase to non-vegans, just what can be achieved and perhaps change their perception of vegan food. We’ve had a few converts this Summer.

What advice would you give to restaurants wanting to include vegan dishes on their menu?

Be imaginative, ensure that what you offer is a balanced meal, not just a plate of vegetables and try to offer a choice.

You are inspired by cuisine from your travels, have you travelled with your job and if so what inspiration has this given you?

Yes, I’ve been lucky enough to work and travel through Europe and Asia Pacific and experience many different cuisines. My menus do tend to be quite eclectic, so you could have typical British pub grub one night and an Indian Thali the next, but I especially love using Asian spices and herbs, from Vietnam, Thailand and India. What is your signature dish?

I hope I have a few, but the recipe I get asked for the most is my Chocolate Salami which we serve on our Choc-u-terie dessert plate. My take on scrambled tofu is also popular with guests.

Can you give me three qualities a chef must have?

I’ll give you four; A good palate, time management, an eye for detail and a sense of humour. If you’re happy while you cook, it transfers onto the plate. What do you think of the recent cooking craze? TV, young people on social media...

I love it! It’s been wonderful to witness this new wave of excitement around food and cooking, especially since Covid, everyone seems to be making sourdough starters and growing their own veg. I follow a few cooks from around the globe on Instagram and the sharing of ideas and recipes has had a huge impact on how we eat, especially with the continuing trend of a plant-based diet. When I was growing up it was just Jamie, Nigella and The Two Fat Ladies, now anyone can have their own cooking show live from their kitchen.

What is your favourite dish?

I love breakfast and brunch, so my all-time go to classic dish would be Eggs Florentine, obviously now we offer a no-egg version which tastes just as good. Do you have a favourite ingredient that you like to work with? What would we always find in your fridge?

Staples in my fridge; pastry, vegan cheese, Tossolia’s firm tofu and oat milk and in the pantry Nutritional Yeast flakes, marmite and fresh turmeric. How do you plan your menus and how frequently do they change? Do you have any planned new recipes for this season?

We plan our menus around what seasonal produce we can source locally. Because we're on the border with Spain we are lucky to have access to so many organic fruit and veg producers. We generally get our fruit and veg from the first Biodynamic farmer in this region and you can really taste the difference, plus there’s no packaging! We have just started the Winter menu which uses all the wonderful root vegetables, mushrooms and winter fruits like apples and mandarins. So we’ve got a vegan version of a traditional French Onion soup and even a Christmas roast on there!

Can you tell me about your typical day?

Start in the kitchen at 8am ready for the first breakfasts at 8.30, after service I stay in the kitchen and do some prep for the evening meal until about 11am. If I need produce I’ll drive to the farm or market and see what’s fresh, back in the kitchen at 6pm to prep for dinner service. The kitchen light usually goes off at 10pm.

What do you like to eat when you go out?

Anything that I wouldn’t normally cook at home. I like to be inspired by other chefs. I love Japanese and Korean food, especially gyoza.

Do you have a special talent?

I can roll two chapatis at once and stir three pots whilst talking.

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