What are some of those “funny” situations you’ve found yourself in?
When we went out to eat, I used to call ahead to let them know I was vegan to give them a little whim because I never wanted to catch a chef off guard. There was this restaurant that had opened near us that was this beautiful brasserie-style place, and we really wanted to go there. So we called and said, “Hey, we want to come buy. Can you offer something herbal? Everything is set up, we go to dinner and I guess the chef wasn’t happy about having to do something vegan because when the main course arrived it was literally a plate with half a cooked carrot. It was our meal. We were like, “Oh my God, we really pissed him off.” I still laugh about it.
Also in the book, you write about how the food culture started to change while you were in France: you were able to find a vegan community. What kind of changes did you see happening in Lille, where you lived?
It was so cool to see. I feel like this was already happening globally. When we decided to move to France, veganism was becoming more and more popular, but its growth was a bit slow. When I arrived, it was difficult to find plant-based ingredients, like coconut yogurt, for example. You [could find them], but you had to do some hunting. But, over time, we would see vegan restaurants popping up and obviously we were going there, and because it was such a small community, we were all growing closer very quickly. We sent each other direct messages about resources and small shops we would find out that they were completely vegan. Before we left, there was even a vegan restaurant that was, like, a three-minute walk from our house, and we went there every Friday.
What advice do you have for Canadians on how they can bring French culinary influences while staying plant-based in their own kitchens?
There are a few substitutes that are still very useful. You really need a good vegan butter on hand. My croissant recipe in the book took about eight or nine tries and I mention that there are some types of vegan butters that work really well. Miyoko’s vegan butter works great for croissants, but if you’re making something like a pastry crust, I find a softer alternative, like Earth Balance, works better because it’s a bit more flexible. There is also a whole section on cheese in the cookbook. For this, you’re really going to want to use raw cashews, which are a good base, and then you add things like nutritional yeast to enhance that cheesy flavor. You can also use it in things like creme brulee to really elevate it and take it to another level.
One of the things I use often that isn’t a traditional French ingredient is miso – the miso paste adds a really nice umami flavor to the ingredients. I use it in my baked brie because it adds that rich, deep flavor.