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Vegan chef Gaz Oakley reveals unexpected benefits of going plant-based - exclusive

The YouTube star talks all things vegan

Sophie Hamilton

He has 1.27m subscribers on his YouTube cooking channel Avant-Garde Vegan and chef Gaz Oakley's popularity is soaring by the day.

The Welsh star first began cooking as a child and worked in restaurant kitchens from age 16. After discovering the plant-based diet five years ago, Gaz hasn't looked back and he's amassed quite a following on social media channels, which feature vegan cooking tutorials and recipes.

Gaz has teamed up with lentils and pulses brand Merchant Gourmet on their 'Appetitie for Change' campaign, an initiative rooted in helping save the planet through eating plant-based meals.

HELLO! chatted to Gaz about all things vegan – from the benefits of going plant-based, to meal ideas and handy vegan kitchen gadgets! Gaz also shares a tasty recipe for lentil curry below…

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Vegan chef Gaz Oakley

Hi Gaz, how long have you been vegan for and what were your reasons for going plant-based?

I've been vegan for five years now. I went vegan overnight. I'd been in a professional kitchen for a number of years, then I left that industry and had a bit of spare time on my hands.

I wanted to play rugby again and packed on all this weight to get strong. I had followed a big protein-packed plan but after a couple of years of doing that I wasn't feeling good; it was too many calories and too much animal products in my diet – dairy, chicken, fish, it was too much for me.

I started thinking about veganism and I came across this video on YouTube called The Best Speech Ever by an activist called Gary Yourofsky. I was intrigued really. After watching it I realised that veganism was the only lifestyle or diet that I'll follow now. The main reasons were the planet, the animals and my health.

Then I thought, 'What am I going to eat?!" Luckily the professional chef skills that I had enabled me to make some really tasty food and that's how I started on this social media YouTube cookbook journey.

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Did you find it difficult to switch to a vegan diet?

It was exciting because I'd been on such a regimented strict diet and as soon as I went vegan the weight was off my shoulders, I could do whatever I wanted and be creative in the kitchen.

Five years ago there wasn't half the amount of vegan foods you can find nowadays. I remember going to a service station and there'd be nothing there to eat. I found it difficult at first, but if I was turning vegan now, it would be the easiest thing in the world – especially if you like to eat out as every restaurant has vegan options.

What health benefits have you found from going vegan?

After about two weeks of being on a vegan diet, this strange stomach issue I'd had for a while disappeared. I also felt much more vibrant, lighter and fresher – just a blast of energy. My head felt clear, I felt really good. Now, it's just normal and most days, providing I've had a good night's sleep, I feel really good in myself.

You do get a lot of energy from the diet. I can't recommend it enough. Both my parents went vegan straight after me. My dad had a massive heart operation and the vegan diet has given him this new zest of life.

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Gaz says a plant-based diet helps his workouts

How do you get enough protein in your diet as a vegan?

Everyone seems to ask me where I get my protein from. I haven't dropped dead yet from protein deficiency! I don't have to worry about that at all – if you eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of whole foods, you're fine.

I really love to exercise and I train more or less every day and I have no problem. If I decide I want to put on a bit of muscle, the diet has all the nutrients and protein I need.

Does eating plant-based help you with exercise? Does it give you more energy?

Yes, definitely. I don't share this much on my social media but I guide a lot of professional athletes on a vegan diet because they know the benefits. Many professional athletes are vegan nowadays.

On my own personal exercise journey, I haven't seen a decline in my performance. I've only seen an increase – whether that's me running my personal best or lifts being heavier.

On a vegan diet your recovery time is so much faster than before. I'm not a nutritionist or a scientist but I think it's because your body spends less time breaking down animal products that it can spend more time on repairing your muscles.

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Which vegan foods do you find fill you up?

You can't go wrong with good complex carbs – beans and pulses. If you want a guilty treat, you can pretty much veganise anything. Whether it's the ultimate cheesy lasagne, you can swap the mince out for lentils or use vegan mince.

You won't go hungry if you're prepared. I tell people to make a list of dishes they want to make on the Sunday and get all the ingredients so you're prepared. The good thing about being vegan is the basic ingredients like beans, pulses, rice, pasta, vegetables and fruit are cost-effective; I spend much less on food shopping now.

What do you eat in a typical day?

I'm always experimenting with new dishes but one thing I don't often change is my breakfast. I always make porridge and add cinnamon, coconut sugar and top it with fruit or some nice peanut butter or vegan Nutella if I'm feeling naughty.

Lunchtime, I'm one of those people who likes three big meals a day. I eat lots of stews and curries, chickpea or lentil curries and have a good carb with it like quinoa or wild rice, and some veg on the side.

I get creative in the evening because I'm always testing recipes. Yesterday I made a lovely katsu curry using tofu and crispy breadcrumbs and a lovely sauce. All of these recipes are on my YouTube channel.

I also love smoothies. They're a great way of getting extra nutrients in your diet. And I'm a big fan of sprinkling nuts and seeds on anything because of the nutrients they have.

Can you recommend any great kitchen gadgets for the vegan diet?

Yes, I'd recommend a good blender – whether you're making burgers or homemade hummus or even homemade vegan milk in there.

Always have really good knives, chopping boards and a good set of pans. You don't need anything too fancy when you're cooking vegan foods.

Tell us about your campaign with Merchant Gourmet…

Merchant Gourmet and I are on the same mission. I'm a vegan chef, so trying to get people to eat less meat and encourage them to do that for their health and the planet.

I feel like a lot of the time many of the products you can buy aren't natural. Merchant Gourmet is natural – beans and pulses are something that I would recommend make up the majority of your diet anyway, so when they are convenient like their packaging is, it's very efficient and handy for you.

 

Gaz Oakley's lentil curry recipe

Serves 4, Cooking time: 40 minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Onion, peeled
  • 6 Cloves Garlic, peeled
  • 1 tbs Fresh Ginger
  • 1 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1 tbs Vegetable Oil, for frying
  • 1 Pack Merchant Gourmet Puy Lentils
  • 1 tbs Curry Powder
  • 1 tsp Mild Chilli Powder
  • ½ tsp Turmeric
  • ½ tsp Ground Coriander
  • ½ tsp Ground Cumin
  • ½ tsp Ground Fenugreek
  • ½ tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 2 tbs Tomato Puree
  • 2 Potatoes, peeled & cubed
  • 2 cups / 480ml Vegetable Stock
  • 1 cup / 240 ml Vegan Cream, or Coconut Milk
  • 1 tbs Brown Sugar

Serve with Fresh Coriander & Chilli Garnish Rice

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Gaz Oakley's lentil curry

INSTRUCTIONS

Step 1

Add the onion, garlic, ginger and salt to your food processor with a splash of water and blitz to form a paste.

Step 2

Place a medium-sized, non-stick saucepan over a medium heat and add the spices. Pan roast them for a minute or two before adding the paste and the oil.

Step 3

Sauté the mixture for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Add the tomato puree followed by the potato & lentils.

Step 4

Keep cooking the mixture and stirring until everything is coated, then deglaze the pan with the vegetable stock and vegan cream.

Step 5

Add the brown sugar, then pop a lid on the pan and let the curry bubble away for 15-20 minutes. Turn the heat down low and don’t forget to stir it every 3-4 minutes, as the potato has a tendency to stick.

Step 6

After 20 minutes of cooking, the liquid should have thickened considerably and it should smell beautiful.

Step 7

Serve the curry with rice or sides of your choice and garnish with coriander and chilli.

 

Merchant Gourmet has partnered with Gaz Oakley as part of its ‘Appetite for Change’ campaign – an initiative rooted in helping save the planet, one plant-based meal at a time. For inspiration on how to serve up more meat-free meals made in minutes, head to @MerchatGourmet on Instagram to see Gaz’s latest recipes.