With social media playing such a huge part in our lives these days, it can sometimes be strange to actually switch off your phone and have a proper conversation.
It’s only when you grab a coffee and sit down to chat to someone that you really appreciate it. This is exactly what happened when I showed up to The Cracked Nut café on Camden Street to meet Holly White.
Author of Vegan-ish, a plant-based cookbook, Holly is also a journalist and blogger and from first meeting, her magnetic personality draws you in.
Describing her interest in food, Holly said: “I definitely always had a love of food and I grew up in a house where I was really lucky. A lot of your happy memories as a family will involve food in some form. My mum loved cooking as well and everything was made from scratch.”
And I think around 17 or 18, that’s when I started picking up books on nutrition and health and wellness and I got really interested in recipes, but yeah, I’ve always had a huge interest in food.
From her early experiences with food to writing her own cookbook, Holly studied fashion journalism and had a column in the Irish Independent, before starting to get more into wellness and lifestyle.
Her blog originally started as a side project but got more popular once Holly became vegan: “When I became vegan, Snapchat was quite big at the time and I was sharing recipes and little things that I’d been playing around with and it became a really useful tool and really interactive.”
Eventually people started turning to me and asking me where was good for food or brunch etc. My content became a bit more niche and it became sort of a go-to for vegan food.
Speaking frankly about veganism, Holly said: “What I think is that it’s a decision only you can make. What other people do is none of my business. Personally for me, I watched a lot of documentaries and I became really aware of the environmental impact.”
“The reality is if you go onto a farm you do become aware of the fact that something is alive and obviously for it to get to our plates, it has to die. Personally for me, that’s not something I feel comfortable with.”
In terms of the food, “I think what’s been surprising for me is how tasty and delicious vegan food is”. From experience, Holly thinks that the “perceptions of vegan food” are one of the biggest barriers as people feel like they’re giving something up.
I feel like I used to eat quite bland food, but now I’m really into herbs and spices, curries and even milk has become so interesting. You’ve got almond, oat, soy and more. So for me I feel it’s really broadened my palate.
And what about eating out as a vegan? Holly admits that it can be tricky sometimes: “I cook all of my food. Eating out vegan-wise can be very expensive and personally, I don’t want this to dominate my life. I like to give a restaurant a bit of notice or otherwise I’ll always find something to eat. But in general, the best thing I’ve ever done is investing in good cooking courses.”
With courses that included a 12-week Raw Food Mastery and Fermentation course, Holly was “exposed to so many techniques” which “elevated my perception” and she became “more empowered to develop my own recipes”.
This training and passion enabled Holly to craft really well researched recipes, something she feels is very important in this day and age: “The days of seeing someone in their daily life, I think that’s going to expire very soon. You have to be sharing something that is genuinely useful.”
In terms of recipes, it’s disrespectful to your audience to not be thoroughly researched and have recipes that have been tested and are interesting. We need to see something better and more interesting than green smoothies.
Having read Holly’s book, Vegan-ish, the recipes really pop and sound so delicious. Definitely something I like is that it’s not specifically geared towards vegans, with Holly agreeing, saying: “The ‘ish’ was really important and as I said about the decision to go vegan, it’s not one that everyone wants to make and there’s not a problem with that at all.”
She adds: “In an ideal world, there should always be options. If someone asks for dairy or non-dairy milk, it shouldn’t be an issue in any way shape or form.”
Before going vegan, I had eaten a traditional diet and I went into any restaurant with a variety of options and then suddenly there was nothing I could eat. Restaurants should be open to the fact that maybe people don’t want dairy in their diet. I don’t think it should be difficult to get options.
“I’ve been to some really nice restaurants and literally just been given a plate of vegetables and I think that, as a culture, we’re not used to using vegan proteins at all. So you could get a beautifully prepared plate of vegetables but two hours later you’re absolutely starving because you need to get your vegan proteins into a meal, otherwise it’s not balanced.”
I’m the person who buys the crazy powders in the health food stores. I’m very into adding Maca and Spirulina into smoothies and that’s a great way of getting different minerals into your body.
To someone thinking about becoming vegan, Holly recommends that they definitely do their research: “I find at my demonstrations I have a lot of teenagers and it’s too serious a question to just give a quick answer. I do think people need nutritional support, research, recipes and they need to learn to cook as well.”
She does state however, that before you decide to go down the vegan route, do your research: “People like it in theory but maybe not always in practice. I always say to people don’t think that just because you’ve made this decision that everyone around you is going to suddenly prepare beautiful vegan food for you.”
She adds that “you have to become empowered in terms of cooking for yourself because the world isn’t set up like that. It’s set up for meat and two vegetables. You have to take it seriously.”
And her views on the popular Veganuary? “I’m not sure about it as it’s a tough time of year. Instead of going completely vegan overnight, why not try a few recipes? Think of adding things in rather than giving everything up.”
“I ate fish in social situations for six months but I gave up dairy, beef and chicken overnight, but yeah it was a gradual process because we all grew up knowing how to throw together a Spaghetti Bolognese or a fry or whatever and you do have to educate yourself.”
But Holly wanted to be able to cook beautiful vegan dishes for her friends and family, without them feeling like they’re missing out on anything: “I’m really happy eating this way but I wanted the food to be nice enough to share with friends.”
I think people worry that it will isolate them, but I feel like if the food is good and tasty, you’ll never be short of people knocking on your door.
“Having not being vegan for thirty years of my life I know what people like and look for and I wanted the vegan dishes to be like like for like taste-wise. It needs to be epic, not an apologetic gluten free brownie. You want something that everyone wants to eat.”
Don’t be an inconvenience to other people and expect a specially prepared dish for you. That’s the kind of attitude that gets anyone with any voluntary dietary change a bad rap.
“If someone chooses to have these things that they cannot eat, you can’t expect that if you’re a guest at a dinner party that they’re going to prioritise you. Don’t be that person expecting a specially prepared vegan menu.”
I’d be dying to ask Holly what her favourite recipe in the book was and she didn’t disappoint, proclaiming the Shepherdless Pie as her favourite:
“My absolutely favourite recipe in the whole book is the vegan shepherd’s pie. I think a lot of people get really excited with vegan recipes like energy balls, but the problem with that is after a while you get sick of the sweet stuff and you’re craving something savoury, satisfying and nourishing.”
Describing the recipe, she says: “It’s basically a casserole made with lentils and loads of vegan proteins and then there’s a mash on top. I use nutritional yeast in the mash and it gives it this really cheesy flavour, but it’s also enriched with b12, so it’s just one of those dishes that nutritionally ticks a lot of boxes, but is also really tasty and comforting.”
When it comes to snacking, Holly loves “dark chocolate, energy balls, almonds and fruit”. She adds that she’s “really into making my own coconut yogurt at the moment, so I might have that with some berries and almond butter on top”.
I really enjoy my snacks. I also make a lot of my own chocolate and I love the idea of getting creative with it.
Like us all, Holly has her favourite places for dining out, with hers including The Garden Room in The Merrion, Balfes and Wilde in the Westbury.
“Otherwise I love Sova Vegan Butcher and Camille Thai. I did a collaboration with Camille and what I loved about that was it showed how quick, tasty and satisfying vegan Thai food can be.”
Speaking about her book, Holly says that “the book is honestly such a dream. I’ve been very lucky with Gill Books in that it’s very contemporary and there are a lot of white backgrounds because there’s enough colour in the food to pop.”
I’m delighted with the book because it’s comprehensive enough that if someone wanted to fully commit, there’s over 100 recipes and enough to keep them interested over the year, even if you just want to dip in and out.
I of course, had to ask Holly, who had a great year, what she thinks her biggest achievement has been. For her, she hopes, if anything, that she has helped to “elevate the perception of vegan food”.
So what’s next for Holly? Starting this month, she’s kicking off an exciting vegan menu collaboration with The Merrion Hotel.
Designed seasonally, it will sit alongside The Garden Room’s all-day dining menu, which features the finest artisanal Irish produce.
Speaking about the new menu, Holly said: “I am so pleased to bring some of my favourite recipes from Vegan-ish to the stunning surroundings of The Merrion hotel and to be working alongside Head Chef Ed Cooney. From fresh and tasty starters, to comforting main courses and luscious desserts, this truly is my dream menu.”
She added: “I hope people are pleasantly surprised by how delicious eating this way can be and their perception of vegan food is forever elevated.”
It looks like things aren’t going to be slowing down for this lady and Holly’s passion and dedication will likely see her continue to succeed.
To stay up-to-date with Holly, visit www.holly.ie.
Sarah has always had a great love of travel, food and photography. Following her journalism degree at DCU, she developed a passion for travel writing while living in Spain.
Named Best Break Out Travel Writer at the 2018 Travel Media Awards, Sarah loves exploring new places and sampling the local cuisine. Working with TheTaste.ie combines her love of food and travel.
A big people person, especially when it comes to hearing other people’s stories, Sarah loves interviewing chefs, food producers and more.