We chat to the Made In Chelsea star, Lucy Watson, about her new cookbook, going vegan, and her brand new range of vegan ready-meals...
With a brand-new book and a blossoming business behind her, Lucy Watson is making the case for veganism in an era where the stigma around meat- and dairy-less diets is giving way to new ideas and – best of all – tasty new dishes!
The past decade has seen some of the biggest shifts in opinions regarding plant-based diets. Vegetarianism and veganism are no longer alien concepts to the general public – and for long-time advocates like Lucy Watson, the current climate is a brave new world for meat- and diary-free foodies.
“I was vegetarian from a young age, probably one of two in my entire school,” the former Made in Chelsea star explains. “Back then it was all about eating meat for nutritional value whereas now things are completely different, we’ve learned so much about it.
“When I went vegan, my boyfriend and family thought it was a bit extreme, I think they thought I was just being dramatic. I think now, three years later, so much has changed. There are three-and-a-half million vegans in the UK; there weren’t that many back then when I started. It’s a lot more socially acceptable!”
Now 27, Watson has made it her goal to spread all the positive aspects of her vegan lifestyle far and wide. With a social media audience of millions at her fingertips, the Manchester-born star has also opened a vegan restaurant, ‘Tell Your Friends’, in London alongside her sister Tiffany, and now has two cookbooks to her name, including her latest, Feed Me Vegan: For All Occasions.
“The first book was mainly just finding all the main recipes that I really loved, and I knew a lot of people loved, and just replacing them with vegan versions using all the stuff I had just discovered,” she says. “The second book is just a progression of that. I’ve discovered new things, new foods, new methods; there are probably a few healthier options in there, everything’s got a timescale of how long it takes to make each recipe which is something we found a lot of people wanted.
“It’s really more of the same, but obviously everything has a specific occasion – but it’s mainly about doing stuff that’s a bit more difficult at time maybe, but I think everyone can find something that suits them.”
The collection of plant-based recipes packed inside Watson’s most recent offering is a far cry from her earliest days as a vegan. Though the dedication was undeniably there – “I was so determined, I’m actually a really stubborn person” – Watson was missing one key component of a future cookbook-writer: cooking.
“I think I found it difficult only because I’d never cooked. I used to live on takeaways, and there were no takeaway companies that did vegan food, so then I was bit like ‘I’m screwed!’,” she laughs. “That was sort of how I came up with the first book because I went on my own struggle and I know that so many people were going through the same thing; not because they were getting takeaways but more because going vegan makes you think you can’t eat anything! There’s so much you can eat though – you just need to go on your own discovery.”
There’s no such lack of knowledge nowadays – be it in terms of store cupboard ingredients, kitchen appliances or even apps to download.
“I have a few different nut-milks in the fridge, you need to get your vegan butter, and there’s so many out there now. Then you need loads of herbs, that’s probably the most expensive part because going out and buying all the herbs and spices is so essential, as you really have to add that flavour to things.
“You need a blender, or a NutriBullet or something similar, because they are so handy for blending nuts and things like that. Nutritional yeast is a real good too, that’s got a nutty, cheesy flavour that can be used in so many things: I use it in my tofu scramble every morning.”
Further indication of Watson’s vegan venture are her brand-new range of ready meals. It’s all part of a drive to prove that going vegan doesn’t necessarily mean giving anything up, and anyone – even people with schedules as jam-packed as her own – can get involved.
“They’re for the average person who wants to go vegan but doesn’t have time to cook every day,” she says of the Feed Me Vegan ready meal range. “People will buy the cookbooks and use them for special occasions or the weekends, but during the week it can be a lot harder especially for people who work full time. I just wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to make that switch. And I did it for myself a bit! Sometimes I just don’t want to cook. To be able to just pop something vegan in the microwave or the oven, not have to cook, not have to put in the hard graft, that’s nice sometimes. Alongside that, I definitely saw a gap in the market, there’s not really a lot out there right now, even though it’s growing quite rapidly.
“A lot of people just presume you eat only vegetables and lettuce, but actually I have every single thing that anyone else who eats meat has, I just make vegan versions of it. Stuff like spaghetti bolognese, stews, shepherd’s pie, curries – you just wouldn’t know they’re vegan because there are so many meat substitutes you can use. And vegan food in general is actually, I think, packed with more flavours and textures because you are having to use different spices and thinking a bit outside of the box.”
Take, for example, Watson’s play on the traditional roast dinner. Once a definitive symbol of Britain’s firm ‘meat and two veg’ mind-set, there’s now no reason why vegetarians and vegans can’t put their own spin on a savoury show-stopper on Sundays.
“Sometimes I’ll do a lentil roast with mixed lentils, nuts, vegetables and mushrooms – it’s really quite nice and not too dry,” she reveals. “It’s got a great flavour and it’s really easy to make. Or if I’m up for a challenge, I’ll make home-made seitan, which is a meat alternative that’s really high in protein, tastes like meat, looks like meat, but is made from wheat gluten. There’s quite a lot of food on the plate without the meat though, I think. When you’ve made the roast potatoes and the roast vegetables, the Yorkshire puddings – you’ve got a lot of food! I guess it depends on time and who’s going to be there!”
And, as a TV-star-turned-businesswoman who’s more focused on guiding people on their journey to ethical eating and vegan living, Watson is hoping to see more of this from other public eye fugures in the future.
“I haven’t seen that Bake Off vegan week just yet, but I thought it’s amazing!” she enthuses. “It just shows how mainstream it’s really becoming and that there is a demand for it. I know that Jamie Oliver always talks about vegan, plant-based food – he’s a massive supporter of it. I think that it’ll happen naturally, if I’m honest. People will see there is a demand for it and they should get on the bandwagon. Bigger names have that profile and they should be able to show people better than anyone how amazing and different vegan food can be.”
Feed Me Vegan: For All Occasions by Lucy Watson is available now via Little Brown Book Group
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