We catch up with Rebecca McGuinness, founder of London-based vegan fast-food restaurants, Temple of Seitan.
Can you tell us when and why you first went vegan?
I went vegan in 2006 after watching Earthlings. I was so horrified by what I saw that I went vegan overnight.
What made you decide to set up Temple of Seitan?
I moved to London in 2014 from Melbourne, Australia, which had a huge vegan junk-food scene. I noticed vegan junk food was really under-represented and so I started making my own junk food at home. We were so happy with what we were making that we decided to see what everyone else thought and started selling our stuff at markets.
What previous experience did you have working with seitan?
I had made every seitan recipe under the sun but hadn’t been completely won over until I read Seitan and Beyond by Skye Michael Conroy – it’s the best book on seitan by far! I began making the recipes from the book and then started tweaking the recipes to suit our tastes.
What’s your process for developing new dishes and how do you come up with new ideas?
I mostly develop recipes at home but our team at the ToS HQ kitchen do a lot of recipe testing for new products as well. We are always working with new and strange ingredients to elevate our products as much as possible. We also take a lot of inspiration from American fast food and find we are constantly asking ourselves ‘okay, how do we veganise this?’
You’ve developed vegan ‘ribs’ – what can you tell us about them?
Our chef Mike developed the ribs by wrapping seitan dough around an edible bone made from flour and spices. It’s a very involved process but the response has been amazing!
Did you ever think Temple of Seitan would become so popular?
We honestly had no idea! It was myself, my husband and three other staff ready for opening weekend. It was a very strange concept to a lot of people and garnered some interest from the press, which certainly led to a lot of buzz that we were not prepared for.
There seemed to be a lot of confusion surrounding vegans eating mock meat, especially a fried chicken substitute so there was a lot of curiosity. But another reason being that vegans are just like everyone else, we like a naughty treat from time to time. Most of us grew up eating animal products and didn’t stop liking the taste of animal products after going vegan, so to have your favourite dishes again but animal-free is exciting!
Which dish has had the best reaction so far from your customers?
The chicken for sure, it’s probably a tie between the Popcorn Bites or the Temple Burger, though our new beef burger is catching up quickly!
What’s next for you guys?
We’d love to open South of the river! It’s definitely our next step, just finding the right place is proving tough, but before then we are off to the US for the Eat Drink Vegan Festival, which we are very much looking forward to!