We talk ‘street’ with David and Charlotte Bailey of Wholefood Heaven about how they swapped desks for wheels and took to markets and festivals, spreading their vegetarian and vegan message…
When and why did you decide to start Wholefood Heaven?
We started Wholefood Heaven in 2010. We were both just at a bit of a turning point. David especially had just decided to go vegetarian, which meant he had to rethink his whole chef career and we suddenly thought, why don’t we just make something happen for ourselves? We saw a Citroen H van outside the Temperley studio in Notting Hill, thought that it would make a great catering vehicle and before we’d really thought it through, we’d bought one and set about converting it.
How long have you been vegan?
We’re vegetarian, but with strong leanings towards veganism and a huge passion for developing vegan recipes. Charlotte’s been vegetarian from birth and David for the last 10 years – nothing to do with meeting Charlotte of course!
Why did you decide to focus on street food in particular?
We just felt there was a gap in the market at events for something high quality, healthy and that worked for vegetarians, vegans and also those avoiding wheat and gluten. We just felt there was a scene emerging and wanted to be part of it, and we had also been hugely inspired by the street food we’ve enjoyed on our travels. It’s also great fun. We’re always at different events, meeting different people and we have the freedom to close up when we want to travel, or focus on writing or recipe development when we need to.
How do you come up with new recipes?
We’re so inspired by our travels and always try and put our own take on dishes we’ve enjoyed once we’re back home. We also love to go to specialist food shops or markets to find ingredients we haven’t used much before and see what we can come up with for them.
How do you see the vegan food scene changing?
It certainly does feel like it is gaining momentum as more and more people are looking for it and more people are feeling inspired to provide it. A few years ago, we were usually the only pure vegetarian stall and there was no one for us to swap food with! But these days, there’s so much more, it’s much more creative and far more places have got vegan options!
Which country is your favourite for street food?
We absolutely fell in love with the street food in China; huge plates of the most incredible dumplings and dipping sauces and tofu in every which way – bliss!
How did your first cookbook come about?
We were really lucky to be approached by Pavilion, who were looking to make a vegan book with a little raw influence. They knew David from his time at Saf restaurant, but it was all very serendipitous as we’d been beginning to spend more time working on new recipes and we were also enjoying developing recipes for classes, so it was something we were super keen to do.
What ingredients couldn’t you live without and why?
We’re huge fans of high-quality tofu. It still gets bad press, but it’s so delicious, versatile and a great way of getting protein. Leafy greens we’d struggle without as well – just looking at a bunch of rainbow chard makes you feel better!
Why do you think there has been a real surge in interest about street food over the last couple of years?
It’s just such an enjoyable, low key and not too expensive way to experience food, and it usually goes hand in hand with being at some kind of fun event.
You do quite a lot with raw food – what appeals to you about this?
David became very passionate about raw food when he was the head chef at Saf restaurant (sadly now closed, but at the time the UK’s leading vegan/raw restaurant).
He learnt a lot from working with Chad Sarno, and really enjoyed developing lots of new techniques and mastering new equipment; a
raw kitchen was a very different place from the classical kitchens where he trained! We are both also huge believers in its numerous health benefits and, while we’re not fully raw, we always try and incorporate a lot of it into our diet and would be the first on the plane to Hippocrates if we were ever to get ill!
Which country you’ve visited so far has the best catering for vegans in your opinion?
This is a tough one, but it would probably have to be America. There are just so many options everywhere and they’re also much more embracing of mock meats, which again tend to get a bad press in this country, but we really enjoy them for quick and easy meals.
What’s the best starting point for anyone wanting to try cooking vegan street food?
Perfect one substantial, hearty and knockout dish.
What’s next for you guys?
We’ve got a busy summer of events and festivals lined up and we’ve just started work on our second book, ‘Wholefood Heaven’, which will be out next spring.
The Fresh Vegan Kitchen by David and Charlotte Bailey, photography by Liz and Max Haarala Hamilton, published by Pavilion. (RRP £16.99).