Our Wicked Healthy Interview Series features individuals who are making a big impact in the plant-based world and beyond. Today we’re featuring Gaz Oakley, powerhouse instagrammer and YouTube sensation!
Most well-known and successful online food personalities typically focus on one format: instagram, YouTube or a blog. For UK-based Gaz Oakley, the founder and face of Avant-Garde Vegan, he’s managed to excel at and garner a large audience for all three. With beautifully produced and professionally shot videos, Gaz warmly invites his audience into the kitchen, where he shares a wicked variety of approachable, accessible and unique recipes, showing how easy and doable making your own vegan dishes at home can be. We especially like how Gaz always takes it a step further, throwing in a cooking tip or trick for each recipe that takes it to the next level.
Gaz’s instagram is #veganfoodporn at its finest. From this Cruelty-Free Kentucky Fried Burger to this Spring Salad and Rhubarb & Raspberry Mille-Feuille, he dazzles and inspires with perfectly styled and beautifully shot food. Be sure to hop over to his blog for seconds to view the full recipes, along with an accompanying video of it being made.
We of course have wicked respect for Gaz’s unique approach to making vegan food look not only easy and approachable, but also beautiful and inspiring. We especially loved how he recreated the BBQ Shroom buns for Tesco and their Food Love Stories Campaign, and were lucky to bump into Gaz recently in London. And today we’re excited for the opportunity to interview Gaz here!
What we found is there’s a lot more to Gaz behind the camera as well, so we are excited to share more here about what inspires him to create, cook and share. Read on to learn more about Gaz’s approach to cooking and presenting and how he came up with the name Avant-Garde Vegan … then be sure to stay tuned for his first cookbook, Vegan 100, which is set to release in January 2018!
All of your YouTube videos are so inspiring and beautifully produced. When creating a video, what kinds of things do you focus on to help make it successful and appealing to your large following?
Thank you! Well to be totally honest I still haven’t quite cracked the YouTube formula yet. I am still so new to YouTube. I have just finished filming my fourth season of recipe videos. I am still in shock at the rate of which the channel has grown, especially as it took me a while to really feel comfortable on camera. It’s a shock to the system having several cameras and lights on you when cooking! But now I absolutely love it and filming season four videos were a total joy. In my short experience on YouTube, I believe that videos must be beautifully produced so I hire a film crew who are based near my hometown in Cardiff, Wales. I direct all the videos and have a huge say on the edit, but have created a great working relationship with the crew. In terms of the food—which is the most important part—recipes need to be original and often simple for YouTube I have found they need to be daring: for example my vegan fish and chips (see below) went down well and it was the first video of mine to take off.
Being quite quiet and reserved and talking to cameras or in public was always tricky for me. Originally I thought I would have try and be someone else on and put on a confident/loud (typical tv chef) front; however, that’s just not me … just being my natural calm self has gone down really well! I really look forward to sharing more of my recipes on my YouTube channel and spreading the vegan message further!
Can you give us a quick rundown of the video process, from idea to execution? Do you follow a strict script or just wing it? Is it a collaborative process with a team or is it a one-man show?
To be honest I wish I had more of a plan when it comes to filming but everything is always last minute! So no time to write any scripts … generally I take on my subscriber’s video requests. I test my recipes a few times prior then, when filming, it’s totally off the cuff! But it’s fun!!
When did you start cooking and how has it developed over the years to form your current culinary style? Did anyone or anything specifically have a strong influence on that?
I have cooked for as long as I remember, but I started working in restaurants from the age of 15. I worked at several kitchens around South Wales, learning as much as possible from each chef I worked with. I went vegan two years ago and that’s where I really found my current style. I love pushing the boundaries and creating dishes that don’t look typically vegan using that classic cooking techniques I learnt in the professional kitchens.
Since you are based in the UK, is your audience largely UK-based or do you have followers from all around the world? What common misconceptions do non-UK’ers have about the food there and what are some of those you’d like to set straight?
Surprisingly the majority of my following is actually US based! Which is good because I see myself living there eventually. I don’t really hear any misconceptions … to me tasty food is tasty wherever you’re from. I am always experimenting with different flavours from around the world. I love Southern Indian, Japanese & Caribbean flavours the most!
The production quality and content of your videos are as slick or even better than some we’ve seen on TV. Do you have any plans in the works for a televised cooking show?
Thats kind! I am always trying to up the levels of production and I still see lots of areas I am not happy with in my current YouTube videos, which have been improved on in my season four videos. The first video aired Sunday, 20th August, and I hope people will see that I have upped the levels again with a new location and different filming techniques.
Yes I would totally love to do TV eventually. I still think I have lots of improving to do on camera though first. I feel I say the same words a lot … for example, amazing, unbelievable, rustic and caramelise; however, I am really pleased with the progress I have made since my first video.
Can you tell us how you came up with the moniker Avant-Garde Vegan and is there any special meaning behind it?
I was working at a restaurant called le gallois and plating up something special on the hot plate when the head chef whispered in my ear, winding me up with: that’s avant-garde chef. It was an ongoing joke for a while in the kitchen whenever we were serving something up.
Years later when trying to think of a name, I needed something that no one on instagram had. So looked up Avant-Garde Vegan and decided to roll with it. So basically the name came from an ongoing kitchen joke. However I believe the meaning of Avant-Garde really sums up what I am trying to do with my food. I have since added by Gaz Oakley to the name to make it slightly more personal.
We’ve seen on social media that your cookbook releases soon. Can you share with us a detail or two about it?
Yes of course! My debut cook book Vegan 100 will be out in January 2018. It’s full of recipes I have come up with over the last few years. I am hugely proud of it. I really hope it will help inspire people on their vegan journey and encourage people to give vegan eating a go!
Thanks for sharing with us, Gaz! Before you go, tell us what your favorite wicked healthy dish is!
Well since making Derek’s Shroom Buns for the recent Tesco’s Food Love Stories campaign, I have to say my family and me have been a big fan of it! Really quick, simple and perfect in the summer. Secondly, I really would love to get a masterclass from the Wicked Healthy guys on all things mushrooms!!
Stay connected with Gaz and his work at Avant-Garde Vegan!