Hi, It’s a School night!! Welcome our newest member to the Wicked team, in the form of Richard Makin. He’s the guy behind School Night Vegan, (love the name!) and knows a thing or two about creating insanely delicious plant-based recipes. Richard has teamed up with us to help bring even more amazing new recipes to our blog every week, so keep your eyes peeled for these. We sat down for a chat to help get to know Richard better.
Wicked Gets Schooled with School Night Vegan: An interview with Richard Makin
February 10, 2020
Welcome to the Wicked family Richard! How did you first hear about us and what we do?
I remember it well! I first heard about Wicked just before you guys launched Wicked Kitchen in Tesco. I was working in street food back then and shared a prep kitchen with the guys behind Eat Chay (London’s best vegan street food, in my opinion). I was pulling a late shift and was waiting for a batch of cookies to bake when I spotted your book in their station. From the minute I started flicking through I was a super-fan. I wasn’t even vegan at that point, but something about the energy and unapologetic way you talked about vegan food had me hooked and I’ve been obsessed ever since!
What sort of street food did you create back then?
Ironically, I used to make ice cream. For around 4 years I was the proud owner of London’s first ice cream sandwich truck. I quit my job in an office back in 2015 and decided to have a go at making and selling food. As a (then) vegetarian, I skipped the burger truck and the taco stall idea and went straight to ice cream. But over time, dealing with huge quantities of eggs along with insane amounts of milk and cream, I couldn’t help but question whether I was doing the right thing. My friends at Eat Chay taught me a huge amount about the joys of cooking with plants and before long I had made the jump to a vegan diet. I closed my business and launched School Night Vegan less than a year later.
Was it exclusively your experience with the ice cream company which made you try a vegan diet, or was that just one influence for you?
I’ve been vegetarian practically my whole life and as a huge animal rights advocate, my mum did an awesome job of always letting us know where our food came from. So from square one, I knew more than most people about the brutality behind our food system. Like most vegans, I spend a lot of time wondering why I didn’t make the jump sooner, and for me, it all came down to a simple misunderstanding. I genuinely used to think I couldn’t call myself a food lover if I were vegan. In my mind, those two things just didn’t fit together. Once I figured out that this was nonsense, I was on a one-way trip to V-town! If anything, the challenges of retraining myself to cook vegan have only added to my love of food. My cooking is so much more considered, creative and adaptive than it ever was, and that’s 100% down to turning vegan.
Where and why did School Night Vegan pop up in this story?
My own blog School Night Vegan started out as more of a chef’s journal. As I was closing down my ice cream company I found myself with more and more time, particularly on week-night evenings. I hadn’t lost my love for great food so I set myself a series of challenges around veganising my favourite recipes. I think the first recipe I nailed was an absolutely killer vegan lasagna and I was determined not to lose the recipe I’d worked so hard on. I launched a free blog and started learning how to take better pictures of food. Instagram followed and it all went a bit crazy after that. If you’d told me back then that I’d be sharing vegan recipes with over 75,000 people, I definitely wouldn’t have believed you.
What is your favourite recipe on School Night Vegan and is it equally popular with your followers?
It’s actually really difficult to predict what’s going to be popular on School Night Vegan, and it doesn’t always link with my favourite recipes. I made a really stunning chunky tomato soup with fresh oregano and these beautifully tender meatballs which I was obsessed with for about two weeks. It was one of those recipes I just didn’t get bored of and it made me really, really happy every time I ate it. On the blog, however, it was a big flop! By far the most popular recipe I’ve ever created was for a super simple pasta sauce made with tomato puree and vodka. Sure, it was delicious, but I’m not sure it deserved 16,300 likes!
In your opinion, what are the biggest barriers to becoming vegan, and how can we shake things up?
To most people, being vegan is still one sacrifice too far. I know this because I was one of those guys, just 3 years ago. I knew all the dark secrets behind animal agriculture, and yet somehow I convinced myself that cutting out animal products was just too much to ask. It’s sad to see how many people are content to see their horizons shrink, year on year until they’re living a tiny life, eating the same steak and chips, day in, day out. I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I plan on living my life. I like to think we’re active players in disrupting this rubbish. We’re both here to prove that taking risks is fun, pushing boundaries is exciting and that making big, compassionate changes to your lifestyle is hugely rewarding. My goal is to hopefully break that “steak and chips” mindset by showing people just how fun and fulfilling vegan food can be.
And finally, what do you plan to bring to the team here at Wicked?
Writing recipes is my thing: it makes me really happy and I think our take on vegan food is a really great match. I like to think that, between us, we have a pretty good grasp on most areas of vegan cooking! I also think we do a good job of pushing each other to stretch our limits. My relationship with vegan food is such an excitingly positive one and I can’t wait to share that with the Wicked team. Likewise, this is just another stretch of my huge, vegan learning curve and I hope to keep learning from you guys, as well as showing you the occasional trick of my own!