March 2, 2021

Amy Levin, Vegan Candy School is in Session…

Team Wicked are thrilled to announce our new recipe contributor, Amy Levin!

Despite being new to our platform, she is certainly not new to the team! Amy’s sophisticated chocolates and elegant desserts were the cornerstone at all SAF restaurants, owned by Chad Sarno, during their opening years.

Amy is a classically trained professional chef who found her way into vegan and vegetarian cooking in 2004 while training to be a holistic health counsellor at The Institute of Integrative Nutrition.

With over 20 years experience as a professional chef, and a decade specialising in healthy chocolates and desserts, Amy leads the way when it comes to empowering people with the tools needed to forge their own path within this sector.

amy levin
amy levin vegan chocolates

Amy has been teaching her signature chocolate and dessert classes, both live and online, since 2009. Her skills as a teacher are unparalleled, whether it be teaching a home cook or professional chef.

Since the start of the pandemic, Amy has moved to Livestream teaching and is now selling a line of hand-painted Bonbons which are available worldwide.

We caught up with Amy for a brief chat, to whet your appetite for the creations she will be sharing with you all.

 

Welcome to the team, Amy! To start, could you share where your vegan and plant-based journey began?

When I was 25 years old I studied nutrition at The Institute of Integrative Nutrition. We learned about every ‘diet’ under the sun, and the one that struck me the most was raw and plant based. I began integrating this into my own life and really enjoyed the process of trying new foods, like spirulina, raw cacao and salads that were far more creative than the ‘salad bar’ items I grew up on. It soon became all I wanted to focus on in my work and it all kicked off from there.

 

You are well known for being able to teach the art of chocolate making to beginners and seasoned pros alike. That being said, many new cooks find chocolate making to be a daunting task! What advice would you give to people wanting to give it a try?

There’s no doubt that chocolate making is an art and a science. I think that might be one reason it’s off putting to people. It does have certain requirements that need to be met, otherwise it simply will not work.

So, I’d say start at the shallow end of the pool and work your way to the deep end. Whatever that looks like for you. Maybe that means buying some premade chocolate, melting it down and tempering it. See how that goes first and then see where your natural curiosity takes you.

Chocolate is an expansive area with plenty of entry points for meeting people exactly where they are, and allowing them to expand endlessly. Patience and being open to learning are all that’s required to work with chocolate.

You’ve specialised in healthy desserts and chocolates now for over a decade – what is it you’ve enjoyed the most about working with sweet treats?

The connection I feel to desserts and chocolate is unlike any other area of cooking for me. It’s a place where I can truly express my artistic self. The other thing I love about it is that people glow when you present them with sweets. Always. And I like being part of someone glowing, humming, feeling joy and savouring.

amy levin treats

You’re also a holistic health counsellor, what can you tell us about the health-giving qualities of your desserts?

I could go into the nutritional aspects of my desserts, but I take a different approach. For me, it’s more the emotional aspect. The fact that my job is to teach people how to make delicious, healthy desserts and chocolates means that I have a small part in those people feeding their loved ones. In a world where you can easily buy pre-made desserts and chocolates, people chose to make it from scratch. They dedicate their time and energy to that. That’s the most ancient practice of humans and it’s healing.

Is there a sweet flavour combination that you can never resist?

At heart, I love the classics. Mint Chocolate. Coffee Hazelnut. Raspberry Star Anise. Apple Cinnamon.

A lot of your creations look like works of art! Where do you find inspiration for your craft?

This is a difficult one to answer because my inspiration comes from so many different areas that melt into one. Sometimes it’s from wanting to make something for a friend or loved one because they’re craving it and don’t want to have the ‘unhealthy’ version of it. Other times I’m working in the kitchen, one thing leads to another and boom, something amazing happens. Something unexplainable. Those are my favourite moments, because I feel like a vessel for something greater to express itself through me.

wicked chef amy levin

February 10, 2020

Wicked Gets Schooled with School Night Vegan: An interview with Richard Makin

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.

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?

vegan chef from school night veganI’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?

vegan chef making dessertTo 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?

great tasting vegan burgerWriting 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!

We’re happy to have you on the team Richard! Looking forward to School Night Vegan creations!