Shannon Martinez and Mo Wyse talk to us about their new cook book ‘Smith & Daughters’ and their mission to make veganism cool
Congratulations on your book, it is a really beautiful item. It has loads of great recipes and a really unique aesthetic. It makes veganism look really cool and desirable. Is that part of your mission, to change the image around veganism?
MW: Thanks so much for that. Just in the phrasing of the question you’re pointing out that we are completely devoted to changing the general perceptions of veganism. The book alone doesn’t look like other vegan books, in fact, we want the book positioned outside the vegan section so people who would never go to that end of the store would pick up our book because they’re drawn to the layout/cover/photos, anything.
This is a book that, as the title says, ‘happens to be vegan’. The focus is always on how good the food is, and how great of an impression good food can make on people who thrive on meat for all meals diets. Good food first, avoidance of animal products second.
There’s a general negative psychology about the word vegan, and we want to remove all of that. The coolness and desirability is something that is gaping in the vegan market, as in, the vegans are a great, supportive community, but opening the minds of the mainstream is the harder part. It’s time now that the rise in popularity of vegan food is at its height to make vegan food approachable, non-confronting, fun, filling and flavourful.
Can you tell me a little bit about your deli and restaurant? Who are your customers? Do you get a lot of non-vegans?
MW: Smith & Deli is an all-vegan convenience store and deli. We have a vast rotating pastry, salad, and savoury meal offering, complete with hot pies, vanilla slice, savoury scrolls, and heaps of take-home meals. The Deli’s super popular items are the 32 made to order sandwiches on our permanent menu. We also have hand-selected specialty grocery items.
Smith & Daughters is an all vegan Latin restaurant and full bar. Our menu spans Mexican, Spanish, Central & South American dishes and offers an amazing selection of complementary cocktails. The restaurant fills that gap of big bold flavours, great drinks and especially good times.
The customer breakdown at our restaurant is estimated at 75-80 per cent meat eaters – we really do attract everyone. Whether it’s a supportive partner, or family there to celebrate the token vegan in their lives, the massive hen party, or the first date, we see everyone. People often have no clue, even sitting under the giant Eat Vegan neon sign. It’s simply amazing.
What cuisines influence you?
SM: The cuisines that influence my cooking the most are Spanish, South American and Chinese.
Who inspires your cooking style in terms of chefs?
SM: Grandmothers and street vendors. They may not have the qualifications, but in my eyes, they’re the best.
How do you approach creating a new dish? If you are trying to veganise an old classic, do you adopt quite a scientific process?
SM: It usually starts on my days off when I go to the markets to check out what’s going on and available at the time. I’ll pick up whatever looks good, then spend some time creating new dishes at home using non-vegan ingredients. Then I’ll bring those ideas and recipes into work and figure out how to veganise them. I guess you could say that at times there is a slight scientific aspect to some of the elements of the recipe development.
When you were compiling the book, how did you decide what recipes went in there?
MW: It goes two ways with us, it can be either we offer everything all at once, or we offer a small selection in the hopes that we will be able to further our cookbook repertoire. We just knew we couldn’t offer a couple of the very special mainstays and we also knew that with the Deli especially, we hopefully have several more books to create. The decisions for recipes include customer favourites, as well as our own favourites that maybe were a bit misunderstood on the menus, and perhaps should be made at home by everyone to enjoy. We love seeing people’s reactions to things – mostly how beautiful the food looks, but also how much they believe they can make these recipes.
SM: We really wanted to make sure the recipes in the book were going to be able to be made by everybody, no matter what their skill level in the kitchen was. And that the ingredients were easily obtainable for everyone. It was also important to make sure that our personal favourites were featured so that people could really get a feel for our all-time favourite Smith & Daughters recipes.
What are your own favourites from the book?
MW: White Truffle Forest Mushroom Pate – hands down (see inside this issue for the recipe). It was what won me over even before Shannon and I met. Then she happened to write down what she thought she could remember of the recipe, this was in 2012, when she didn’t write down her recipes. I made it heaps, but then when it came time to put it on the menu and then in the book, Shannon had to revisit the shabby stained sheet the handwritten recipe was on.
Also love the Brekkie Burrito, especially the Scramble, the Chickpea Stew, Pickled Veg Salad, Chocolate Pate, all the cheeses. Okay, all the recipes.
SM: Sofrito, Roast capsicum salad, Estofao (Spanish chickpea stew), Quince doughnuts and Chocolate pate.
If someone starting out as a vegan thinks it’s too complicated to make vegan food, or the flavours are too bland, what general piece of cooking advice would you give them?
MW: Don’t exclusively cook from vegan books, look up our favourite substitutes, or look them up online and work from non-vegan books. There are so many amazing substitutes in the world today, it’s silly to go a conventional route to making this slightly less conventional diet. But it’s very easy. Things like fresh herbs, spices, hot sauces, nutritional yeast, Braggs, liquid smoke, so many things to make everything more flavourful. You really shouldn’t worry about what’s missing as there’s so much that can go in.
MW: We do what we love. Shannon’s goal as a chef is to make you happy, our collective goal is to show everyone vegan isn’t a dirty word, so hide what you know and check out how easy these recipes are. In the guidelines of the book, the first 5 instructions are as follows (and we mean it):
- Don’t be scared in the kitchen.
- Don’t follow the recipes too carefully.
- These recipes are for regular cooks. This isn’t fancy stuff.
- We believe in you. Remember, if we can, you can.
- If you don’t have an ingredient, it doesn’t mean you can’t make the food in this book. Unless otherwise specified, substitute the missing item with something else, or leave it out. The final product won’t suffer over a missing herb.
Smith & Daughters is published by Hardie Grant Books on November 3. Cook Vegan readers get a sneak peek at three of these delicious recipes in this issue.