We spoke to Food Writers Matt Holloway and Michelle Davis from ‘Thug Kitchen’ about their new book and their unique take on cooking
Congratulations on your newest book – as well as loads of recipes, it’s also full of information about unusual ingredients. It makes veganism seem easy and cool – is that part of your mission, to change the image around veganism?
Absolutely. We started TK because we couldn’t relate to the other s*** out there. We wanted to show that regular folks who live on a budget and shop at a regular grocery store can still eat healthily. Whether you decided to go vegan or not, we really just want everyone to start taking better care of themselves, cooking at home, and eating some damn vegetables.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you created the ‘brand’ – the language and the aesthetic?
Michelle has always been a passionate home cook and learned from her time in the grocery store that so many people out there want to try and eat better but don’t know where to start. Matt has been doing photography as a hobby for years and we thought maybe we could combine our two hobbies into one project. We were both so bored at our jobs that starting the site was a creative outlet to make each other laugh. The swearing makes eating better and cooking at home more fun and approachable. Swearing and dumb a** jokes help us tear down the pretentiousness and stuffy attitude around healthy food. It encourages the audience to take control of their plate.
What cuisines influence you?
Michelle is from California and Matt is from Texas so Mexican, Central American, and South American cuisines have always been a huge influence because we both grew up with a lot of people from those places. That’s the food that was in our communities growing up so those are definitely the flavors we still crave more than anything. Also in California we have some of the greatest produce so we’re honestly kinda spoiled when it comes to fresh, affordable ingredients.
Who inspires your cooking style in terms of chefs?
In terms of chefs, we love people who try to keep cooking approachable and fun like Jamie Oliver, Rachael Ray, Rachel Khoo, Nigella Lawson, Mark Bittman, and Alton Brown. We watch almost everything those talented guys put out. They’re all great at showing regular people how cooking and eating better doesn’t have to take all the time in the world. They’ve all have been huge inspirations.
How do you approach creating a new dish? If you are trying to ‘veganise’ an old classic, do you adopt quite a scientific process?
Honestly, I create my best food when I’m trying to make something I’ve been craving. It’s selfish as hell but I’m a passionate eater so sometimes I just keep cooking until I nail a dish just so I can eat exactly what the f*** I want for dinner. In terms of trying to veganise familiar dishes, I usually try to focus on what are the best aspects of the dish, like consistency, taste, or texture, and then try to zero in on the ingredients, cooking process, or herbs and spices that contribute to that. Like for the carbonara in our new book, I focused on the chewy texture, and smokiness of the pancetta and used marinated sundried tomatoes to fill that void in my version.
When you were compiling the book, how did you decide what recipes went in there?
We knew for our new book the dishes had to be fast, full of accessible ingredients, and tasty as hell. We try to keep the recipes new and exciting without challenging people to venture too far outside their comfort zone. We had the experience of writing two previous books going into this one so we had a lot of confidence about what people wanted to see in this book.
What are your own favourites from the book?
Damn… all of them? But for real, if we had to pick, we’d say the carbonara we mentioned before, the mac and cheese, the nachos, the firecracker salad, and the wine cake. We could eat any of those every day of the week and not get tired of them.
If someone starting out as a vegan thinks it’s too complicated to make vegan food – or bland, what general piece of cooking advice would you give them?
Herbs and spices are vegan so if the food is bland then it’s under seasoned. Meat doesn’t have a monopoly on flavor. Plant based meals aren’t any more complicated than meat dishes to prepare. It takes a little time to get used to but there’s a greater margin of error with vegetables. It’s hard to really f*** them up and at the end of the day, undercooking them isn’t gonna make you sick as hell like meat.
Is there anything you’d like to add to that?
People always say they’d cook more if they just had the time so we wanted to show those whiny f****** that all they need is half an hour to cook a dope meal. We know what it’s like to come home exhausted after work but you still gotta eat. All the recipes in our new book Thug Kitchen 101 are not only cheaper but faster than take-out and way better for you. If our dumb selves can cook dinner while working full time, then you can too. Trust.