King of #CookDaily on why vegan food is 'going to be massive'

By Emma Eversham

- Last updated on GMT

No hippy. Bounsou Senathit, better known as King, has brought a refreshing new vibe to vegan food at his Boxpark outlet #CookDaily
No hippy. Bounsou Senathit, better known as King, has brought a refreshing new vibe to vegan food at his Boxpark outlet #CookDaily

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Chef King Senathit has been serving his unique twist on vegan food from #CookDaily at Boxpark in Shoreditch since March and is on a mission to prove that vegan food doesn't have to be boring.

Tell us a bit about #CookDaily:

#CookDaily is an 11-cover vegan eatery based at Boxpark in Shoreditch. We've been open for four months and we’ve been creating a bit of a buzz with the vegan theme.

The menu is not a certain cuisine, it’s all my experience put in one. It's my food, so we've got dishes from the Caribbean, a French-inspired dish and a full English breakfast for example. 

All the dishes are exclusive to us, you can't get a #CookDaily bowl anywhere else and we've given a twist with the names for dishes. One of our best sellers is called the High Grade – stir fried veggies with hemp oil in a smoky sweet and sour barbecue sauce topped with green herbs and hemp seed crumble served over 50/50 rice. It’ s a reference to marijuana.

I have another dish called Yoga Fire which is based on my love for the computer game Street Fighter Two. It’s a spiced chick pea and sweet potato curry with turmeric and dhal simmered in golden coconut milk served with 50/50 rice. The character in the game is called Dhalsim, hence the description of the dhal being simmered.

We also have a green curry which is my mum’s recipe from way back that we call The Infamous because she’s been doing it for many years. That’s the kind of vibe I’m trying to bring to Shoreditch. Vegan food doesn't have to be boring.

What inspired you to go vegan?

I realised one day I didn’t need a dead animal to live. I didn’t need an animal to die for me to have a snack. It’s an ethics thing for me. I made that connection and started meditating and decided that I had to move away from working in a meat-heavy restaurant industry.

You had a career as a chef in Michelin-starred kitchens, why did you give that up? 

I worked in professional kitchens for 15 years. After I left school I went to college for two years and then went straight to work in a small kitchen in north London. Soon after I had the opportunity to work in Spain for the French chef Philippe Jego and that gave me the chance to work in a Michelin-starred kitchen.

I was there for four years, then came back to London where I worked at Petrus when Tristan Welch was head chef, then went back to Spain, then back to London when Tristan opened Launceston Place.

It was after that that everything changed. I decided I didn't want to be around meat anymore. I was working at The Larder in Bethnal Green which is next to the Buddhist Centre and they were re-opening their kitchen, so I went and opened the kitchen there. From there I went to Vanilla Black, which was meat-free and I got a chance to re-learn things. After that I decided to do my own thing, took some time out and now, here I am. 

Do you think vegan food will become popular? 

Vegan food for so long has been a bit bland and boring - like risottos and lasagnes. On one side it's a bit hippy, then at the other end you have these high-end West London health joints where you're charged £7 for a juice.

I think shops like mine will change the scene in London. People want to eat healthier food, but it needs to be fun. There are more and more places offering vegan food now and I predict that in five years time the vegan industry is going to be massive. It will be booming and we're right in the middle of it. 

How easy is it for a professional chef to turn vegan? 

It’s a totally different game running a vegan kitchen, but there was only so long I could stay in restaurants that served meat. I was straight in kitchens from an early age, but I knew I needed to learn skills before I could do what I'm doing now.  

My whole plan before was to be a head chef of a top Michelin restaurant but it’s all gone 360 now, I've changed what I want to achieve.

When I decided to leave meat behind, in the beginning I was lost. You took away butter and cheese and I was stuck, but now it’s so easy because you get used to it. Flavour-wise I took the experience I had cooking meat and put it into practice in a vegan kitchen. 

As an alternative to butter, I use nutritional yeast flakes which makes the dish creamier and gives it a nuttier taste. I make my own fish sauce using samphire marinated in soy sauce, because it comes from the sea makes the most amazing pungent fish sauce.  When you’re making your own food you have to be experimental and more creative.

The thing with this vegan industry is there are no chefs who cook vegan food and own restaurants. It's my place to speak up and say 'I'm an owner and a chef and you're coming here because I'm giving myself on a plate'. I’m not dishing up a generic vegetable lasagne, my dishes have my personality in them.

A lot of people say they want to open a vegan place, but then say I can't cook, so I say 'go and learn, just grind and the hard work pays off.' That's what chefs have to do, that's why they spend years working 18 hour shifts to learn their trade, there's no other way round it. 

What does the future hold for you and #CookDaily?

I get people travelling from all over to eat at #CookDaily. We haven't done any publicity, we don't have a Twitter for the restaurant, there's no online menu, all promotion is just word-of-mouth and a few Instagram pictures. 

I’m definitely looking to do more of these as this has been so successful so far. Boxpark is going to have another venue in Croydon and we'll be going there because a lot of people are waiting for us in south London. People are travelling because they want to come and eat the food, so it would be good to take it out to them. 

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