Story by Chris Ryall
“I was just a garbage disposal. I’d eat anything that someone put in front of me. There wasn’t anything that I didn’t like,” recalled vegan chef and Registered Holistic Nutritional Consultant (RHN) Lauren Marshall on what she ate through childhood and up to a few years ago.
Now 29, Marshall orders healthy and nutritious food like Portobello mushroom and brie on grilled multigrain bread and a sharing plate of roasted cauliflower, grilled sweet potato, frizzled leeks and housemade organic flatbread. We are at Lola’s Kitchen (634 Church Street – 416-966-3991), a popular downtown Toronto restaurant featuring fresh, vegan, gluten-free and vegetarian dishes. Lauren, her publicist Jill and I sit down for a relaxed lunch and interview. Marshall is in Toronto on a promotional tour promoting vegan cuisine where she is an ambassador for meatless veggie product producer Yves Veggie Cuisine.
I challenge her to try and turn this meat, chicken and seafood loving guy into a vegan – at least for one meal! She reviews the menu and doesn’t see me salivating over any of the dishes. No greasy burger which would light up my eyes but she suggests I try the curried chickpea and almond burger. It’s a mix of chickpea, quinoa and almonds, topped with red onion, arugula, grated beets, curried cashew aioli and lime yogurt on an onion bun. When it’s served I take a large bite. My taste buds don’t give it a 21-gun salute. I leave it half eaten. I try to let Lauren down gently. I indicate it was “ok.” There is vegan redemption however. The kale Caesar salad she also ordered for me was divine. Like a cannon firing, the salad and its dressing burst with flavour and my taste buds were now doing the tango.
Marshall is a Maritimer and currently lives in Halifax. Over lunch we chatted about her food choices and influences, her current passion for vegan cuisine and where she has worked from Australia to Nantucket. Her natural beauty with mesmerizing eyes and silky smooth complexion made me think – maybe there is something to this healthier lifestyle! Cast away those grease-laden burgers and throw me those leafy greens! Here are some excerpts from our interview.
Vacay.ca: Was cooking a big deal growing up?
Lauren Marshall: My grandfather was a cook in the Canadian navy but my parents weren’t big chefs so it was more when we went to my grandparent’s house and my grandfather would always send food home, so that’s where we got the “good” food. My mom opened up cans of Ragu and fried chicken strips—she was a great woman, but wasn’t much of a chef. She was a working mom—“Toonie Tuesdays” at KFC is what it used to be.
Vacay.ca: What was the first thing you can remember cooking?
Marshall: Cream of Mushroom Soup. I was seven years old and cream of mushroom soup is what I lived off of—I loved it.
Vacay.ca: When did you become a vegan?
Marshall: It was when I started working at a vegan restaurant. About four years ago I enrolled in the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, and that was when all signs were pointing to plant-based diets being the most nutrient-dense diet. Even at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition they don’t talk about eating chicken or beef or pork as a healthy option. I went off dairy and stopped eating basically everything from a package, it scared the crap out of me but it was a slow transition. The hard thing for me was the social aspects. I wanted to be vegan, I didn’t want to eat meat anymore and I rarely ate cheese because I just didn’t feel like I needed it anymore, and it was kind of like my best excuse: ‘Oh well, I’m a vegan chef now, I have no need to eat meat anymore.’
Vacay.ca: There are many levels of being a vegan? Where do you draw the line if any?
Marshall: I don’t eat anything that comes from an animal. Things that I owned before I transitioned, like wool socks, I donated. Some people just say, ‘get rid of it all, don’t have it around,’ but I haven’t been that way, I just don’t buy those things anymore. I don’t support that industry anymore and certain things I’m kind of “on the fence” about. Take wool for example—if this farmer is treating his sheep right, the way he shaves them is humane and doesn’t reduce their lifespan, it’s a very economical thing to have as a resource. For me there’s sometimes a blurry line. As a practitioner who works with people either cooking for them or educating them on nutrition, I feel like I need to be the “middle man.” The way I want to approach veganism isn’t like this big WHAM, scary thing. You don’t have to wake up one day and go all or nothing, because I think that can be really intimidating. I’d rather bring people on board and slowly lure them into the lifestyle. I like to make people feel comfortable about this type of diet and lifestyle.
Vacay.ca: Do you find it difficult being in Halifax surrounded by seafood restaurants and being a vegan?
Marshall: I’m allergic to shellfish and seafood so I couldn’t eat it anyway.
Vacay.ca: Do you miss that Halifax food icon — the donair! Do you miss any foods that you loved growing up?
Marshall: Not really because I’ll just make something that tastes similar. There’s even a vegetarian restaurant that makes a vegan donair so when I want that I go there and get that and some fries and I’m happy. When I want the feeling of comfort food—like meaty spaghetti sauce—I can do it by substituting Yves Veggie ground round for the beef.
Vacay.ca: What did your friends and family think of your transition to veganism?
Marshall: It was like a joke to them. I have one brother who eats really badly and he’s overweight and he’s like, ‘I wish I could do it, I just can’t bring myself to cook for myself.’ But it is funny to some people, there were times when I was a bit skinnier and people would say, ‘You’re so skinny! Eat something!’ and they all feel like they have that right because I’m vegan. My partner is vegan and my best friend is vegan so that helps. We support each other.
Vacay.ca: Where else have you lived? Why those places?
Marshall: I had no idea what it was going to be like being a chef, but I knew I could travel, and so that happened after cooking school. For my internship I went out to Lake Louise at a boutique resort called Deer Lodge and after that I landed a job in Nantucket that I kept for four years—it was seasonal work so it was really neat. I got to go to Montreal and work at a Brasserie for the winter. And then I lived in Belize and then finally a year in Nantucket then I decided to head over to Australia.
Vacay.ca: You went last year to India for training to be a Registered Yoga teacher as well as take an ayurvedic nutrition and cooking course? How was that experience?
Marshall: I really wanted to learn the deeper, spiritual aspects of Yoga and I wanted to go to the source. I went to study, to learn, to see and to experience. When I got back I started cooking so much Indian food—people were interested to learn what I learned so I held lots of workshops and classes, it was a lot of fun.
Vacay.ca: You seem to enjoy travelling. Are you active or a beach bum?
Marshall: I like doing stuff for sure but if I want to be a beach bum I just go to a resort. If it’s been a really rough couple of months at work it’s like, ‘I just want to go and lay on a beach and not talk to anyone,’ and that’s awesome. But when I travel I want to see and experience things.
Vacay.ca: What’s been your favourite destination so far? What’s your dream destination?
Marshall: I often try to go places I’ve never been so every time I go on a trip, it’s always somewhere new. I have to say that India was the most mind-blowing life experience to date, because if you want to see something you’ve never seen before, if you want to taste things you’ve never tasted, if you want to see something you’ve never seen, that’s where you go—it’s that culture shock.
Vacay.ca: Do you have a dream destination?
Marshall: As for a dream destination, I still haven’t gone to Europe. Life hasn’t taken me there yet. Honestly I think my next stop is Spain—I feel like Spain is going to happen.
Vacay.ca: Do you check out the local restaurant scene when travelling? Do you eat street food?
Marshall: Last year I went to San Francisco because I wanted to eat the food—they have so many amazing vegan restaurants from fine dining to street food. The Street Food Park was probably my favourite place—we need a street food park in every city! Why doesn’t Halifax have this?
Vacay.ca: What`s the most bizarre thing you have eaten on a trip?
Marshall: Before I became vegan I would try anything. I did think it was really odd eating kangaroo stew and thinking about it now makes me feel sick.
Vacay.ca: Where did you have your most memorable meal while travelling?
Marshall: It was at Millennium in San Francisco (now relocated to Oakland) – a fine dining vegan restaurant.
Vacay.ca: Do you have a favourite vegan restaurant in Canada?
Marshall: To get really fresh delicious food I like Fresh because every time I come into Toronto I know I can go in there and grab a juice—it’s just my reliable healthy food. My favourite vegan food that I ate, which wasn’t at a vegan restaurant, was at Susur Lee’s where I had Singapore Slaw which is probably the best thing I ever ate. And then the Hogtown Vegan in Toronto has those mushroom caps.
Vacay.ca: Is there a chef that inspires you?
Marshall: There are a lot of chefs—the first one that inspired me was from Australia—Teresa Cutter. She was approaching food and cooking from a holistic standpoint. Now she isn’t vegan, but she approaches food very holistically and a lot of her recipes are vegan, so she was the first person who fascinated me and of course it’s wonderful when you see a woman doing it too. I love the “raw food” scene, so there’s “Fully Raw Christina” who’s a big Youtuber, she doesn’t really call herself a chef, she just really embraces raw living foods and I love that.
Vacay.ca: For someone like me who travels a lot and is a certified meat lover how can I change my eating habits?
Marshall: My best advice to you (while you’re traveling) is to drink fresh-pressed juice to get vitamins and minerals, because a lot of the time, you’re probably eating fancy, elevated foods with a lot of bread or meat, so make sure you get extra plant-based vitamins and minerals with a lovely fresh juice in the morning. Live enzymes, like from pineapple and papaya also help to digest food, so if you ate a lot and you really feel stuffed, you could have those enzymes to help you digest your food (in pill form if you can’t get the fresh fruit). Digestive enzymes and probiotics help when you’re travelling. To me, it’s not about pushing someone to become vegan—that’s not why I’m on my journey—it’s about trying to help educate people and let them know how important it is to eat a plant-based diet because it’s so good for you and it’s just the best way to get the most and highest concentration of vitamins and minerals for your body. Even if it’s just doing “Meatless Mondays” and just opening up to the rest of the week.
Vacay.ca: Tell me about your current projects – Coastal Healing — your plant based nutrition business.
Marshall: I started it up while in transition in India. It really is just a base to where people can go and find where I am, come to my cooking classes, find out what I have coming up. I’m 29 and have been a chef for 11 years already. I currently do some work for Loblaws and teach PC Cooking School courses. I also take on private clients, run retreats and workshops.
Vacay.ca: What are some of the future things you have planned?
Marshall: I’m trying to create that vision now. I would like to be very “portable.” I would like to own a fairly large piece of land where I can hold my own workshops and retreats and maybe have a learning centre within my home. I don’t dream of an empire. I like to keep it small and personal and be with people.
MORE ABOUT LAUREN MARSHALL
For more information on Lauren Marshall and her company Coastal Healing visit: www.coastalhealing.ca/home.html
South Indian Veggie Biryani (pictured above)
2 Tbsp. Spectrum Canola Oil
1 bay leaf
small stick cinnamon
3 tsp. fennel seeds
2 Tbsp. fresh ginger
2 Tbsp diced garlic
1 cup diced onion
1 cup chopped tomatoes
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
10 fresh mint leaves
1 340 g package Yves Veggie Ground Round®
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups brown basmati rice, rinsed
¼ tsp sea salt
3 cups water
- In a large skillet or wok heat oil over medium heat. Add bay leaf, cinnamon cloves and fennel seeds. Stir.
- After 2 minutes add ginger and garlic. Stir. Cook for 2 more minutes. Add onion and cook until onions are golden, 3-5 minutes.
- Add tomato and cook for 3 minutes or until they soften and release their juices. Add turmeric, coriander, mint and crumbled Veggie Ground Round.
- Add coconut milk, rice, salt and water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low.
- Cook for 40 minutes or until rice has fully absorbed water. Remove bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Enjoy!