Written and illustrated by Ruby Hinchliffe
Rachel Ama, a vegan chef in her twenties, spoke to us about her desire to break down the alarming line between vegans and non-vegans.
Rachel grew up in a house full of music, was once part of a dance troupe and currently dabbles in Muay Thai.
Once a lover of KFC, the YouTuber now uses her platform to break down the barriers and show how delicious vegan food can be.
With her first cook book out on the shelves this month, Vegan Eats, Rachel spoke to us about her childhood, her love for plantain and what she does to feel empowered.
RH. Tell me about where you grew up in London.
RA. “I still live in the house I was born in. I just love Harringay. I grew up with friends from all different backgrounds and two of the things we all had in common were food and family. There were always different experiences, different foods, different flavours. This was my London experience – it’s inspired all my cooking and my new book.”
RH. What’s so exciting about this new book and why is it so different from what you’ve done before?
RA. “Yes! My Vegan Eats cook book. I like to call it a ‘mix and blend’ because I think of myself a bit like that. It’s got Caribbean, African and Welsh roots. I wanted to explore the foods I grew up with in a plant-based way. Also, if you’re a music head like me, you can definitely cook, dance and sing along to the recipes. I’ve recommended songs that match the cuisine – so, for example, Spanish recipes are paired with Latino music. It adds a bit of playfulness to the kitchen.”
RH. Where did your love of music come from? Did it come before or after the cooking?
RA. “Way before. The room I’m in right now is my front room and there’s a piano and a guitar which my brother and I play. There are posters of Dexter Gordon and Miles Davis too. My mum had a huge record collection so she was just playing music all the time. My brother is a music producer. I was in a dance troupe and at one point I even wanted to do music management. It’s been running through me. To me, cooking with music is just natural and when I did it on YouTube people were like: ‘oh yeah that’s sick’.”
RH. What was the defining moment when you thought: ‘right, I’m going to go vegan’?
RA. “I had a Netflix spiral, as one does when you’re looking for distractions in life. I started watching documentaries like Cowspiracy on how meat ended up on my plate and I decided I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore. I went vegan over night. It was funny because I ate KFC on night’s out and chicken every day. My friends were like: ‘excuse me?!’. That’s what led me to YouTube. I wanted to share the food I was making and prove to people it’s really delicious.”
RH. Do you have a go-to dish to convert a meat eater?
RA. “My recipes aren’t about meat replacement. So it wouldn’t be a case of: ‘oh, I can’t believe this is vegan’. It would be: ‘oh wow, this just tastes damn good.’ Caribbean food is my favourite, I love the seasoning, so if I were to choose a dish it would probably be jerk sauce tacos with roasted mushrooms, plantain and mango salsa. My book is a mixture of show-stoppers and bulk meals you make on a Monday for the rest of the week.”
RH. I saw you’re into your Muay Thai as well as being a foodie and a music head. Tell me how you got into that.
RA. Laughs. “I’ve always been a sporty person. I spent my childhood running outside, riding bikes, grazing my arms and playing football. I thought I was going to be a professional footballer for a very long time. I like to be active, I like my body moving. I did some kick-boxing and then came across Muay Thai. I absolutely fell in love with the discipline behind it and the therapy it provides. As a woman, I find it very empowering to be this strong person you might see in an action movie. Maybe it will cancel out the ‘vegans are weak’ thing.”
RH. You don’t take yourself too seriously, but at the same time you’re clearly still focused on your goals. Where do you get this great balance from?
RA. “I would say my parents. My dad is a taxi driver and my mum owns her own shop, so I’ve always been around hard workers. But then I’ve been around jokes my whole life too. I grew up around a lot of boys and we used to all take the mick out of each other. It’s like the balance of goal sista but at the same time still have fun. It’s not that deep, enjoy it. Keep it light.
“It’s not a case of: ‘you’re vegan or you’re not’. If your cauliflowered something doesn’t taste like chicken say it doesn’t taste like chicken.”
RH. Your YouTube channel is hilarious. Are you looking to grow the comedic side of your work and get more people into your kitchen?
RA. 100%. Like I said, my friends around me aren’t necessarily vegan but I want to normalise it a bit. It’s not a case of: ‘you’re vegan or you’re not’. There is no scary line between the two. I want to blend it and explore it. If your cauliflowered something doesn’t taste like chicken say it doesn’t taste like chicken. Lets get over that line, call it what it is and have fun with it. I’m planning on producing a lot more material where I get vegans and non-vegans enjoying some food and talking about it.”
RH. How do you feel about black representation in the UK cooking industry and how do you feel you’re changing it?
RA. “One of the main reasons I put myself on YouTube was because when I looked up vegan food there wasn’t much diversity at all. That’s why I’m putting my face out there, I didn’t feel like what I was seeing so far was representative of the world. A lot of my food pays homage to my African and Caribbean roots as well as my British roots. I just want to share my culture, so hopefully I can continue to grow and have success in this industry.”
RH. If you could sum up one reason for people to buy your book, what would it be?
RA. “Because there’s some really delicious, flavoursome food that’s going to shock you and make you go: ‘oh my goodness, plant-based eating can be so tasty’.”
Chosen as The Observer’s Rising Star of Food for 2019, Rachel will be talking on June 15 at Balham Bowls Club at 12.30pm.
Hardcopies of her book can be bought for £14, or as part of a ticket to the festival.