'MasterChef' Oz's Simon Toohey on the best things for newbie vegans to cook

Stumped on how to create a plant-based lifestyle that's tasty and sustainable? Try this sage advice

22 November 2020 - 00:01 By hilary biller
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Simon Toohey reached the top three in season 11 of 'MasterChef Australia'.
Simon Toohey reached the top three in season 11 of 'MasterChef Australia'.
Image: Supplied

Simon Toohey of MasterChef Australia fame will be sharing his love of seasonal vegetables and his plant-based lifestyle at the virtual Festive Vegan and Plant Powered Show on November 28.

Toohey was a finalist in season 11 of MasterChef Australia last year. He can now be seen taking a second shot at the title in Back To Win, the 2020 edition of the hit competitive cooking show, which is airing on DStv.

We asked him:

You inspired viewers with your vegan ideas on MasterChef Australia season 11. What stands out as your best creation in that series?

I loved making the celeriac into the taco shell, that was my favourite. I'm glad it worked out.

Also, how good are nutritional yeast flakes ... Flavour bomb!

In MasterChef Australia 2019 viewers got a sense of strong camaraderie in the group. Do you maintain contact with the other contestants?

Sadly, we don't really. There are a few I do contact but most people go their separate ways. But needless to say, when we head to a city where one of the contestants live, there is always catch-up involved.

Your father worked on the Cattle Council of Oz, do you think this in some way moved you towards veganism?

I don't think so at all, my father is just as much a plant lover as I am. It's a generational thing I think. I know it is time for a change. What we were doing isn't working and so what can I do to change this? Moving towards a plant-based diet is one of those choices.

There is a growing trend towards embracing a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, but many are stumped as to how to get started and create a sustainable and tasty life around vegetables. What advice can you share with a novice?

It is the unknown that makes it difficult to swap over. We have spent our lives being fed (well here in Australia at least) the classic diet of meat and three veg. So no wonder when people make the change to a plant-based diet they are stuck.

Not only that, but there is only so many bowls of brown rice with red cabbage, a sliced avocado, some tofu, soy and sesame in a bowl you can eat. And to eat pasta or bread every single night to help fill you up doesn't help either.

Indian is the royalty of plant-based eating
Simon Toohey

My advice is look at one ingredient, whether eggplant, broccoli or cauliflower, and find a recipe that makes that awesome, then add some grains on the side like cracked bulgur wheat, lentils or couscous.

Or when the recipe talks about mince, use mushrooms as they are a fantastic substitute.

But finally, what helps me a lot is I cook Indian, it is the royalty of plant-based eating and there is no denying that they know how to pack a lot of flavour into vegetables.

What is your go-to meal?

Indian curries — things like cauliflower in coconut and turmeric or a classic dhal or chickpea and tomato curry with heaps of chilli. It has this untouched level of flavour that we don't really know.

We are looking forward to your participation in the Festive Vegan and Plant Powered Show. How are you going to win over South Africans, a nation of meat-lovers?

Well it won't be with my wit and charming good looks, so it is going to have to be with what I create. It really is feeding people and in the end they haven't thought a single second about a piece of meat.

If I could convince two second-generation butchers who hated vegetables that came to my vegan smoke house in Melbourne that plant-based eating is the future and delicious, then I am hoping I can convince a country. Ha ha.

Christmas 2020 — what dishes will be on your menu?

I will be looking at the seasons for inspiration this year. I can't wait to just touch, smell and taste everything.

I am at an age now where I just don't want Christmas to be stressful any more. My goal this year is to not buy more than we need, to have no food waste and keep it simple.

I just can't wait (after a year of not seeing my family) to finally get together and celebrate us as a unity.

• Toohey is one of the many chefs/food personalities who'll be giving cookery demos and masterclasses online as part of the 2020 Festive Vegan and Plant Powered Show. For more information about this virtual event, visit veganandplantpoweredshow.com. Tickets are available from Quicket and start at R120.

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