Meet the team of chefs who are turning a popular Sheffield pub into a vegan paradise
A team of chefs are turning a Sheffield city centre pub into a vegan’s paradise, with a new menu full of delicious meat substitute dishes that are made entirely from scratch.
In recent years it has become progressively more common to see vegan options offered as standard in restaurants up and down the country.
Data published by shopping comparison site, finder.com, in January this year revealed that the number of vegans in Britain increased by a whopping 40 per cent during 2020, from 1.1million to 1.5million people.
Sheffield has enjoyed a healthy vegetarian and vegan scene for a while now, with establishments including La Fonda, Make No Bones, Church, Dana, Dishi, Humpit and Just Falafs serving up a scrumptious selection of delicious meat and dairy free dishes.
And now, popular Sheffield pub, The Old House, has not only gone vegan, but absolutely everything they offer on their plant-based menu – from vegan cheese to faux chicken to vegan bread – is made from scratch on the premises.
Head chef Rikki Wilson-Okrasa described how he wanted to offer something completely unique.
“If people can see we’ve made the vegan meats ourselves but haven’t made, say the vegan cheese or the vegan bread, we’d just be like every other place,” explained Rikki.
He added: “Every single dish from this menu is made from scratch. We make the soya milk, we bake the bread fresh, the flat breads are made to order. Every single one of the fake meats are made from scratch, in-house.”
Among the dishes on the new, all vegan Old House menu are Henderson’s Relish cola ‘ribs’ which comes with tater tots, mac ‘n’ cheese, slaw and crispy onions; To-fish with hand cut chips, scraps, tartare sauce and your choice of mushy peas or curry sauce and a Tandoori chick*n kebab, served in a wrap with a mixed salad and a portion of fries or chips.
They also offer a Sunday roast, and diners can choose from Roast ‘beef’; Roast ‘chicken’ or a Nut Roast that comes with crispy roast potatoes, mashed potatoes cauliflower cheese, root vegetables, seasonal greens, Henderson’s Relish gravy and Yorkshire puddings.
Rikki says he has been working on his vegan Yorkshire pudding recipe for years, and believes he has finally perfected it.
Also on the Old House team is sous chef Antonio Pintoz Aragon and junior chef Daniel French.
Sheffield institution Beanies Wholefoods is a workers’ cooperative that opened in 1986 and has sold vegetarian, and latterly vegan, products for much of that time; but in recent years, the country’s biggest supermarkets such as Tesco, Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda have caught up and have continued to expand their own vegan offering.
The market has also been flooded with a plethora of new brands such as Meatless Farm and This, selling everything from plant-based ‘sausage’ rolls to vegan ‘bacon’ lardons.
An integral component of the contemporary vegan food offering is seitan, a wheat-based protein which is commonly used as a meat substitute due to its chewy texture.
While the use, and mass production, of seitan is commonplace now; when Rikki started “washing flour” to make seitan Sunday roasts at The Riverside Kelham 12 years ago it was almost unheard of.
"The seitan roasts were really popular. People didn’t know what it was because at that time you had to import it from America,” he explained.
“Over the last four years, the popularity of veganism has risen dramatically. Now you can get vegan food in Subway; Wetherspoons and Greggs,” added Rikki.
Rikki, who is a father to 14-year-old Cobain and Dante, 12, has been vegan for the last 12 years, and was vegetarian for years before that; and says he made the choice because of his belief in animal rights, something he says was borne out of an interest in the punk scene, and the views held by many who are involved with it.
"That sort of ethos is quite common in the punk scene. [My] veganism is centred around animal rights...and I think people are becoming more conscious of animal welfare and the ecological impact of things like methane,” he said.
But Rikki did not always set out to become a chef specialising in meat and dairy free food.
The 42-year-old has a background in design and art, and previously made a living creating one-of-a-kind jackets for Calvin Klein that were also bought by celebrity customers.
"I was very into punk and would paint band logos on to jackets, and started selling them on eBay. This led to a lot of custom orders. I painted jackets for five years, and moved into canvases,” said Rikki, adding that he has also had work featured in art exhibitions and spent a bit of time working as a sign writer.
But it was when he was living in Holland and had a young child to provide for that he first started working in kitchens.
"I fell into chefing because I moved to Holland. It’s very easy to get into. I had a young child at the time.”
“I was a KP (kitchen porter) for a fortnight and then was given the head chef position. I was the only one in the kitchen,” said Rikki, adding that being thrust into a senior position so quickly forced him to learn on his feet.
It was when he moved back to his hometown of Sheffield 12-years-ago that Rikki was given the role at the Riverside, and he says he has spent much of the time since “veganising” menus and helping vegan and vegetarian eateries across the city to develop their seitan offering.
More recently, Rikki joined the Common Room, another establishment in True North’s family of pubs, last year as a sous chef to help them develop their vegan dishes.
Unfortunately, due to the date he joined, Rikki missed furlough “by a day,” but True North kept him on to work on their food takeaway service, True North at home.
"I don’t know what I would have done, if True North hadn’t retained me,” said Rikki.
Sous chef Antonio hails from Grenada in the South of Spain, and his culinary career started in a Mediterranean restaurant in Almuñécar when he was 16.
He moved to Sheffield in 2016, and has worked in a number of eateries including the Milestone in Kelham Island; The Showroom’s Cafe Bar, Oliver’s in Sharrow and Napoleon's Casino before it closed.
And junior chef Dan, who is originally from Northampton, got his start in the hospitality industry as a mixologist, and was also spending a lot of time cooking at home.
"I liked the creativity of cocktails, and realised the world of food was more interesting. I was spending a lot of time baking bread,” said Dan, 24.
He began working on the pizza bar at Forum, another of True North’s pubs, and began developing their vegan menu.
Just like Rikki, Dan, who moved to Sheffield six years ago, was introduced to the ethics of veganism through his interest in the punk and hardcore scene, and said that his consciousness on the subject was raised by documentaries like Game Changers.
"There’s such a plethora of information, once you delve into it,” said Dan.
Rikki, Antonio and Dan clearly enjoy working together and bouncing their ideas for perfecting their vegan dishes off each other.
It’ll be exciting to see what they come up with next.