P.E.I. chef shares passion for plant-based meals through cooking lessons

·4 min read
Vegetarian chef Brittany Boothroyd worked more than 10 years in the restaurant industry. She's now offering Islanders lessons on plant-based cooking. (Submitted by Brittany Boothroyd - image credit)
Vegetarian chef Brittany Boothroyd worked more than 10 years in the restaurant industry. She's now offering Islanders lessons on plant-based cooking. (Submitted by Brittany Boothroyd - image credit)

Brittany Boothroyd couldn't have foreseen she'd be quitting meat when she joined the Culinary Institute of Canada in 2012.

"I was passionate about cooking meat and cooking it well, and I actually would get a bit defensive against vegetarians and vegans because I didn't understand where they were coming from," she said.

"I was like, this is natural. This is what we're raised to do. This is my industry."

But after she had to cut off beef from her diet because she found it was upsetting her stomach, the Red Seal-certified chef slowly began to realize the benefits of a plant-based diet, and went full vegetarian in 2016.

"My dad passed away from a heart attack ... they found out that his heart was almost completely clogged," she said. "I do believe that a plant-based diet can almost act as like a preventative medicine to keep our bodies happy and healthy.

"When it's added with the ethical and the environmental reasons, all of a sudden I just completely ran out of reasons to eat meat."

After spending over 10 years working in restaurants such as the now-closed vegan My Plum My Duck and Nimrod's, Boothroyd recently decided to leave the industry to share her love for plant-based cooking in a different way.

"I just started realizing that the way the restaurant industry is just isn't really sustainable anymore, you know, for the staff for the owners. With the rising food costs and rising labour costs, you know, food is going to have to cost so much for anyone to make any money. So what I really want to do is I want to teach people how to cook for themselves again," she said.

Submitted by Brittany Boothroyd
Submitted by Brittany Boothroyd

"People my age, they don't know how to cook. They know how to cook basic things; they don't know how to cook healthy meals, they don't know how to cook with confidence, they especially [don't know how] to feed their family and friends."

Boothroyd has started teaching classes for Islanders looking to incorporate more plant-based foods into their meals, but don't know where to start.

At Wild Kitchen, her new business, she offers students in-person lessons on plant-based cooking and meal-prepping.

And she said her classes are completely judgment-free. In fact, most of her students eat meat.

"I'm just here to show them that eating vegetables can also be awesome."

Not just a trend

Submitted by Brittany Boothroyd
Submitted by Brittany Boothroyd

Shortly after finishing school, Boothroyd expanded her culinary horizons through travel. She said she realized plant-based eating was not just a trend when she worked for seven months at Vegilicious, a vegan soul food restaurant located in Melbourne, Australia.

"It was insanely busy, reservation-only. Always full, always busy. And just showed me the potential that the food had, that it could be gourmet, it could be elevated, it could be comfort food."

With the pandemic still in full swing, Boothroyd said knowing how to cook well is now all the more important.

"When COVID happened and you couldn't really go to a restaurant, dinner parties kind of became more of a thing. But if you don't have the confidence to cook for your family and friends, then you're not going to want to host those," she said.

"Plant-based is a trend that I think is not a trend. I think it's only going to get more so that way, especially with the prices of meat happening and the amount of research that's coming out about how much the meat industry is contributing to climate change."

But while that could be the case, Boothroyd said that at the kitchen with her students, she keeps things fun and stress-free.

"It's me going in and cooking with them so I can help take the stress away," she said.

"They're still cooking with me. But now they have me to kind of guide them and teach them as we go, and I'm kind of in charge so they don't have to feel like that pressure making sure that everything turns out perfectly."

Boothroyd said her classes are personalized depending on the students, but that oftentimes she has to start with the basics.

Submitted by Brittany Boothroyd
Submitted by Brittany Boothroyd

"They were raised to just kind of like boil their vegetables and put them on the side of like meat and potatoes, which is what their parents did and what their parents did. So it makes sense that that's what they know," she said.

"They didn't know that stir-fry could be good because they always just cooked it until everything was mushy. But I can teach them like, 'OK, put the mushrooms and onions in first because they take the longest and put the broccoli in last because it takes the shortest' and at the end they're like, 'Whoa, this broccoli actually has flavour.'"

And if nothing else, her students will at least be walking away with a good meal.

"[I'll say] 'You don't ever have to stop eating steak if you don't want to, but try this.' And they always like the food," Boothroyd said.

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