Plant-based chef Jason McNamara focuses on a connected world
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Cape Town-based chef Jason “Jay Mac” McNamara focuses his ethos on the connection between plant-based living, vegan activism, animal rights, mindfulness, and how they all connect in the real world.
We caught up with him in Cape Town at The Kind Kitchen, his vegan butchery and cafe where he offers innovative plant-based meats like apple sage sausages and king beet burgers.
WHAT IS YOUR MOST FAVOURITE PLANT-BASED DISH?
That's a tough one because I’m really inspired and excited by every culture in the meals I make and enjoy eating. However if I had to choose a ‘last wish meal’ it would be something Asian inspired like a Thai curry with Tofu and vegetables and a generous side of rice paper rolls, spring rolls and peanut satay. Let’s just say, I’d really drag out my last meal request to at least 16 courses to savour every flavour from as many cuisines as possible because they all have a place in my heart and stomach. LOL.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BE A CHEF?
My journey to becoming a vegan chef began through a style of Yoga I follow called Jivamukti Yoga. Their teachings of compassion for all beings lead me to becoming vegan and ultimately wanting to change the world for the better through plant based foods. Now as a father, it's even more important. We need to make the necessary changes to a compassionate way of life, so our children, the animals and the planet have a fighting chance for generations to come.
DO YOU THINK THERE IS A MARKET FOR PLANT-BASED FOODS?
Absolutely. There is NO PLANET B. We need to save this beautiful blue planet we have been entrusted with. The only way we can do this, is to change our ways as a species. We don't own the planet or its animals. We are here to live in harmony with them and the kindest most respectful way we can do this is through a compassionate diet such as a vegan or plant-based diet.
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS FOR COLLECTIVE KITCHEN?
The Kind Kitchen, like so many restaurants globally, struggled through the pandemic. We were forced to close both our restaurants to survive. However through the collective kitchen we have been able to showcase our skills and products to a global audience and have begun to pivot our offering from Restaurant to Retail. We now offer an artisanal range of our products for sale locally through our online store and hope to offer them to a wider audience through partnerships like the Collective Kitchen and our friends at Fry’s.
DO YOU BELIEVE THERE IS A MARKET FOR PLANT-BASED LIVING IN SOUTH AFRICA?
Without a doubt YES. However, it’s up to brands like ours and those like Fry’s to offer products that are tasty, affordable and nutritious in order for it to be readily available for all and not just a select few. This way more and more people will be attracted to live a plant-based lifestyle. After all, people would rather be healthy, happy and kind than the inverse - if they had the choice.
WHEN DID YOUR LOVE FOR PLANT-BASED START?
I had stopped eating pork and lamb in the late 90’s and began to consider myself mostly vegetarian in the early 2000’s. It was all a lie I told myself to feel ok about eating another animal that I considered to be less than me. But it wasn't until 2009, after watching the documentary called Earthlings that I finally went vegan. It’s an in depth expose on animal cruelty and exploitation. It's a very unpalatable documentary to experience because it exposes the painful truths about animal agriculture and all the abuse that goes along with bringing an animal to your plate. There is NO ‘happy’ way to kill anything. The sheer act of killing is in itself a violent act which most of us forget and this documentary really brings you to terms with this fact.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BE VEGAN?
As mentioned before, it was Earthlings that drew back the veil of ignorance and opened my eyes to the painful reality of eating meat. But the thing that inspired me to go vegan was the teachings of Jivamukti Yoga founded by two animal rights activists, Sharon Gannon and David Life in New York. Their method of yoga found its way to a small yoga studio called Living Yoga in Craighall Park, Johannesburg where I was living at the time. Thanks to the teachings of these wonderful, kind and compassionate yoga teachers, I was able to transition to a kinder way of living. Going Vegan, in my opinion, is the single most effective way for anybody to create a positive and long-lasting impact one's own health and that of the planet.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE INGREDIENTS TO USE IN YOUR DISHES?
My favourite ingredients to use in dishes are inspired by exotic mushrooms like Oyster Mushrooms, Lions Mane or Chicken of the Woods to name a few. Their flavour and texture profiles make it possible to create dynamic plant-based dishes such as vegan calamari rings or even a simple dish like a ‘chicken mayo’ sandwich thanks to the versatility of these ingredients.
Try Chef Jay’s favourite Collective Kitchen recipe below.
Nacho Average Chick’n Sando
This juicy plant-based chicken-style burger is covered with a creamy, spicy vegan queso* sauce and topped with crunchy corn chips, a nod to Mexican flavors.
*For those not in the know - queso is a spicy Mexican cheese sauce.
Watch the video below to see how easy it is to make:
Prep Time: 15 minutes Cooking Time: 30 minutes Serves: 4 people
- 1 tablespoon vegan butter
- 1/2 cup scallions, finely chopped (separate green and white parts)
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup diced cherry tomatoes
- 2 - 3 jalapeño peppers, diced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional) 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 ½ cup plant milk/cream
- 1 cup vegan cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped, divided Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 pack Fry’s Chicken-Style Burgers, cooked following package instructions and cut into strips
- ripe avocados
- 1/2 cup diced cherry tomatoes
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1-2 heads Romaine lettuce, washed
- 1 cup rocket, washed
- 1 cup corn chips of choice, as needed
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Fresh ground black pepper to taste
- 4 multi-seed long rolls, cut in half lengthwise and toasted
Char your jalapeño peppers over a BBQ, gas flame, or with a kitchen blowtorch to achieve a slightly smoky flavour.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and add scallion whites. Cook until tender, 3-5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the tomatoes with its juices, jalapeños, cumin, onion powder, and cayenne pepper. Cook until soft and fragrant, 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Sprinkle in the cornstarch and mix until fully incorporated.
- Add the evaporated milk and stir well to combine.
- Bring to a boil, then stir in the cheese until fully melted and smooth. Remove from heat.
- Stir in 1/4 cup cilantro and scallion greens. Season with salt, to taste. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, mash the avocados. Add the tomatoes, 1/4 cup cilantro, and lime juice. Season with salt and black pepper, to taste.
- Spread 2-3 tablespoons of guacamole to the bottom of each sub. Top with 3-4 lettuce leaves, a small handful of arugula, and the Chicken-Style Burgers.
- Drizzle a generous amount of warmed queso over each sando. Crumble a handful of corn chips over the queso.
- Close the sando and serve with a side of corn chips drizzled with more queso.