Each year I create ‘MY GUIDE TO A PLANT-BASED LIFESTYLE IN SOUTH AFRICA‘ – this year I included The Vegan Chef. An absolutely mind-blowing company with a passion that can be seen (and tasted!) in every single meal they serve. The Vegan Chef creates artisanal gourmet vegan food that is not only delicious but also really good for the environment. Best known for their friendly service and the Southern Friend Chick’n, I just had to do a quick interview with the founder, Sue Gajathar. From her bubbly personality to her amazing creations. Sue not only is focused on empowering other women but also her activism in raising awareness on veganism can truly be applauded.
Let’s Meet Sue Gajathar and The Vegan Chef
The Vegan Chef, started as a tiny food cart in Sandton, Johannesburg next to a Burger King. While not being scared of the ‘big guy’ – Sue took them on head-on to make a difference in how people see vegan food. Soon the demand for her delicious food became so demanding that she had to start expanding. Now she has branches in Sandton, Craighall, Midrand, Pretoria, and even two in Durban.
The restaurants offer amazing vegan meals to enjoy in-store or online from the Beyond burgers to gourmet pies with chips and gravy. Their ‘hot-seller’ crispy zingy burgers, sticky ribs, and fried chickn, to the beautiful poke buddha bowls and also some sweet treats.
The Vegan Chef also has a great range of frozen meals for you to make at home. Such as Sticky ribs, Vacon, battered Vish, Pies (Cottage, Veggie, Mince, chickn curry), Samoosas, Chickpea curry, Pizza (Spicy Mexican, Sticky rib, Margarita) and much more. Easy, convenient but with all the taste included.
Sue Gajathar is part of the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ EMEIA class of 2021, and The Vegan Chef was also awarded the “Best Vegan Food Chain – South Africa” “Culinary Excellence Award 2021: Vegan Southern Fried Chickn” by Lux Life Magazine.
Sue has been making tidal waves in the media, from doing interviews on radio and television. as well as partnering with organisations such as ProVeg during this year’s 2022 Veganuary.
Let’s get right into my interview with her:
Who is Sue Gajathar? How long have you been Vegan? “I’m an entrepreneur and want to change the world one meal at a time. I used to work for some of the big 4 audit firms and started The Vegan Chef almost 3 years ago in a small little food cart behind Burger in Sandton. On a personal note, I am a mum to a busy 7 and 10-year-old. I spend most of my time innovating and coming up with new recipes, I enjoy yoga, park runs, and walking my 2 fur babies.”
What is your philosophy when it comes to food? “Eat the rainbow 🌈 😊. It is so important that we focus on protecting the planet with what is on our plate.”
The Vegan Chef now has branches in Sandton, Craighall, Midrand, Pretoria, and Durban. What will be the next steps for TVC? “It’s has been a challenging time in the hospitality industry due to Covid19 and the current economic difficulties in South Africa. We at The Vegan Chef are so grateful to have been able to sustain and grow our business during these harsh circumstances. We are a young team that loves to innovate and push culinary boundaries. So our customers can expect some new concepts focusing on sustainability and obviously delicious cruelty-free food. A few new expansion opportunities have come across our desk and we are busy reviewing them. Keep close to our social media pages for some exciting news!”
As you yourself are a powerful leader, you also focus on empowering other women in the industry. Tell me more about the importance of leading from the front and why this is so close to your heart. “The business world is still male-dominated and it is important that we females who have made it as leaders in these environments showcase ourselves and lead from the front. This will encourage more females to show it’s possible, truly believe in themselves and rise to the top in business. Female leaders also bring critical skills, diversity of thinking, and a focus on humanity to the South African boardrooms that are required now more than ever in this dynamic time in our country.”
What is your favourite product on the menu at one of The Vegan Chef restaurants? “Difficult question, it has to be the Crispy Vish and the new Zingy Burger. The Vish is really bold in flavour whereas the Zingy burger brings the spice and heat which I love.”
What has surprised you the most about The Vegan Chef visitors? “Diversity ….Our customer base is extremely diverse from plant-based to experimental carnivores 😀. From young to old and from all cultural backgrounds.”
There seem to be so many more vegan restaurants opening up all over the world now. How different is the picture today compared to say 5 or even 10 years ago in South Africa? Veganism has definitely gone more mainstream. Most Vegans were making their own milk and butter 5-10 years ago and now we are spoilt for choice. We are so fortunate today in terms of choice and we can predict that this is only going to get better.
Do you think it has become easier to introduce vegan food to communities as it has become slightly more mainstream, or are the challenges still the same? SA still has a braai meat culture and It’s really tough to introduce plant-based food to the communities. However, with some innovative and really good products, it is becoming much easier to integrate veganism into our community. Also with COVID and the climate crisis – people are becoming more conscious of their food source and this is leading to some positive changes in dietary choices. We believe that this paradigm shift to the acceptance of vegan food and a vegan lifestyle is approaching rapidly.
If you could give one piece of advice to new vegans, what would it be? Stick in there and don’t be too hard on yourself. Let your body, mind, and soul adapt at their own pace. Remember you are part of the pioneers for saving humanity, protecting the animals, and for reversing climate change.
What is one misconception about veganism that you would like to debunk, right here and now? Vegan food can and does taste better than meat and it’s better for you, the animals, and the planet.
What makes you truly and utterly ecstatically happy? Innovating and coming up with new products in the TVC factory.
Are you team TOFU or SEITAN? ALMOND or OAT milk? SEITAN (but I love a good tofu scramble) and OAT milk for the win!
Lastly, if you had to create a meal such as a burger, a wrap, or a combo of any kind and you had to call it ‘The Something Guy’ – what would that meal consist of? It would definitely be a Gatsby with TVC vegan fried chicken and TVC bbq ribs with chips and our blend of sauces. Both would be unique to South Africa and with an enormous depth of taste and both are going to change the world fundamentally. (PS we will start working on it immediately 😉)
You might have also seen her on ENCA before talking about braai day and heritage day, Or on SABC News, talking about the benefits of being vegan.
Sue – Thank you so much for doing the interview with me. You are truly a massive inspiration for me personally and I appreciate everything that you are doing to make the world a better place for women, families, animals, and the planet. Keep being you!
Where to find The Vegan Chef online:
Stay Curious, Stay Blessed!
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