Last week we promised to give you a guy’s perspective on Green Monday SA and plant-based cooking. So, here’s our exclusive interview with Alex Poltera, chef at the Fern Hill Hotel and Training College.
Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your experience as a vegan chef?
Well, I’m the executive chef and trainer at the Fern Hill Hotel and Training College in the KZN Midlands.
I started experimenting with vegan food when a close friend of mine, Keri Bainborough, became vegan. I initially saw putting together vegan dishes I wasn’t familiar with as quite a daunting task. I soon realised that it’s far easier than everyone makes it out to be. I found the challenge of pushing the envelope in terms of making new and exciting things extremely satisfying. I am not solely a “vegan chef”, but my outlook and attitude towards it has developed so much over the past year.
I find it extremely rewarding to see vegan diners coming to our establishment. They are so grateful and excited to see all the vegan items on offer. We were the first place in our area to have vegan starters, mains and desserts available on the menu (without special request). Subsequently, the prevalence of vegan dishes has appeared to have snowballed everywhere. They are now becoming way more accessible than before.
You’re one of the Green Monday SA ambassadors. Can you tell us a little bit about Green Monday SA and your affiliation with this cause?
In a nutshell, Green Monday is an international movement towards improving not only our personal health, but that of the planet as well. It is a positive statement in which individuals can make the pledge to start living a kinder and more conscious life and educating people about how changing a habit for just as little as one day a week can make a massive difference.
My affiliation with Green Monday is that I am one of their ‘Celebrity Partners’. I am a chef who often blogs about vegan dishes or “normal” dishes that perhaps people didn’t know were vegan. These are featured on my website and social media sites.
Green Monday approached me to become one of their partners, which I willingly accepted! I’m very excited to be a part of this wonderful and very necessary initiative.
South Africans are very meat-loving people. How can something like Green Monday make a difference?
To be honest, if South Africans plan to be eating healthy meat for generations to come, they should look at pledging to Green Monday. The level of ignorance towards climate change and the effects of badly-run agriculture on our planet, health, and the health of livestock, is incredibly worrying. People are quite happy to continue their life with blinkers on and look at diet change as an irrelevant thing in terms of helping the planet. Cutting out meat and animal products for just one day a week will help. It is also far easier to do than ‘stand-offish’ daily meat eaters realise. It’s a great start and it’s not difficult. And it certainly makes a difference to the 77 billion animals farmed in incredibly poor and unhygienic conditions per year to satiate our appetites.
I by no means claim to be vegan, but I do support the Green Monday movement wholeheartedly as it makes sense to me. I do not want to come across as self-righteous or ‘preachy’, but I really do feel that there is a lack of knowledge and education in the food consumer sector. We all need to work together to educate everyone in our country while we still can.
Dietary preferences are often a cause of dispute among people. No one seems to agree on what is best – eating a full omnivorous diet, going vegetarian, vegan, etc. What do you think is the best and healthiest diet to follow?
I have always said that everything in moderation is good. Eat what you like, but educate yourself before eating what you do. Know where it comes from. Know the story behind the end product. Support small and local farmers and be conscious of what you are putting into your body. I do not believe in any specific diets. I believe in an individual’s way of life – that which they have chosen and that which works best for them.
What are some of your favourite meat-free dishes?
I would have to say that my favourite vegan meals are my crystal spring rolls with peanut and ginger dip and a nice butternut or chickpea and lentil curry. And, of course, my absolute favourite of all, avocado on toasted health bread with a bit of salt and pepper!
We’ll be back soon with more foodie news!
Interview Date: August 2016