Seven years ago, the UK launched Veganuary, an annual challenge for people to follow a vegan lifestyle during the month of January.
Established as a charity, Veganuary helps to promote awareness of veganism and to educate people on a range of issues from nutrition to tasty vegan recipes, so they can easily adapt to a plant-based diet. Among its ambassadors are the Oscar-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix and comedian Sara Pascoe.
The idea of Veganuary has quickly caught on, with the charity stating on its website that over a million people in 192 countries have tried vegan in January since 2014.
After the usual food and drink blowout over the December festive period, many people opt for a period of abstinence, making it the ideal time for people to try a different, healthier diet.
Vegans refrain from eating any animal products in their diet, including meat, fish, eggs, milk and honey.
It can be a tough transition for many, especially for Turks, who while having a strong plant-based diet, also love their hellim, beyaz peynir [white cheese], grilled fish, and kebabs.
One person who not only made the permanent move to veganism, but also turned it into a successful business is British Turkish Cypriot chef Filiz Huseyin (pictured top, left).
Filiz is the co-founder of Malta’s highly acclaimed restaurant the Balance Bowl. Described by one reviewer as a “vegan oasis in Malta”, everything on the menu at this five-star rated seafront restaurant in Il Gżira is vegan, and the business also prides itself on avoiding single-use plastic with its orders.
T-VINE caught up with Filiz during her recent visit to Britain to ask about her new meat-free life, tips for wannabe vegans, and recipes to a few of her delicious restaurant dishes.
Tell us a little about yourself
Hello T-VINE readers. I was born in Tottenham and raised around the North London area. I’m the youngest of three siblings.
My dad came over to the UK from Cyprus in the early 60s to try for a better life for himself and his wife-to-be. My mum followed shortly after.
I got a place to study at Sussex University, but decided to defer for a year after I got myself a job.
I ended up really enjoying working in the hospitality business and stayed on. My experience in the sector grew fairly quickly grew, and it wasn’t long before I was promoted to manager.
My last job in the UK was an Area Manager for southeast London for the wonderful Krispy Kreme – who finally got their exclusive vegan doughnut this January, 2021!
When and why did you turn vegan?
I turned vegan over two years ago. Although I’d been a vegetarian for five years, I didn’t make that transition straight away.
My initial reasons were for health. I couldn’t understand why anyone would consume meat that had been pumped with antibiotics and animals kept in an unsanitary environment that was called ‘food’.
Soon after, it became a culmination of compassion for animals and our environment. I have pets, they are my kids. I was like, ‘who am I to choose which one to love and which to eat?’
Then there is our very precious environment. The more you read and learn about our ever-growing population and demands on the planet, everything just links together – and the more you just cannot ignore it. Or maybe you can?
How did your family respond to you going vegan?
My family in general have been great. I mean if you consider this Christmas we enjoyed Tofurkey. They also had a side of roast lamb.
It’s slow progress with the family, but it’s been a warm and supportive one.
What would you say to those thinking of about going vegan?
Give it try. Incorporate a plant-based meal once a week into your meal prep and go from there.
I used BOSH TV [vegan based online TV channel and website] for a lot of quick, familiar and friggin’ tasty inspiration.
Build on that with some scientific and factual reading about diets, our bodies and wellbeing. There is a great link I can share with you all NutritionFacts.org – IT’S GOLD!
How did you become a vegan chef?
I’m less of a chef, more an inventor, when it comes to plant-based cuisine.
I really fell in love with food in general and what it means to different cultures around the world, and how it brings people together.
When I travel – not sure I remember what that feels like these days – I don’t have a bucket list of what I need to see. My aim is always, ‘what food experiences and flavours can I have here and take back into my everyday life?’
Malta is very much like Cyprus with regards to the climate, and ’small island life’ really appeals to me.
My business partners and I were visiting the country for a few years before we made the leap. There wasn’t one vegan restaurant in sight and the options were bleak.
As a trio, we had each worked for corporations for well over a decade and thought it was time to do something we loved.
Time in our lives is precious and I personally wanted to do something that is for the greater good.
How did the Balance Bowl come to be, describe its ambience like and the locals’ response to the restaurant?
Soooo, the Balance Bowl is myself, Barbara ‘Basia’ Blaszak and Ewelina Lukasiewicz.
My business partner – and my life partner – Ewelina is the mastermind behind this idea. She initiated the ‘dream’ and we were onboard totally!
From visiting Malta, we knew what locations we wanted the restaurant to be located in and it was just a case of waiting for the right place to come up.
The demand is great here. It took us 6 months to win over the locals; now we have even the die-hard carnivores coming by on a regular-basis.
Maltese people do love to dine out and if they like what you do, they will tell their friends and come back again and again!
This was a big win for us on a more personal level than a business. To connect with the locals and the foreign residents – it means we are doing a lot right!
Since opening the Balance Bowl in Malta, we have seen a lot more vegan options on offer on the island.
In terms of our ambience, the Balance Bowl is a very relaxed eatery. We have a lounging chillout area upstairs where you can play games or read a book. Downstairs is more of a dining experience.
We have an innovative menu, which we change annually, but also offer specials every week. The menu consists of a great balance of both healthy and naughty options.
We won ‘Best Veggie Burger in Malta’ six months after coming on the scene in 2019 and we have been featured on the ‘Best Vegan Restaurant in Europe’ where we were voted into the Top 20!
A lot of big social media influencers come in to our place, but for us they are just like normal people. We don’t kiss and tell LOL.
What are Balance Bowl’s signature dishes?
First up is the Classic Delish. This was the first ever dish I created for Balance Bowl. It didn’t look like this when I was trying it out in my kitchen in the UK, that’s for sure!
Definitely our signature dish. Our lovely guests say, ‘It’s like a healthy vegan KFC’.
Another Balance Bowl favourite is ‘Pierogi’ – handmade Polish dumplings filled with classic sauerkraut and forest mushrooms. Both my business partners are Polish Brits, so I couldn’t miss this one out!!
I definitely don’t want to come across all preachy, because that’s just a total turn-off!
One of the reasons why we created Balance Bowl was to plant that seed, to get people to try a vegan meal, like it and possibly go further.
Veggies CAN be exciting, and we can all do our bit for the environment. This isn’t just for the next generation. It’s not JUST about leaving our hard-earned money to our kids and loved ones when we pass. It’s about much, much more than that.
One love. Peace out guys.