Vegan chef with more than one MILLION followers on YouTube reveals being 'experimental' with food and 'meal prepping' are key to making the diet switch
- Gaz Oakley, from Cardiff, said life changed after deciding to go vegan overnight
- The chef, 28, now dedicating his time to making vegan meals fun and accessible
- Here, he tells FEMAIL about his journey and how you too can overhaul your diet
A vegan chef who gained more than one million followers on YouTube with his 'how to' guides has given his top tips on making the dietary change.
Gaz Oakley, from Cardiff, said that his life changed overnight five years ago after watching a video about veganism and deciding to switch diets for himself.
The 28-year-old has since gained 1.2 million followers on YouTube who have followed his vegan journey as he shares recipes and tips online.
He told FEMAIL that those considering the switch should 'be experimental' while cooking to find the best recipes and 'meal prep' to make the switch as straight forward as possible.
Gaz Oakley (pictured), from Cardiff, said that his life changed overnight five years ago after watching a video about veganism and deciding to switch diets for himself
He explained: 'I became a chef when I was 16 years old - it was my earliest passion after learning to cook with my dad and working for some of the best restaurants in Cardiff.
'In the kitchens I was making some incredible foods, anything and everything, and the thought of veganism never really crossed my mind. I just loved food.
'But then I actually took a few years out of the industry and started weight training because I wanted to play rugby again and so put on all this weight.
'So I was eating this colossal animal protein diet, like a body builders diet really, loads of calories.
The 28-year-old added that he has not looked back since and is now dedicating his time to making vegan meals fun and accessible for everyone
Gaz's pros and cons for going vegan
- Health benefits that come with a plant-based diet
- Knowing you are helping the planet as well as consciously moving away from animal cruelty
- Money saving compared to animal-based shop
- Explaining your decision to go vegan to family
- Finding places to eat with your friends
'I put on a lot of weight and I wasn't feeling good in myself because of all that food and because of all the animal protein.'
Gaz explained that five years ago, he ended up watching a YouTube video by Gary Yourofsky about the meat industry and animal production which 'shocked him so much' he ended up going vegan overnight.
Speaking about how his family reacted to the news that he was going vegan, Gaz said: 'It was funny actually - my parents were on holiday at the time and I rang them up and said "just to let you know I am going vegan".
'And they were like "what on earth is that, what are you doing now".
'So I had to explain it to them but when they got back from holiday I started cooking them the food that I had been making and they both went vegan themselves.
'My dad, who went through some really tough health issues a few years back with a massive heart operation, is now thriving on this vegan diet and has never felt healthier.
'I feel like he has got more energy than me - he's cycling at about 6am at most mornings!
'So I can safely say veganism has not only changed my life but it has changed my family's life which I am really grateful for.'
Gaz said that since going vegan he has never looked back, adding: 'When I went vegan it was like a new and exciting thing that I could play around with - various different ingredients that I had never cooked before.
The chef, who said that eating meat left him feeling sluggish and low on energy, revealed he immediately felt better after ditching animal products
'Having been a meat eater for 23 years I thought I would miss rich, meaty flavours and textures - something with a bit of bite - but I instantly found I was able to recreate all of those flavours.
'I actually now don't miss anything...I am able to recreate pretty much anything.
The chef, who said that eating meat left him feeling sluggish and low on energy, revealed he immediately felt better after ditching animal products.
He said: 'More or less straight after going vegan this stomach pain that I had prior to going vegan disappeared pretty much after about two weeks.
Gaz said that there are key vegan staples to rely on if you are thinking about transitioning, including beans and pulses and leafy greens
'And I just felt lighter in myself. I had a spring in my step and I felt this energy that I didn't have before and I thought it would just wear off or that I wouldn't feel it forever but still, to this day five years on, I feel healthier and fitter than ever before.
Gaz's top tips for going vegan
- Watch guides that make vegan cooking fun and exciting
- Be experimental to rediscover your love of cooking
- Meal prep so you always have a vegan option at hand
- Stock up on vegan staples
- Use food as your weapon of choice to show family and friends how good vegan options can be
'I credit the diet so much because I feel like it is hitting all the needs for me. I've got all this energy. I can run really far and when I go to the gym I can lift heavy weights constantly
'And I also recover faster because of the diet I believe. And I think that is why you see and hear of lots of athletes going vegan or plant-based because they understand that you get an added percentage form your diet and really do think it does help you recover faster.
He added: 'So in the last few months when I was eating meat and the high-protein diet I was feeling guilty about having the animal products.
'But as soon as I gave that up it was like a massive weight lifted from my shoulders and that was a great benefit for me.'
Gaz advised those considering switching diets to 'watch vegan YouTube channels', saying: 'Many people discover their love for cooking by going vegan because they thing "what the hell am I going to eat now".
'And that is what happened to me but that first vegan meal was amazing.So in the vegan kitchen, just be experimental.'
He continued: 'Try to meal prep as well, so you've always got a meal ready to go just in case you are in an area where you may not be able to find somewhere to eat vegan food while you're out and about.
'It's also important to make sure you're stocked up on vegan staples such as nuts, seeds, pasta and rice.
'If you're not scrabbling around for ingredients you're going to make something good.'
Gaz, who hopes that the appetite for veganism will keep growing, said some of his favourite vegan meals include lasagne, stew and chilli - all that are really straightforward to make
Gaz said that there are key vegan staples to rely on if you are thinking about transitioning, explaining: 'The most important thing for me is making sure that I am eating loads of leafy greens and vegetables and loads of beans and pulses.
Gaz's best vegan dessert: Salted chocolate fondants
Cooking time: 90 mins
- 2 cups/240g Self Raising Flour
- 3 tbs Cacao Powder
- 1 cup/200g Caster Sugar
- 1 tsp Baking Powder
- 1/4 tsp Salt
- 1/4 tsp Cinnamon
- 1 cup/240ml Cashew Milk
- 2 tsp Vanilla Extract
- 2 tbs Chia Seeds blitz to a powder & mixed with 50ml water
- 1/2 cup/115g Vegan Butter, plus a little extra for greasing
- 2 cups/300g Vegan Dark Chocolate, cut into small cubes
- 1 cup/240ml Cashew Milk
- 1/4 tsp Salt Salt
First up make the chocolate filling, tip the chocolate into a mixing bowl. Heat the milk with the salt until piping hot, then pour over the chocolate and mix together until smooth and creamy. Place the bowl into the freezer to chill & set quickly .
Pre heat your oven to 180 degrees celsius & grease 8 individual small non stick pudding tins with vegan butter.
Heat all of the wet ingredients together in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring until everything has melted and combined.
Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, then pour in the heated wet ingredients and stir until just combined.
Fill each pudding mould half full with the mixture, then place a tablespoon of the chilled chocolate ganache into the middle of each. Fill the moulds with the rest of the fondant mixture, then give each tin a tap on the surface to level them out.
Transfer them to a baking tray, then into the oven for 12-15 minutes.
Allow too cool slightly before turning the fondants out of the mould.
Serve with cherries and a sprinkling of organic cocoa powder.
'Then if you really want to help those meat cravings there are loads of burger and sausage options on the supermarket shelves these days.
'You won't have to worry about milks or not finding a non-dairy milk that you like because there are so many different ones out there that you will find one that suits your tastes.'
Meanwhile Gaz revealed his formula for maintaining a healthy diet while eating as a vegan, saying: 'I always say think of your plate as a chart and have half of it a good quality carbohydrate - things like beans and pulses or sweet potatoes.
'Another quarter of the plate should be made up of a good quality vegan protein that you get from pulses as well anyway but I would recommend something like tempeh or tofu.
'The final quarter of the plate should be leafy greens or vegetables. It really is straightforward.'
But Gaz confessed there were 'cons' that come with his extreme lifestyle choice.
He explained: 'I think in terms of the cons it is true that your social life may change a little bit.
'You may have to tell your mates that you don't want to necessarily go to a certain restaurant but there are plenty of other places to go that offer vegan offers that you will be able to suggest.
'You may have to have a few awkward conversations.
'In terms of telling your family as well, I've heard from some feedback that it can be quite difficult especially if you are younger but my argument to that would always be just get in the kitchen and show them how good vegan food can taste.
'And that is what I do, I use my food as my weapon of choice to show people how good vegan food is because for so long it was always thought of as boring and bland and rabbit food essentially.
'I feel like the pros definitely outweigh the cons.
'It was difficult to be a vegan five years ago but nowadays I feel like vegan is on nearly every menu.
Asked whether Gaz had found that going vegan helped him save money, he said: 'Definitely, 100 per cent.
'When I used to shop non-vegan, the most expensive thing going in my trolley was meat and dairy. And nowadays with those out of the basket I think the most expensive thing is nuts which still aren't as expensive as meat.
'And if you think about the cheapest food products on the planet are beans, pulses, vegetables and then nuts and grains and things like that which are all vegan ingredients.
'You could easily fill up your trolley with those kind of ingredients and it wouldn't cost you probably half the amount you would spend on a non-vegan shop.
'When you start getting into meat replacement products, they can be quite expensive because there is quiet a lot of innovative cooking techniques that have gone into those products - but overall a vegan diet is definitely cost saving.'
NEW AND EXCLUSIVE: Gaz Oakley x Merchant Gourmet Favourite Vegan Recipes
Serves 6: 281 kcal per serving, £1.36 per serving
Cooking time: 90 minutes
- 1 ½ cups / 150g Sweet Potato, cubed and steamed
- 2 tbs Olive Oil
- 250g / approx. 4 Portobello Mushrooms
- 1 Onion, chopped fine
- 3 Cloves Garlic, minced
- 1 Red Pepper, chopped small
- 2 tbs Mixed Dried Herbs
- 1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
- Pinch Sea Salt & Pepper
- 1 cup / 125g Breadcrumbs
- 1 pack Merchant Gourmet Whole Chestnuts, blitzed
- 1 pack Merchant Gourmet Puy Lentils
- Zest of 1 Lemon
- Roast Potatoes
- Winter Vegetables
1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C. Line a medium sized baking dish / loaf tin or small pudding tins with greaseproof paper.
2. Put the mushrooms in a blender and blitz until they are finely chopped.
3. Place a large, non-stick saucepan over a medium heat. Add the oil & when the pan is hot, add the mushrooms. You want to sauté them for around 5 minutes so that you get rid of some of the water inside them & get them nicely golden.
4. Next, add the onion, garlic & red pepper to a pan, plus the herbs, cayenne pepper & seasoning.
Merchant Gourmet Puy Lentils
5. Sauté the mix for 5 minutes, stirring often.
6. When you’ve got a nice colour on everything, add the sweet potato. Sauté the mix for a few more minutes before adding the breadcrumbs, chestnuts, lentils and lemon zest. Stir until all the ingredients are well combined. Turn the heat off, then using an old-fashioned masher, lightly mash the mix breaking down any large chunks of sweet potato or chestnuts.
7. Spoon the mixture into your lined loaf tin / tins & compact it in as much as you can.
8. Place the lentil roast on the bottom shelf of your oven to roast for 30 minutes.
9. Once your roast has been in the oven for 30 minutes, take out and let it stand for around 10 minutes before place a flat baking tray on top. Then carefully, whilst holding the tray with one hand & the loaf win with the other, turn the tray upside down so that the roast comes out. Peel off any greaseproof paper that’s stuck.
10. Serve your Merchant Gourmet Lentil Roast with trimmings of your choice.
Serves 4: 569kcal per serving, £2.29 per serving
Cooking time: 1 hour 15 minutes
- 1 tbs Olive Oil
- 6 Dried Merchant Gourmet Porcini Mushrooms, soaked in 1 cup / 250ml Boiling Water
- 1 Large Onion, peeled
- 2 Carrots, peeled
- 5 Cloves Garlic, peeled
- 2 Sticks Celery
- 3 tbs Soy Sauce
- 4 tbs Tomato Puree
- 1 tbs Fresh Thyme Leaves
- 1 tbs Fresh Rosemary, chopped
- 1 Pack Merchant Gourmet Puy Lentils
- 1 Pack Merchant Gourmet Glorious Grains
- 1 cup / 240ml Vegan Friendly Red Wine
- 1 cup / 240ml Vegetable Stock
- Pinch Sea Salt & Pepper
- 4 Large Potatoes
- 4 tbs Vegan Butter
- ½ cup / 120ml Non-Diary Milk
- 1 tbs Olive Oil
- Pinch Sea Salt & Pepper
1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius / 356 Fahrenheit.
2. Place a large, non-stick saucepan over a medium heat & add a little oil. When the pan is hot, add the onion, carrots, garlic & celery. Sauté the mixture for 4-5 minutes, stirring often.
3. Finely chop the re-hydrated mushrooms then add them to the pan with the tomato puree, herbs, lentils & glorious grains.
4. Keep stirring the mixture for 2-3 more minutes before adding the mushroom liqueur (soaking water), red wine, stock, salt & pepper.
5. Meanwhile, make your mash potato for the topping.
6. Add your potatoes to a medium saucepan and cover over with water. Place the pan over medium heat & cook the potatoes for around 10-12 minutes, or until they are soft enough to mash.
7. When the potatoes are cooked, transfer them to a colander draining away the water. Let the potatoes dry for 2-3 minutes, then pass them through a potato ricer to mash them.
8. Once you’ve riced all the potato, whip in the milk, vegan butter, olive oil and seasoning. Set the potato aside until you’re ready to top your pie.
9. When the filling mix is rich and the liquid has slightly thickened, transfer it to your baking dish and top with the creamy mash. I used a piping bag for an old-fashioned look, but you can just spoon it on.
10. Place your shepherd’s pie into your oven to bake for 25-35 minutes, or until the mash on top has gone crispy and golden.
11. Serve right away.
Serves 4: 316kcal per serving, £1.07 per serving
Cooking time: 40 minutes
- 1 Onion, peeled
- 6 Cloves Garlic, peeled
- 1 tbs Fresh Ginger
- 1 tsp Sea Salt
- 1 tbs Vegetable Oil, for frying
- 1 Pack Merchant Gourmet Puy Lentils
- 1 tbs Curry Powder
- 1 tsp Mild Chilli Powder
- ½ tsp Turmeric
- ½ tsp Ground Coriander
- ½ tsp Ground Cumin
- ½ tsp Ground Fenugreek
- ½ tsp Ground Cinnamon
- 2 tbs Tomato Puree
- 2 Potatoes, peeled & cubed
- 2 cups / 480ml Vegetable Stock
- 1 cup / 240 ml Vegan Cream, or Coconut Milk
- 1 tbs Brown Sugar
- Fresh Coriander & Chilli Garnish
1. Add the onion, garlic, ginger & salt to your food processor with a splash of water & blitz to form a paste.
2. Place a medium sized, non-stick saucepan over a medium heat and add the spices. Pan roast them for a minute or two before adding the paste & the oil.
3. Sauté the mixture for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Add the tomato puree followed by the potato & lentils
4. Keep cooking the mixture & stirring until everything is coated, then deglaze the pan with the vegetable stock & vegan cream
5. Add the brown sugar, then pop a lid on the pan and let the curry bubble away for 15-20 minutes. Turn the heat down low & don’t forget to stir it every 3-4 minutes, as the potato has a tendency to stick.
6. After 20 minutes of cooking, the liquid should have thickened considerably & it should smell beautiful.
7. Serve the curry with rice or sides of your choice & garnish with coriander and chilli.