The inside scoop with Top Chef competitor and plant-based butcher Lauren Marshall
Top Chef competitor and culinary pro Lauren Marshall, despite her sunny disposition and easygoing nature, is not a woman to be taken for granted.
While one might be fooled by her chatty east coast ways, or the Taylor Swift tunes spilling out from the kitchen of her plant-based butcher shop, Marshall, as a businesswoman, is anything but .
Despite having worked for nearly 15 years in a notoriously rough-and-tumble field, this vegan chef shows no signs of burnout. Not only is Marshall a fierce competitor and pro in the plant-based sector, but she approaches her work with the enthusiasm and joy of a kid fresh out of school.
Drawn to cooking from a young age, Marshall says she was inspired by her grandfather, a chef in the Canadian Navy, and her desire to work and travel the world. At the age of 19, she found herself graduating culinary school and thrust into the professional sphere, where she says she put her head down and learned from the pros.
“I would get picked on, or people would think the stuff I would make wouldn’t be very good, so I was in a constant state of proving myself,” she said.
“But I was very eager to learn, so I just listened, and did — that’s all.”
After a whole lot of listening, Marshall became the chef for Halifax vegan restaurant, enVie. Not long thereafter, she appeared on Top Chef Canada, where she competed against some of the country’s best. This week, she was kind enough to share the inside scoop with .
“At the time, we’d just opened enVie and I was in a transitional time where I more or less considered myself a flexitarian,” she said.
“I was very comfortable cooking meats and working with cheeses, but very much plant-forward.”
Despite still eating animal products herself, she was unafraid to share her love of plant-based cooking on the show.
“I’d get made fun of and things like that, but I made it half way. I think I did good considering that, you know, I wasn’t gunna win from the beginning, having that kind of plant-forward attitude in cooking.
“I was fine with that. It was cool just to be on the show and be someone who wanted to cook healthy food, and be more plant-focused.”
After the show, Marshall delved into the world of teaching, and spent more than three years helping Haligonians keep things fresh, and plant-based.
“I kind of tried to make everything in the book, because I always wanted to keep my classes dynamic,” she said.
“I treated my cooking classes as a way to test things out and see what people thought. I guess doing that and playing around with recipes at home brought me to doing a vegan proteins class. It was received really well, and people were really upset that they missed it.
“All of that helped to spark the idea of doing the boxes.”
And so began Real Fake Meats, now a fully fledged plant-based butcher shop, the business began as an explosively popular plant-based meat and cheese boxes pre-order service for the people of Halifax.
Marshall explained that, given the brand’s warm reception, expansion was a move that came naturally.
“As soon as we saw that it blew up, that’s what we wanted to do. It was nice to know that there was enough demand that I could have a whole kitchen behind me.”
Now established as a walk-in shop, Real Fake Meats continues to be a massive success. A clear foodie herself, Marshall was happy to dish on a number of her favourite items.
“I just love making cheese, so all the cheeses are awesome. They’re fun to make, and I like the processes involved,” she said.
“My favourite thing is the changing items, and coming up with new ideas.”
And the customer favorite? Her tofu-based Popcorn Chicken of course. Hey — don’t knock it until you try it.
You can find Marshall, and her plant-based meats and cheeses, at Real Fake Meats on Gottingen Street in Halifax.
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