ThisIsAlfred meets the East Orchard-based chef who wants Shaftesbury to discover how much variety a vegan diet offers.
Jasmin Giles has had an interesting career and she’s never been far away from food. Jasmin once worked as the manager and housekeeper of Pythouse Park. And whilst that role involved a fair amount of cooking, she’s really found her catering niche recently, providing food for people who want to follow a plant-based diet.
“Three years ago I had a vegetarian catering trailer in West Wales, where it was all about health foods for people going to music festivals, who were a bit under the weather. They needed something healthy to bring them back to life and it went down an absolute storm,” said Jasmin.
Vegan options are frequently found at festivals or through street food vendors in larger towns. Jasmin’s goal is to one day operate a town centre business devoted to vegan diets, perhaps here in Shaftesbury. “It’s always been my dream to have my own café, preferably with a health food shop in the side. I believe there needs to be more healthy options in the High Street. Who knows – one day I might do it myself.”
Jasmin has been nurturing relationships with other people’s cafés. She now supplies plant-based sweet treats to the tearooms in Milton Abbas and Bournemouth’s Café Thrive. In the meantime, Jasmin has been building her Green and Grainy business, catering for weddings, markets and dinner parties. That can mean working long hours and irregular patterns.
Jasmin works out of the family home in East Orchard. “I do have a small production kitchen in the garden of my parents house. It’s not very big but it’s just big enough to do what I need to do.”
Jasmin has joined the regional market circuit and says that that exposure is proving useful. This weekend (Sunday 16th December) she’ll make her second appearance at Shaftesbury’s Sunday Market.
In between all of that, Jasmin recently promoted, cooked for and hosted a vegan dining event. “I had my first supper club at the Pythouse Tennis Club in Tisbury,” said Jasmin. “It was really successful. I had 24 people there. It was a three-course meal and really well received. Everybody enjoyed it and 80% of people who attended were not vegan. They were just really inspired and they wanted to know when the next one was taking place.”
So does Jasmin think people attend vegan food nights in order to try and be convinced by vegan food? “Some do. Some were avid carnivores. A few of those guests came up to me afterwards and said how enjoyable the food was. They were quite surprised. Largely it was the local community supporting me – local friends who wanted to see what it was all about.”
Jasmin thinks that the different aspects of veganism can present a challenge when she promotes her food. There are some people, like Jasmin, who follow a vegan diet for health reasons. Some people are vegan for ethical reasons and there’s also a political aspect to veganism.
“It does create a challenge because a lot of the activism reflects badly on a lot of vegans,” explained Jasmin. “When I approach different outlets there have been some places that have felt threatened by me approaching them. I can only assume those feelings are coming out because of activism. I promote my business as plant-based, as much as I am a vegan. The difference means that you are doing this for health reasons. If you say you are vegan, you are adopting everything from the ethical standpoint – over wearing leather shoes to sustainability.”
Jasmin follows a vegan diet for her own well-being reasons. “I decided that I needed a clean slate and to start completely fresh. I cut meat, dairy and gluten out of my diet. Overnight, I started to feel amazing and realise that whatever I was putting in my body was not right for me personally. That’s what this journey is about. It’s looking at what is right for us as individuals. It’s different for everybody,” said Jasmin.
Jasmin says she feels 100% better having given up meat and animal-based products. “I would not go back, personally. I had a real issue with dairy that I had been ignoring and it gave me a lot of problems. I just thought it was normal and until you cut it out you cannot appreciate how much it is affecting you.”
But isn’t being vegan a bit of a hassle, particularly if you are going on a long road trip? If you’re lucky you might find falafel, it’s becoming more popular on menus, but that’s not everywhere. “Fortunately there are some options at service stations. Waitrose and M&S provide that for us. You have to be more organised. Every evening I soak my oats in my oat milk for breakfast. I make myself a packed lunch every day. But it’s no different from what anybody else who works 9-to-5 would do, unless they ate out every day. But most people don’t do that, do they? You can’t afford it. It’s that mindset about being mindful about what you put in your body. It takes me fifteen minutes to prepare my food.”
Jasmin says she spends extra time making her food because she knows that she is using the best ingredients. “I’m all about making food from scratch. I believe that is how you can control what you put in your body. If you choose to eat processed food then I would recommend doing it in moderation,” Jasmin said.
We moved on to discussing raw food. Jasmin has become famous for her raw cakes. “I’ve got quite interested in eating raw food. I eat possibly 70% of my food raw. It’s becoming apparent that people are intrigued by that. When I’m at markets, people are drawn to me because I am promoting that I do raw food. It’s a gap in the market. I am predominantly inspiring people and helping them realise how easy it is to eat vegan.”
Although raw food is becoming more visible, there are lots of misconceptions surrounding the term. “People often laugh at me because I make a lot of raw cakes and people think they are not baked. It’s actually just using raw whole food ingredients, dried fruits, ground nuts and flavouring them with different juice – making something unusual which is really nutrient rich.”
I asked Jasmin if there was a problem with vegan food in that people do not know what to expect? Most types of food are geographically tied. You’ll know that to expect with Indian or Italian food, for instance. Whereas vegan food is usually all about what’s not in it.
“If you imagine Asian foods, they are often sweetened or flavoured with different sauces and all you are actually removing is the meat or dairy elements. It’s easy to replicate those dishes. You can create those world cuisines in a vegan style. It’s just knowing the right ingredients to add to give it that similar taste.”
Jasmin is concerned by the amount of processing in some commercially-available vegan foods, though. “Being British myself and trying to appeal to a British diet, then people do try and recreate the classic pie and chips and sausage and mash in a vegan way. There are many meat substitutes out there but you are arguably consuming a lot of starch, predominantly made from glutens like seitan. You’re not getting the nutrients you need having a vegan diet if you eat those sort of things.”
Jasmin sees her role as informing and educating people about food choices. She hopes to start an online video blog to encourage people to try plant-based cooking. “Referencing a cookbook is not really enough for them to boost their confidence and do it. I want to record myself cooking in my kitchen, inspiring people to cook things that they might not normally cook. That’s the direction I’m going in,” she said.
People who follow plant-based diets often feel strongly about sustainability. Jasmin agrees that vegan food can make a difference. “That is why meat-free Monday, and people cutting down on the meats they use, is really inspiring. People are more aware that their lives are having an impact on our planet. That stems from every choice you make on a day-to-day basis. If you can look at vegans living more sustainably, that is really the message that I am trying to portray.”
Jasmin thinks it would be better if we could all cut down our meat by 80% of the time but she admits that it can be difficult and many people do follow strong habits where meat and dairy have been a huge part of their diets. “I’ve had to do it myself. And I still live at home with my mum, who eats meat and dairy every day and I’m surrounded by it. If you try and do it one or two days a week, then it is brilliant.”
Jasmin believes that the Shaftesbury area is quite receptive to the idea of experimenting with plant-based diets and it’s not just a trendy thing for younger people. “I do seem to attract a certain type of clientele but interestingly, I have had a lot of the older generation coming up to me who say they have had a health scare with diabetes or told to lower their cholesterol. They’ve been happy to see that I had a healthy sweet alternative because that’s what they had been missing in the new diet. That took me by surprise. I had not anticipated that.”
As we chatted, Jasmin started reeling off her ideas. She has the boundless enthusiasm and energy to achieve success in this emerging food market. Jasmin is a keen triathlete and she would like to produce and promote healthy snack bars that vegan athletes could eat before and after exercise or events. She’s spotted another market gap.
“It’s quite hard to come by vegan personal trainers who can recommend vegan diet plans. When I have done triathlons, I have taken my own food because there haven’t been healthy options there. It’s usually a bacon bap and that’s not something I would want to eat, even if I was a carnivore, after doing a triathlon in all honesty.”
Jasmin says she understands the science of food and the fuel we should be eating so we perform to the optimum. But she stressed the point that everybody is different. “It’s a complicated thing to learn what works for your body but, so far, so good with my energy bars. They proved that I can complete a triathlon.”
With her mission to inspire healthier food choices that are full of flavour, Jasmin is giving Shaftesbury residents a chance to reduce the meat intake without feeling that they’re missing out. You can contact Jasmin at GreenAndGrainy.co.uk.