"As long as you’re at the top, you keep asking yourself, "how can I stay here?""
Vegan chef King Cook is at the heart of a bold food revolution. Delivering punchy takes on vegan cuisine, the 34-year-old’s vision of meat-free cooking has ignited a rapturous appetite for plant-based eating. From working the feverish floors of Michelin-starred kitchens, the chefs’ journey from omnivore to plant-based advocate has raised the weighty ethical issues of food choices and the urgent need to rethink our approach to the way we eat.
Bounsou Senathit is better known only as ‘King Cook’ – the new mantle adopted as his conscience awakened to the virtues of living meat-free. In his former life, the East London chef worked on the floors of Michelin-starred kitchens- slicing, cooking and serving meat on a daily basis. Within a few years, his profound dissatisfaction with the palpable aggression and pace of work led him into the lap of Buddhism. With a renewed appreciation for the power of plant-based living, the young chef has taken his vision of a meat free kitchen to the streets. Taking inspiration from the street vendors of Bangkok, Cook’s bustling eating rig is a culinary mecca for inquisitive Londoners and grime stars coming to grab tofu bowls between recording sessions. “Vegan. No Blood. No Bones” reads a sign scrawled in crimson paint on the walls. A strict vegan, the London chef offers a look into the deeply personal journey that inspired his embrace of veganism and its promising prospects.
I found myself becoming a really angry, young chef. Truthfully, the energy was not where I wanted to be.King Cook
King Cook: I got the chance to work in Spain for a French chef and that’s when I really fell in love with fine dining. Before, food was just food, but there, I was touching expensive ingredients, pairing food with different beverages, working with different cuts of fish, really top grade stuff. I was in deep and I fell in love. After spending years in Spain, I realised I needed to experience different kitchens. At that time Gordon Ramsay was blowing up so I thought “let me just send my CV”. I got a call back from one of his restaurants and moved to Knightsbridge to work.
Starting off as a commis chef, it was so intense. I can adapt to a lot of things, but the shifts were long and the hours were tough. It was just so cutthroat and there was a lot of sabotage along the way. I wasn’t involved, but there were a lot of drugs going around. Working in the city, you’d finish your shift and go out to the clubs and restaurants in Chinatown. People from all over came to work their arses off to pay rent. They wouldn’t even sleep, they’d just go back into work in the same clothes. I found myself becoming a really angry, young chef. Truthfully, the energy was not where I wanted to be.
KC: I used to play a game when I worked in Spain, I’d to carve up the chickens and time myself. I’d take off the head, section the legs, the wings, the breast, the thighs. I got it down to forty seconds. At the time I didn’t realise what I was doing, but looking back I think, “fuck man, that’s someone’s fucking legs and arms”. That energy was not where I wanted to be. Our slogan now is, “Vegan. No blood. No bones”. It’s quite graphic, but it’s straightforward.
KC: In 2009 I started attending the London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green because I needed peace of mind, I needed to get back to my roots. I spoke to the elders and they suggested I try vegetarianism, and then in 2014 I went vegan. Dealing with dead flesh, blood and bones can definitely affect you when you are preparing it, so what does it do to you when you are eating it? Fruits digest in like 15 minutes whereas curry goat takes 48 hours. Fact. People see five chicken wings as a meal, but what are five chicken wings? It’s three dead chickens for one meal. So that’s the energy that I am talking about. Because you’re so used to it, you’re blind to it. You’re there wiping up blood, dealing with red meat, cleaning all the shit out from under your nails. Once I stepped out and saw what a vegetarian restaurant was like; working with fruits, vegetables, clean boards and minimal cross contamination I thought, “damn this is clean”.
KC: It’s made me a much calmer chef, without dealing with all that energy in the kitchen. Instead of gutting fish, chopping and boiling bones, we are just cutting broccoli and bananas and dehydrating dried fruits. I feel like I found myself and got back to my Buddhist roots. Everything is personal, everything is connected to my life story. Veganism has always been here, but this is a new vegan London. This is the rebirth of it and I’m am flying the flag. I’m not an expert, I’m not a health advocate. I’m just a vegan chef, living in London, living my life and building my empire.
KC: First I think it’s about the animals, then when you read into it you realise the health benefits. Raising my kids with no meat in the house has changed my life. We rarely get ill. And even when we do catch the flu, we juice and sometimes it only lasts for a day. Whereas before, I’d be in bed for a week taking Nurofen. Now I try to stay away from pharmaceuticals and try to heal myself with foods like turmeric. I belong to a totally different generation than to my parents. To be honest, they aren’t going to fucking care about the life of a cow or a chicken. They’ve been eating meat for 70 years already and although they aren’t vegan, my mum has started to juice and I’ve been helping them find healthy alternatives. As they age I just want them to have a healthier lifestyle.
KC: I’m not trying to educate. I’m not a preacher. I just want to show people our way of living. The biggest misconception about vegans is that it’s all about sloppy stews, lasagnas and white men with dreadlocks. But now we are reaching out to a wider audience, different demographics from all walks of life. One minute its school kids coming through and the next it’s Boy Better Know (JME). I love the locals, the youths, the roadmen, the tattoo artists, the meat eaters that are dragged along by their friends, the musicians and the celebrities that come through. It’s all love. We are making a lot of noise. Without us here everyone would still be on the healthy juice journey. I grew up in East London, my family were immigrants and we ate a certain, expected way. Now that I have the choice to change the way I eat, for me, veganism is my form of activism. It’s the future.
After working in Michelin-starred kitchens for several years, eponymous vegan chef King Cook opened his first restaurant Cookdaily in 2015. Credited with giving veganism the modish makeover it was craving, King served up fresh South Asian inspired vegan food from his residencies in BOXPARK Shoreditch and Croydon until 2018. Having recently relocated to a permanent residency in London Fields, Cook continues to challenge the face of veganism with his adventurous healthy colourful dishes. For the latest comings and goings.
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