Chef of the Month - Tammi Willis
For October’s Vegan Living magazine, I interviewed my favourite chef, Tammi Willis (nepotism whaaaat?! Quiet at the back!)
Tammi has moved to Bangkok, where she runs Nourish Cafe. I am going to Thailand especially to eat her entire menu in December. That’s just the kind of selfless vegan / sister I am.
You can follow Nourish on Instagram here.
Tammi Willis is executive chef at Nourish Cafe Bangkok and Nourish Cafe Yangon. She talks sunshine, burgers and Asia's burgeoning vegan community.
What was your journey to veganism?
I was pescetarian for years, then vegetarian. In January 2016 my sister went from hardcore carnivore straight to vegan and successfully took her husband with her. I found that admirable - it was difficult to not be vegan when they’d done that!
Had you already emigrated to South East Asia?
Yes, after eleven years running a nightclub in London, I went in search of an adventure in the sunshine. I moved to Myanmar, where I met fellow expats Jojo and Jerome, who ran a yoga studio. But my other big passion is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) and the martial arts scene was thriving in Bangkok so in early 2016, I moved again. I love the constant sunshine in Asia. You feel like you’re on holiday all the time, even when you are working. That summer, Jojo and Jerome called and explained they’d found a new premises for their yoga studio big enough to run a cafe too. They asked me to return to Myanmar and go into partnership. I said I would as long as the cafe could be vegan even though I had only been vegan for a few months. I committed to getting Nourish Yangon up and running but wanted to return to Bangkok eventually.
When did you open the two cafes?
We opened Nourish Yangon in December 2016. Once established, I spent more time in Bangkok training in BJJ. The gym where I train, Bangkok Fight Lab, moved premises and the opportunity arose to build Nourish Bangkok, looking out over the training mats of our warehouse style gym. Nourish Bangkok opened in March 2018. Nourish Yangon do sell a local artisan yoghurt and some recipes contain honey but Nourish Bangkok is 100% vegan. Being able to run a plant based cafe in the gym is a dream come true. All my passions are under one roof.
Are your customers mostly people from the gym?
No, it’s a real mix. There’s locals, there’s the expat population, gym goers and of course, vegan and vegetarian travellers. Vegans are amazing at seeking out vegan places. If you are listed on Happy Cow and Trip Advisor, vegans will come find you!
Is your cafe eco friendly?
We strive to be. We have silicone straws for smoothies, metal straws for iced coffee and paper straws to takeaway. Our takeaway cutlery is made from compostable bio-corn and our bin bags are compostable too. We’re proud members of the Refill Not Landfill initiative. Brands and organisations across South East Asia sign up to sell permanent water-bottles which have a QR code customers scan, which tells them where they can fill up with drinking water for free, reducing single-use, disposable plastic water bottle waste.
Is there a strong vegan scene in Bangkok?
Asia is famous for its vegan and vegetarian festivals. We’re one of six, if not more, 100% plant based, environmentally aware, international cuisine cafes. There’s others specialising in Thai food and more still who don’t focus on the environmental side of things. Bangkok’s a big place and there’s nothing like us in our immediate area but all the vegan businesses are supportive of each other. Every new establishment strengthens Bangkok’s reputation as a vegan destination.
What are your popular dishes?
The burger never fails to deliver! The black bean patty is based on a Minimalist Baker recipe with a few tweaks, served with chunky BBQ sauce, lettuce, tomato, homemade sweet pickled gherkins, a side of Asian slaw and oven baked sweet potato fries. It tastes so satisfying, everyone loves it. A simple favourite of mine is peanut butter and avocado on sourdough. I’ve always loved nut butter and, separately, avo on bread. One hungry day I put it all on together and it was delicious. I put on the menu ‘trust me, it’s amazing’ because it’s not a known flavour combination, but I implore you to try it!
Has veganism changed you?
I actually feel late to the party. I should have known better, sooner. But I feel like an early adopter of modern veganism. People are more bold and unwillingly to live off the kind of bland food that once gave veganism a bad name. I feel healthy, strong, alert, happy and love being part of the vegan community.