Eating for Pleasure & Purpose: Conversation with Food Activist & Eco-chef, Tom Hunt 

Words: Robyn Samuels

Plant-based eating is more than a trend, it’s become a lifestyle for many, including eco-chef Tom Hunt. We caught up with the UK-based chef, food activist and writer at The Plant Powered Show in Cape Town, where we bonded over our disdain for Bobotie and the joys and the travails of gardening. Join the conversation.

Interview with eco-chef, Tom Hunt

Tom’s culinary journey began at a young age, often found helping his grandmothers prepare for Shrove Tuesdays and Sunday roasts. While Tom initially pursued a degree in fine art, he ditched his paintbrushes for knives and turned to the culinary arts. Now, a decade into his professional cooking career, he has dedicated himself to promoting climate-positive cuisine.

Tom’s cookbook, Eating for Pleasure, People & the Planet, encompasses his values of enjoying food and prioritising whole foods. In his column for The Guardian, Waste Not, Hunt creatively transforms neglected produce into treasured recipes, inspiring home cooks to practice zero-waste cooking. Hunt’s commitment to sustainability extends beyond the kitchen, as he supports local farmers and collaborates with international chefs to challenge how we think about food…

Can you tell us about your journey with food?

I have been passionate about food my whole life. I started cooking with my grandmas when I was about five or six, making cakes and pancakes on Trove Tuesday. We’d gather around the table every Sunday and enjoy a marvellous roast dinner – my favourite was always the mint jelly. I just thought it was utterly delicious, and sweet, of course. But I became passionate about food, professionally, when I started cooking at one of our local pubs – the chef was just so inspiring. We just couldn’t do anything but talk about food.

Have you always wanted to be a chef?

I studied fine art, but I always wanted to be a chef. Whilst painting in the studio, I would often think about cooking, and as soon as I graduated with my degree, I put down my paintbrushes, picked up my knives and started cooking professionally.

Your book mentions that we should ‘eat for pleasure, eat whole foods and eat the best food that you can’. How can we get more people to choose whole foods instead of refined foods?

With the current zero-waste and plant-based movement, we’re seeing a renewed interest in whole foods, which we all need to drive as chefs and food lovers. I believe those three values can help us eat better food for personal and planetary health. I think whole foods have more flavour; they are more interesting and contain far more nutrition than processed foods, and are actually really fun to experiment and cook with.

chef Tom Hunt

Photo credit: Jenny Zarins

Most of your recipes are plant-based; would you consider yourself a ‘flexitarian’ or do you loathe labels?

Personally, I’m a flexitarian. I’ve been vegetarian and I love exploring plant-based food, so I decided to make my cookbook plant-based because I think plant-rich diets are the future.

In your column Waste Not, you repurpose scraps. How do you come up with such creative ideas for recipes?

I’ve just written my fifth year of articles, so I’ve developed many recipes using various ingredients, and I like to come up with ideas in a few different ways. One way is, I’ll try and identify a byproduct, like a herb stalk or some stale bread.

I also cook with seasonal fruit and vegetables; I’ll often look up what’s in season and think about a fruit or vegetable and what might be wasted, whether it’s a herb stalk or a beetroot or cauliflower leaf. Then, I’ll think about different seasonal recipes and ways to use that, or I might literally just research what other people are doing. There are loads of chefs practising really interesting ideas; I try to speak to different chefs around the world and find out ways that they’re saving waste too, and then work with them to help promote their recipes.

What’s currently growing in your garden?

I was a farm labourer when I was a child, 14 years old. I was paid one pound, 50 an hour, and it’s tainted my love of gardening for the rest of my life. But as someone who’s interested in food and our connection to nature, I still try and garden. I prefer vegetables and fruits to flowers, although I do enjoy edible flowers too. At the moment, we have some lamb’s cress and other herbs and artichokes, which are a perennial that just come back every year.

Do you have a favourite South African dish or dessert?

Good question. I just found out about koe’sisters which sound delicious, and I can’t wait to try them. What I don’t like is Bobotie.

You’ve done great things in your career; what ‘s next for you?

It’s hard to say – my focus over the last decade has been zero-waste cooking and helping people cook climate-positive cuisine – reducing waste and eating more plants save us money, at zero cost. I’d like to continue encouraging others to support small farmers through buying local seasonal food, and using the money we’ve saved from eating more plants and reducing waste to invest in better food when we can, because that is how we’re going to not only mitigate climate change, but start to regenerate the planet.

Why are expos like The Plant Powered Show so important?

These shows help drive the change we need to see to eat more climate-friendly food. It’s also an incredible opportunity to come across the world and chat with people about how they’re cooking, share my ideas with them, and learn from them as well.

What are some zero-waste recipes people can make at home?

I usually cook straightforward recipes that demonstrate ‘root-to-fruit eating’ in action. Apple Scrap Vinegar made out of apple scraps can easily be made at home using old or fallen apples, and used in salad dressings or as a morning detox drink.

Vegan Chocolate Truffle is another recipe from my cookbook that explores meditative eating and eating for pleasure. You could also make multiseed plant-milk using hemp seeds and other nuts (sunflower, pumpkin seeds), sweetened with dates, which can be enjoyed on its own or used in baking and more.

You can order chef Tom Hunt’s cookbook Eating for Pleasure, People & Planet online at Exclusive Books or Amazon.

tomsfeast.com | Facebook | Instagram

Feeling inspired? Try these Easy Vegan Recipes for Beginners. Check out our Seasonal Fruit & Veg Chart for South Africa, and cook with the seasons.

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