Nikos Gaitanos is a chef specializing in vegetarian/vegan cuisine. He has worked as a consultant at vegetarian/vegan restaurants in Greece as well as in the UK. Currently, he is Head Chef of “Healthy Bites” and “Vegan Nation” restaurants in Athens and “The Saints Stores” in Thessaloniki. He is also the author of the cookbook “Dirty Vegan”.
What is your food philosophy & practice?
Keep it simple; I love creating recipes with just a few but very high-quality ingredients.
Were you ever a meat eater? How did your personal interest in vegan food begin?
I was a meat eater a long time ago – I actually haven’t eaten meat for 29 years! At first, I was a vegetarian, then a pescatarian and recently I started following a plant-based diet. I first heard the word ‘vegan’ eight years ago. At first, I couldn’t understand why they didn’t eat any animal products but gradually I began to make the connection, and after my sister became vegan somehow she manages to convince me to change my diet too.
How / when did you take vegan cuisine to a professional level?
I stopped cooking meat 13 years ago because I started to feel it’s unethical to do so, especially when I wasn’t eating it myself. Since then I’ve worked only in vegetarian and vegan restaurants.
Can people easily get all their nutrients from a vegan diet?
The earth provides us with unlimited fruits and vegetables that have all the nutrients we need, so I believe we just have to eat a little bit of everything!
Is a vegan diet difficult to follow? What are its top advantages?
Initially, it can be difficult because to say that you want to change your diet is just the first step. After that, you have to deal with a society that is so widely based on the suffering of animals, and with the theories and comments of your family and friends. Last but not least you have to research and decide what you are going to eat from now on. Nowadays it’s much easier than it was a few years ago because the internet provides us with all the information, recipes and ideas you need to make the transition. More and more people are turning vegan every day and that makes it even easier. When you change your diet, you change your life, and you become a member of an ethical society; vegans are helping each other in every way.
What is your best advice for someone considering going vegan?
My advice to those who want to go vegan is to open your eyes to really see the injustice that’s being done to animals, and then block your ears to all those who try to tell you not to do it. What we learn from our fathers is not always right… We are the masters of our lives and if we see and feel that something is wrong we must be the ones to change it, or at least we have to try to.
What is your goal as a vegan chef in Athens?
I want to provide excellent food choices for vegans so they will never feel that something is missing from their diet. At the same time, I want to encourage the meat-eaters to discover that vegan food is packed with flavours, and that the choice is endless.
Athenians are showing increased interest in vegan food. Why do you think that is?
There are numerous reasons for this. Some are just curious about this relatively new (to Greece) trend, and some are simply fed up of meat and prefer to eat something healthy. Some are curious about making the transition and want to find out what it would involve, try foods and learn more. The fact is that Greeks overall, not just Athenians are changing – actually, people all around the world are changing in this sense as veganism is becoming a larger reality every day and nothing can stop it from happening!
Do you teach people how to cook vegan?
Over the last few years, I have been teaching at cooking schools and running workshops on vegan cooking. So far I’ve taught at (Dipnosophistirion School of Gastronomy)in Athens, been a cooking workshop consultant in Thessaloniki, and worked at the Culinary Studies Centre in Herakleion, Crete.
What are your favourite vegan foods, what do they taste like and why do you love them?
My favourite foods haven’t changed throughout the years – I love pizza, pasta, souvlaki, and burgers! I’m a junk-food lover and the name of my first cookbook says it all: “Dirty Vegan”.
“What we learn from our fathers is not always right… We are the masters of our lives and if we see and feel that something is wrong we must be the ones to change it, or at least we have to try to.”