Try googling vegetarian hotels in the UK and the choices are still very thin on the ground, and yet for me, certainly, as cool as it is to find places with great vegan choices, I always feel much more at home in cafes, restaurants and accommodation where vegetarian is just the way it is rather than merely an option. This is how I came across, and spent a night at, Our Lizzy, a cookery school and B&B based in Malvern; this vegan establishment is run by Lizzy Hughes, pictured, a former teacher whose appetite for good food led her to open her own business eight years ago.
Lots of people dream about opening a B&B, but you really went into it with your eyes open. Tell me a little about yourself and your background. How long did it take you before you could open your cookery school? What are your qualifications and how was it gaining them alongside a full-time profession?
As I began my teaching career I saved for some sort of veggie venture not knowing if it would take the shape of a restaurant, café or B and B. I taught in schools close to a large university and met children from all around the world. We had many international food evenings and I enjoyed finding out about food from a range of culture. I also had a good grounding in vegetarian cookery though undertaking the four week long Cordon Vert Diploma from the Vegetarian Society Cookery School. After this I had lots of experience giving cookery demonstrations to evening groups, people asking about classes so as a teacher this seemed a natural idea to pursue.
You’re clearly driven and passionate about cookery, nutrition and veganism – can you tell me a little about your own road to these things? When did you become vegetarian? What was your main motivation? And how much of a role does that play in your desire to share and teach what you know to other people?
As a child I didn’t like the idea of meat, it always had a close association with the animal it was from. I became vegetarian when I was at college and soon realised the horror of the dairy industry. I became vegan in 1990 around the time I finished my degree, I knew then I’d like to do something to help animals. Being vegan has been a way of life for so long; it’s a pleasure to share it with other people.
How much research do you think people should do before starting a vegan diet? What are the main things to be aware of?
I meet an awful lot of people here at Our Lizzy who go vegan overnight now, whereas in the past I’d say it was more of a gradual transition. I think coming on a course is a great way to see how you can have vegan versions of all your favourite dishes. For others there are a multitude of cook books, blogs, film clips and recipes online to draw upon. It’s all about balance and not too much junk food! Just stick to a healthy varied diet just supplemented with B12.
How do people end up coming to your classes? Big question, I know, but a few anonymous/general examples might help. Are most people already veggies or vegans? I guess linked in with the previous question, you must see people toying with the idea of switching to a plant-based diet coming to you as part of that journey?
A variety of people come, there is no requirement to be vegetarian or vegan and the majority of customers aren’t. They are interested in trying something different. It’s a real mixture of foodies and beginners, young and old.
The growth of veganism currently has a massive momentum behind it – what are your thoughts about this? You meet a lot of people who must be either vegan/veggie-curious or already on that wagon, what do you feel are their main motivations and how do you think that message is best spread? There are a lot of films around, which get quoted as turning points for people, but it’s not as simple, usually, as watching a film which tells you what you already know or suspect; again, as someone who talks to a lot of people who have changed or are changing their lives I’d be interested in hearing your perspective.
There has never been an easier time to be vegan. I meet people making the change for all sorts of reasons, be it for the animals, their health or concern about the environment. Film is a powerful tool and is often quoted by those who have made the change from meat eating to vegan – often if you’ve seen something you can’t ‘unsee’ it. A lot of my customers are vegan for health reasons and follow the principle of The China Study or the work of Michael Gregor.
Thinking about the boom in vegan food products – there’s nothing we can’t get now really, for those looking to do a straight switch in terms of what they eat and stick to familiar products. Do you think that’s a viable way to go vegan – replacing processed like for like?
Absolutely, this makes it much easier to switch. Sadly not everyone loves cooking from scratch! I’d say that for the most part once people make the change they do start cooking more though.
What are your most popular classes?
Meals in Minutes is always popular, lots of people have very busy lives and don’t have time to cook. Baking and Tasty Tofu are busy too.
And then back to that passion of yours and that drive to open your own business – what was that process like? What are the differences to you being in this business as opposed to your former teaching life? How long ago was that? How hard was it to start up… how long did it take, to find the perfect spot and then set up up as you wanted it to be? Were there moments of doubt along the way? How easy was it to get customers in?
I think you have to have nerves of steel to set up your own business particularly as a sole trader! I started here in Malvern in 2010, setting up was a massive financial undertaking. I had great support from local business networks. A lot of small businesses fail through lack of funds or not being prepared to put in long hours. Initially I was able to run the business alongside two days teaching which gave me an income until I was established.
To find out more about Lizzy and the cookery classes she offers, or if you fancy a night or two in the Malvern Hills eating fine food, visit http://www.ourlizzy.com/