Well, it all started with a meeting with Mahi Klosterhalfen of the Albert Schweitzer Foundation. I had just quit my job at vegan restaurant La Mano Verde, and Mahi and I were looking for a way to spread the vegan lifestyle. Due to previous collaboration, the foundation had good connections with the director of dining of the German National Association for Student Affairs to whom we presented my concept of training in vegan cuisine for dining hall chefs. It wasn’t long until we organized the first training in Berlin where eight dining hall chefs from across Germany were invited. Because of the continuously positive feedback, I was then invited to cook at the Campus Dining Services Convention, an important annual event for German campus dining hall caterers. This was another success and got the ball rolling. I have to emphasize, though, that it helped a lot that the Albert Schweitzer Foundation supported me in promoting and introducing my work to the dining hall directors.
What was one of the most profound experiences you’ve had since you started teaching veagn cooking classes?
Something that barely anyone actually believes: the majority of the cooking staff were easy to get interested and enthused about vegan cuisine.
What makes your cooking classes so special?
I think what distinguishes my cooking classes is the theoretical part. During the theoretical workshop I teach the cooking staff comprehensive knowledge about vegan cuisine, e.g. products, preparation, pitfalls, suppliers as well as the advantages of the vegan diet in regards to ecology, health, and animal protection.
What’s your secret to convincing conventional chefs of the benefits of vegan cuisine?
I think this is mostly due to the outstanding quality of the products I work with. Surely the overlying format of the classes and the art of preparing the dishes both play important roles as well, but in the end it comes down to the quality of the dishes, which is primarily due to the quality of the ingredients and the already existing skills of the chefs.
How did students like the new options on the menu?
Throughout this entire experience, the students’ feedback was remarkably positive. The student service organizations received countless e-mails in which the new vegan options were praised. Not only were those options welcomed by students, but also by the employees in a Mercedes-Benz plant and the German Federal Environmental Agency that I have worked with. The positive feedback from children I work with is a personal highlight, though. In collaboration with the German Children’s Fund, the Albert Schweitzer Foundation has already organized a vegan cooking class for kids in Berlin in May; and there are many more to come. This is where we see great potential to positively influence the future development of our eating habits.
In particular canteens and dining hall kitchens have a limited budget and need to operate at low costs. How can you combine less spending dollars with healthy food?
This is actually one of the main topics of my cooking classes and especially arouses the interest of the purchasing department. Hardly anyone expects that vegan products can be a lot cheaper than the corresponding animal-based product. When in fact, more often than not, they are. Additionally, these products are ideal for almost anybody suffering from allergies – a subject that is becoming increasingly important in gastronomy.
Besides the expansion of your cooking classes, you have also just recently opened your own restaurant.
Yes, after months of renovations, we were finally ready to open our restaurant “Kopps” in the heart of Berlin. We offer a variety of breakfast options, a daily changing lunch menu, many different kinds of cake, pies, snacks, and dinner options that are all traditional German cuisine, but, of course, all plant-based.
Thanks a lot, Björn, we are looking forward to working together with you in the future – for the benefit of animals, humans, and the environment!
Thanks, I really enjoy working with you!