Meet The Chef: Gareth Ellison is the head chef and founder of the Resist! Vegan Kitchen, which can be found at The Ostrich Inn, 17 North Street, Peterborough. The original pioneering Peterborough vegan eaterie will be celebrating its first anniversary tomorrow (Friday).
How did you get into the business?
I guess the idea started at Mama Liz’s in Stamford when I was part of The Scary Clown Presents collective - putting on gigs and charity events while catering for people attending. The vegan offerings were always limited, so I started making everything from scratch myself. People raved about it. We did more events and it started me thinking where we could go with it. I realised then that I wanted to be involved fully with food. But in a socially conscious way.
What were your ambitions then and now?
We were (and still are) heavily involved in the music scene. The ambition was to get our food and ethics into Peterborough somehow, that’s our home town, where we live and where our hearts are. Bringing incredible touring artists to intimate small spaces and serving the best food, while being a safe accessible space for all. I used to run a small independent record label, I used to skateboard for Macbeth footwear alongside doing The Great Euro Skate fundraiser (500mile across Europe skateboarding for which my Peterborough team mate James Clark holds the world record) these things all add to what we are.
We have our one year celebration event on Friday, September 28 (open to all) alongside our close friends Battle Lines, who are a big part of our history. Our aim is to one day open our own restaurant, maintaining our ethics and always better what we do. We’re open to discussion with investors.
How did Resist! come to be at the Ostrich?
We were asked by many people to do a pop-up and take over venues across the city. The Ostrich Inn is the place that stood out as ethical for us; it matched our beliefs and is also heavily independent, we work closely with them.
The pub will turn fully vegan very soon. It supports the ideal behind our food of being pro-feminist, anti-racist, LGBTQ friendly and animal friendly. We’re more a community than restaurant.
The city centre seems to be overrun with faceless corporate restaurants, selling vegan options, while on the next table there’s dead things. Some establishments ban plastic straws while selling fish? There’s a lot of double standards. Keep it real. That’s our motto.
We are the total opposite to all in Peterborough and Lynn (Resist business partner) is the heart of what we are; the real person that everyone meets when dining with us.
How important is the team around you? Is recruiting difficult?
The team is everything. They make it work. Lynn Jobson is the biggest part of the team. She works closely alongside me with ideas and she runs front of house. She is as important as myself within Resist! and I feel should be equally important as me in this profile. It wouldn’t work without her. It’s more like a family than co-workers, she’s more a little sister to me. We’re a small team. And everyone is family to us.
Recruitment is not a problem at all for us. There are so many people within this city that are passionate about our ideals and want to join the family. It’s something we’re always blown away by.
What was the first dish on the menu? Most recent?
The first dish we put on was our original doner kebab. The most recent dish is the FFF Bowl, a solo food challenge which 30+ people have attempted and only two people completed.
What gives you most pleasure from working in a restaurant?
The food inspiring people to rethink their meals and the (heartwarming) messages and comments we receive. We have the BEST CUSTOMERS. We refer to them more like family. Everyone is welcome to eat, it’s not just food for vegans - 70% of our customers are meat eaters or vegetarian. We always get asked why we do many meat substitutes as we’re vegan. The simple answer is that meat (and cheese) is a learned behaviour, we’re surrounded on all sides by it within our culture. We are vegan for ethical reasons, against animal exploitation. We create foods which are familiar, that potentially help with transitions or open discussions. It’s a nice side of what we do and we love questions from customers. You can still have your Doner Kebabs, Fried Chickun, cheeses and everything and not miss out on flavours and textures. It’s simply cruelty free instead. What’s not to like? Essentially die hard carnivores will not be too pleased with Tofu and salad put in front of them. We want to be accessible to all, many vegan places are very middle class, expensive, and the food is below standard, somewhat boring. That’s not the background that we are from. We want this to be open to everyone. Accessible not exclusive. We have hoards of meat eaters loving our foods. And many also abstaining from meat due to it. It’s a beautiful thing. Saving lives through cookery. We have sold out on every opening since we first started and we now open 11am-4pm & 6pm-10pm Thursday-Sunday. All drinks, snacks, spirits and wines are cruelty free. And we love dogs.
What can people expect from the menu?
Our main staple has been the Resist! Legendary Doner Kebab in Naan. It’s always been our best seller. It’s still my favourite item on the menu. People are always surprised by it. The standard reply is that “it tastes exactly like a doner kebab, but it doesn’t taste gross and greasy”. It’s my personal favourite, it’s where it all began and we’ve developed it to where it is now. On our new menus we have desserts, brunches, ‘Ish and Chips, 3 variety cheese toasties stacks, harrissa rub chickun bowls, platters, loaded fries, Reuben sandwiches, Big Mock pizzas, we announce our new menus very soon and we’re excited. Everything we make is from scratch, our mocks take 24hrs to prepare, there’s a lot of science involved with our cookery and it’s only getting bigger with a multi course menu to follow.