Welcome to Inspiring Insights, where your ZENB team introduces you to experts from the worlds of fitness, cuisine, and nutrition — people who bring a refreshing perspective on living a more balanced life.

Plant-based chef and entrepreneur Lauren Lovatt is the founder of Plant Academy in London and opened the food element of the hotel HOY in Paris. We chatted to her about eating with minimal food waste and the future of sustainable cooking.

To get started, please tell the ZENB community a little about yourself.

To be honest, that's been changing a lot recently. I normally say I’m a plant-based chef, but it's becoming a bit more of an entrepreneurial food activist. I have Plant Academy, which is a plant-based cooking school in east London. We travel the world teaching chefs how to make plant-based food, which aligns with helping people to follow their dreams and start their own thing. Recently, I’ve been involved in designing and implementing the food element at a plant-based hotel in Paris, so I've been in the kitchen quite a lot, but I’m also teaching and leading talks and workshops.

©Sophia van den Hoek

That sounds incredible. What's the name of the hotel in Paris?

HOY, like House-of-Yoga, but also kind of like “Hey, over here!” It's been an amazing project. Paris is becoming more and more plant-based, but the hotel is very much going to be the first of its kind in Europe. With a whole floor dedicated to yoga and an elevated plant-based menu, it's very focused on low-waste sustainability.

Now that you're spending more time as an entrepreneur and less as a chef, has that changed the way you look at your time in the kitchen?

Since we opened Plant Academy at the beginning of 2019 we've evolved who we are, what we want to do and the kind of impact we want to have. What I've discovered is that the more that we created our own blueprint and style of food we do, the more we discovered the values we want to meet so everything is super sustainable. We work with local, seasonal produce, always questioning what we're using and how we can get people excited about our way of thinking.

©Sophia van den Hoek

You mentioned HOY being low waste, which is something ZENB promotes by using more of the vegetable. Can you go more into your belief system around limiting food waste?

When I first found out about ZENB and learned more about the brand, I was so excited that you were raising awareness of food waste reduction. And though it's not necessarily going to change the world immediately, I think it is such a key message — it's very much what we do at HOY as well. At our hotel, we always think, is there anything left over? If we're making a stock, can we dry out the leftover vegetables and turn them into a powder? Or if we're using beets, can we turn those into a powder to colour a granola bar or sprinkle on a plate? We always look at waste as a form of art to help inspire our kind of creative process.

Waste being art is such an intriguing approach to sustainability. You’ve also written about plant-based foods enabling you to turn your life around and your experiences related to mental health. What’s your relationship with food in terms of bettering yourself?

©Sophia van den Hoek

Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved cooking. I remember being small and making crazy things with my grandad. As I grew up, food became my thing, but I never thought it would be my career.

When I went to university, I studied art and fell in love. My boyfriend at the time was diagnosed with bipolar disorder — a word and diagnosis we knew nothing about. A very long story short, he ended up taking his own life, and then my life collapsed. I had a series of mental health issues, and, after a very long struggle and with really good support around me, something clicked. I found a reason to get better again, and food was the key thing that helped me. I used a lost passion to nourish my self, body and mind and, subsequently, began a career inspiring others to enjoy plant-based food.

How much of a positive impact would you say food has had on your mental health and life experiences?

I knew that food would help me get better. I was finishing my degree, and I learned a reasonable amount about nutrition, so I researched what kind of food would support your mental health because I had no idea that food could even moderately impact your mental health. As I learned more, it was about how to stay in balance or how to give your brain nourishment that it needs, so if you’re in a more difficult time, you have that base, that foundation of support. I ended up writing a book about rebranding mental health with a trend toward well-being, and how to make healthy living cool before that was the thing. Writing this book opened up different options, and I decided to retrain as a chef.

Becoming a chef was, in itself, incredibly impactful for how I balance and understood the relationship between mental health and food. But once I fully dedicated myself to a plant-based diet, a whole new world of flavours and ideas and ways of cooking opened up, which led me to be involved in opening a vegan restaurant in the countryside. And this whole business became my life in three years. I went from not knowing what I was going to do with myself to having a new business and way of life. It really did turn everything around for me.

We often just attach “plant-based” to having a better physique and the environmental impact. It's rarely talked about as a place of mental health, of expressing yourself creatively in the kitchen in order to find focus and balance.

That's what it's all about. I run supper clubs that discuss the link between mental health and food and the ingredients we use. We use things like anti-inflammatory antioxidants, whole grains, delicious vegetables — things that give us balance. But at the end of the day, it is about bringing people together and celebrating our communities through cooking and being creative, which is so good for your mental health.

©Sophia van den Hoek

We love that. There’s both a physicality to the connection between mind and food, but there’s also something meditative and spiritual to the rituals around it. How can you get the benefits of the plant-based diet when you're travelling?

I think in England we’re very, very lucky that on the whole, nine times out of 10 you can find something, but it is still difficult, especially when you go to the further flung corners. It is all about being quite prepared — I do a lot of research about where I'm going, or I pack little snacks and treats, but I can't even tell you how long I've been saying “there needs to be something savoury, or more veggie-something to have” because I get that it's not that exciting. Everything has fruits, nuts, or seeds, but it doesn't quite hit the spot. That's why I think something like ZENB, especially the Veggie Sticks when you're on the road, they are really handy. And I'm not just saying that. It’s exactly what you need, especially when you don't always want something sweet.

We’re really proud to hear that, thank you, Lauren. And what about food prep when you’re at home? What is your approach to everyday cooking?

©Sophia van den Hoek

It happens a lot when I'm home for holidays with my family. Just opening the fridge and seeing what's in there. We want to eat soon, what have we got? I'll always look for some good vegetables, whatever's in the fridge, and then whatever I create will be around that. Tonight, for example, I know that we have quite a few leftovers. We have Brussels sprouts, we have root vegetables, and we have cauliflower hiding somewhere so it's going to be a big cauliflower curry.

And it's all about just having that little toolbox. Always knowing you have a nice sauce in the cupboard or knowing everything needs a nice crunch so you've got something to sprinkle on top like nuts, or seeds, or granola.

As a leader in the field of plant-based food sustainability: what’s coming next? What are going to be the emerging trends, whether it's in zero food waste or the plant-based area?

With the plant-based movement, especially this year, we have so many people now that are really dedicated to this kind of movement. And I think it is about going back-to-basics and focusing on things like whole vegetables. I think people are curious to know how to cook quickly. They are actually quite curious to know how to do things for themselves. Those are the trends I’ve observed, but I think we need to go way more creative with them. I live right by a place called Silo London which is this incredible zero-waste restaurant bringing so much creativity to light the realms of waste.

This has been amazing Lauren, thank you. Where can our readers reach you or find out more about your work?

You can find me on Instagram at @Lauren_Lovatt and we're about to open a new studio in east London in the spring. You can find out more on our website: plantacademylondon.com.

Also check out @HOYParis if you ever find yourself in Paris to get a taste of what we’ve been up to.