A chef who worked in the forces for six years has launched his first vegan-inspired venue in the town of Elgin.
John McCormick, who lives in Turriff, opened VISTRO on High Street last Friday to give individuals who follow a vegan diet and lifestyle a different place to enjoy their food.
The 48-year-old chef has been a vegan for six years and hasn’t eaten meat for the past 27 years. He hopes his new venture will inspire carnivores to eat more plant-based meals, while giving vegans a range of dishes they may not be able to get in other local venues.
Having worked as a chef for 31 years, the restaurant will boast a bistro offering and will be open five days a week from Wednesday to Sunday.
He said: “I’ve been a chef for 31 years. I’ve not eaten meat in 27 years and I’ve been a vegan for six. I have cooked with meat for long enough that I wanted to do my own thing. I couldn’t actually taste the dishes I have been cooking for the past nearly three decades as I didn’t eat meat.
“I want people to understand that vegans don’t just eat vegetables and things like that, my food is bistro cuisine and there’s things like quarter pounders, vegan fish and chips, and that sort of thing available.
“I want meat eaters to come to a vegan restaurant and enjoy the food, rather than me always having to go to a meat eaters’ restaurant and picking a vegan choice.
“The response we’ve had so far already has been fantastic. I think around 50% of the customers we had in over the weekend were meat eaters so that was great to see. I think they were getting introduced to it by friends and were actually really excited by it.”
Working in the forces for six years, John learned the trade in the RAF and says his offering isn’t all primarily just focused on vegetables as he appreciates “new vegans” like meat alternatives, which are more readily available nowadays.
“I’m ex-forces and started in 1990. I was in the forces for six years and I ended up at RAF Leuchars. I started cooking in and around Fife and Dundee, and I’ve been to Auchterarder, worked offshore, and have done different things, too.
“I learned the trade in the RAF and I’ve worked in almost every part of the industry. I wake up every morning wanting to cook and I just love being a chef.”
“A lot of newer vegans still want to see the likes of meat-like products so I have ensured I have dishes and products on the menu that they will recognise. My quarter pounder genuinely looks like a quarter pounder, and my southern fried chicken dish looks like southern fried chicken, same with the fish and chips.
“I wanted to cut out the middle man in purchasing and selling on. I make at least 80% of the produce I use and I make all of the bakes and cakes myself, too. It is a lot of work but totally worth it.”
Feels like home
Employing just one member of staff, John says he and his front of house employee, Collene Cowie, work well in bringing a homely feel to the venue which usually seats 34 covers inside.
While Moray is in Tier 3/Level 3, he has stripped back the tables to just 24 covers, although there is also seating available outside.
He added: “I have one member of staff called Collene Cowie – she is amazing but she has never worked in the industry before. I wanted to get people in who would work with an open mind and make it feel like home.
“My partner Tracey Papiez, also helps out quite a lot, too. There may be a time when I’m speaking to the customers through the pass if they’re in, or I’ll pop out to speak to them. I didn’t want staff running about – I wanted everyone to feel like they were in a friendly, cosy place.
“I vouched that when it was my turn to open my own place that it would be a happy place.
“We can have up to 34 covers inside and we have outside seating. We’re at 24 inside at the moment so that everyone is spaced out, especially with what is going on in Moray just now.”
Offering breakfast, brunch and lunch, not to mention Sunday roast and the soon-to-be launched afternoon tea selection, there’s plenty on the menu to try out.
“I offer a breakfast and brunch every day from 10am to 11.30am. That’s a full breakfast, stacked pancakes, French toast, granola, vegan bacon and sausage rolls, smashed avocado and that sort of thing.
“Come 11.30am I move onto lunch until 4pm, or until 6pm on Friday and Saturdays. On Sunday I make a Sunday roast and we are open from noon to 4pm.
“A lot of vegans miss out on a Sunday roast so after lots and lots of attempts, I’ve finally mastered Yorkshire puddings and I’m going to start afternoon tea on Sundays, too. I also offer buddha bowls and ramen dishes, too.”
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