We sat down with co-owner and head chef, Bonita for a Q&A about the cafe and the work they do in the community.
Tell us about your journey to becoming part of Cafe Van Gogh and joining Steve as a co-owner?
I started working at Café Van Gogh just under a year after it opened in 2015. I loved the space, ethos and general positive atmosphere. I came on board as a director and head chef a couple of years after this and focused on creating delicious plant-based dishes whilst my business partner, Steve drives the social mission side of the business
Your passion for plant based food clearly comes through in the menu! Where did this come from and what are you favourite dishes on the menu and, ones that you like to cook?
I have been veggie since I was 10 years old and gradually turned vegan in my mid 20’s. I have always been passionate about animal welfare so this change felt completely right and natural. It also gave me a renewed passion for cooking, having worked as a chef since the age of 21 in non-vegan places. I love to make veg-focused dishes that utilise my skills from having worked with meat, fish and dairy in the past.
One of my favourite dishes from our spring menu was the Shakshuka with marinated tofu, green tahini and garlic flatbread. I also love the Lasagne on our evening menu – we make everything as much as possible in house including the pasta. Funnily enough my favourite thing to make is soup! Perhaps not the most exciting but you really can’t beat a great tasting soup in my opinion. I also think it’s the mark of a good chef. If you can make a decent soup you’re fully welcome in my kitchen!
How do you go about selecting ingredients and products to use on the menu for your customers to enjoy?
We change our menu every 6-8 weeks to keep in line with seasonality. As we’re vegan we obviously love to highlight vegetables in all their glory so it’s important they’re at their prime when they’re in use and grown within the UK (as much as possible!). All our suppliers are London based (bar one), it’s important we our bit to reduce transport emissions as much as we can
You're not simply a cafe are you?
No we aren't, the social mission is a huge part of what we do. We train participants up in FOH, cheffing or kitchen porter skills. Usually training lasts for 6 weeks and our main goal is to find them paid work at the end of it, sometimes that’s with ourselves or else we seek out other employers who are looking to hire. Often it’s tricky to find paid work at the end of their placement with us but there are huge benefits to training at the café.
All our trainees leave with a sense of confidence and purpose. Interacting with both customers and the rest of the team is so beneficial and can make a real difference as well as learning fundamental skills in the workplace
Finally, what is the most rewarding part about the internship programme and what work have some of the interns gone on to do after being at Cafe Van Gogh?
We have had participants move on to work with animals and food. The most rewarding part is seeing participants confidence grow in what is usually a short space of time and become a core part of the team.