Vegan chef and owner of Idlewild bar and kitchen, Fred Musik hosted us for a day while he cooked up a range of delicious vegan treats for us. From burgers and tacos to pancakes with fresh fruits and syrup, we spoke to Fred about the best bits of having a vegan diet, his worst cod related recipe disasters and hero ingredients.
UO: Can you tell us a bit about your story? How did you come to open Idlewild?
I was a freelance magazine designer for about 8 years before I became very frustrated with the lack of creativity and growing emphasis on revenue being the main factor of each page in a magazine. Around this time, my boyfriend Mark was looking to buy this bar and it was in such a state (brown leather sofas, curly fries, TVs on every wall) it was screaming ‘major project’. So I kept a few of my bigger freelance jobs but slowly moved into this full time.
UO: Walk us through a day in your life.
I wake up at 6am everyday, put grains in my pressure cooker for porridge and walk my three dogs in the woods in the 40 mins my porridge takes to cook. I have breakfast whilst flicking through real-news stories on Instagram.
I go to the gym for an hour or an hour and a half and generally make it to work for 11am where I’ll either work on the floor for a couple hours, get emails and computer work done, or try out a new recipe in the kitchen with our chefs. I usually finish by 4pm and walk around Brighton and get some groceries or go and see my Dad or my brother and sister.
Mark and I don’t often go out for dinner locally as we cook better food at home these days, so I always make three meals a day for us both and that takes a bit of time. I have a love/hate relationship when it comes to cooking for people at home because I get really nervous but I often have people around for food in the evenings.
I rarely go up to my bar to socialise, as I find it hard to chill out there, but it’s by far the nicest place around, so I might get dragged out to meet some friends for a drink occasionally.
Usually though, I’ll go for a swim in the local reservoir or in the sea, read some conspiracy theories and try and expand my awareness a bit regarding what’s really going on in this planet before falling asleep wondering how I can change the world in the tiny amount of time I have here!
UO: What made you want to open a restaurant?
I love restaurants & bars. The combination of food, music, friends, interior design, social interaction and observing weird people has had me hooked since I was 15 and worked in a cafe in Brighton. The chance to open my own place seemed like a dream…but it’s been really really hard work and there have been countless occasions where I’ve found myself on my hands and knees, in new jeans, sweeping up broken glass at 2am thinking “why the hell am I doing this?!!”
We’ve definitely done something positive for our local area though, we get loads of great feedback from regulars and visitors alike. It’s good to know that people appreciate us being here as much as we appreciate the opportunity.
UO: Where does your passion for cooking stem from?
I started to cook more out of necessity than passion really. If I want to be the healthiest version of myself and still enjoy food, I have to be responsible for that part of my life because I’m not rich and I don’t have a personal chef. So I guess my passion stems from my ambition of living an amazing, fulfilled life for as long as possible. I’d love to live well over 100 years old.
UO: What do you love most about having a vegan diet?
This will sound a bit new-age, but being vegan actually gives me waves of happiness. It’s a great feeling to realise I’ve removed myself from the cycle of misery that is the meat and dairy industry. I feel the reality of eating meat and dairy, is that fellow sentient beings are being murdered in their millions every day. Their fear and negative energy is turned into the food we eat. I think modern food is the reason why people are so often ill.
My biggest worry when I went vegan was that I would lose all the muscle I had worked so hard for at the gym. In actual fact, I have put on more muscle, and lost puffiness, and that helped me to see the modern food industry as a fraud. It’s only when you completely stop eating meat that you realise what a terribly apathetic race we have allowed ourselves to become. Get yourselves unplugged from the Matrix, this is the first step.
UO: What is the creation process in putting together new recipes?
Sometimes I find some really fresh healthful looking vegetables or unusual grains in one of the shops I go to or I see something online that I want to know how to make and this starts the process of making a new dish. We have weekly specials at Idlewild that I usually take care of entirely myself, so I’m always thinking about that. And I just get in the kitchen and try stuff out, sometimes it goes straight from the kitchen onto a customer’s table and they give us feedback. Last night I had Mark’s parents over for dinner; they were two of our biggest critics when we first went vegan but they love our food now.
UO: Tell us about your worst recipe disaster
One night back when I ate meat, Mark and I had a group of friends (who are all big into cooking and are all really good at it) over for Salt Cod & Samphire. I didn’t know how to make this dish but I’d read someone glamorous like Nick Mason say it was his favourite dish, so I just covered everything in salt and baked it.
And I didn’t wash the samphire before cooking it so that tasted of the sea.
The whole meal was just salt. And it was awful. None of my friends would say anything was wrong with the meal, but luckily Mark put his foot down before we all died of some salt-related illness and just stopped us eating, we moved onto the cheese course and had a laugh about it, but years later we still talk about it whenever I cook, it was that bad.
UO: What is your hero ingredient?
Seitan is definitely my hero ingredient. It has quite a meaty texture and can be used in loads of dishes, hot or cold. If Tofu is the chicken of the vegan world and Tempeh the pork, then a block of good Seitan is like Wagu beef!
UO: What inspires you?
I’ve found tons of inspirational people on Instagram, from vegan body builders to stay-at-home mums who are cooking amazing food from scratch. Another of my favourite ways to gain inspiration is to spend time in a whole foods shop, really looking at all the products and asking the staff how things should ideally be used. The best wholefoods store in England without doubt, is BigLife Organics in Haywards Heath. They also have an online store (macrobioticshop.co.uk) and I do 95% of my food shopping with them.
UO: What’s been your biggest achievement to date?
My first freelance magazine job was at Vogue, and so that always comes to mind straight away as something I’m proud of but actually I think my greatest achievement is waking myself up from the system, re-educating myself about food.
I feel that so many people are so asleep when it comes to issues such as animal welfare, personal health and nutrition. But I am noticing more and more people are starting to wake up, so if I can be someone who helps people do that, then that’s something I’m proud of.
UO: What advice would you give to an aspiring restaurant-er?
My advice to an aspiring restauranteur would be to have a concept, but remember you have to make money too. Don’t be too cool, because your concept will date quickly and regular people will feel uncomfortable and won’t visit you often…
UO: What’s next for you in 2015?
We change our menu every three months or so. I guess that will be the next thing happening here. We want to put more vegan stuff on our next menu and take away some meat but our concept is to bring the vegan experience to meat eaters, so it’s a fine balance. We don’t want to scare them away! Mark and I will also try and get three weeks away somewhere before the Christmas rush.
If I wasn’t at Idlewild, I would be… still living in Sydney working as a waiter and getting to the beach everyday for 3pm!
My ideal breakfast is… what I currently have: Miso Soup with tons of veg and brown rice porridge. There are tons of different types of Miso and other grains to keep it interesting.
My failsafe dinner party dish is… Matchstick vegetables & seitan deep fried in Tempura batter, served with a wasabi & shoyo dip. Everyone goes crazy for it.
My favourite season is… summer. Summer all year please.
My favourite dish is… I have so many, but if I could eat chocolate cheesecake all day long I’d be happy. I make one using vegan cream cheese & tofu.
The best thing about my job is… freedom & creativity
Right now I’m listening to… ZZ Top “legs”
My biggest release is… taking off my clothes, dancing to good music with friends (none of that EDM rubbish).
EAST-MEETS-WEST TACOS WITH COCONUT QUINOA & SEITAN
1 cup / 170g Quinoa
1 cup water
1 cup / 250ml pure organic coconut milk (shake can vigorously)
1/2 block of seitan
Big splash of Mirin rice wine
Big splash of Shoyu (or Soy sauce, but Shoyu is a far superior and healthier product!)
2 medium ripe avocado
1 small red onion
10 sliced pickled jalapeno peppers
small handful of coriander
Finely cut lettuce or green leaf of your choice
1 packet of soft corn tortilla tacos (I use cool chile co 15cm blue corn tortillas)
1. Rinse the cup of quinoa a few times with tap water, and then add it to a pan that you have a lid for and add the cup of coconut milk and the cup of water. Put the lid on the pan, bring it to just under boiling point, and then turn the heat right down to a very low simmer for 15 minutes without removing the lid. Set a timer on your phone. When the time is up, take it from the heat but don’t remove the lid.
2. Whilst the Coconut Quinoa is cooking, cut up the Seitan into long strips and add them to a frying pan that has about a tablespoon of hot oil (I always use sesame oil) before adding the shoyu and mirin.
3. The Seitan doesn’t need to be cooked as such, but you want it to absorb the flavors and warm up, so continue to fry it for a few minutes, or until the Shoyu starts to go black against the metal of the pan. Remove the Seitan from the pan and cover in a bowl.
4. The guacamole is really easy and will only take a few minutes. First, finely chop the red onion and add it to whatever bowl you’re serving the guacamole in, then add the finely chopped jalapenos along with a big pinch of sea salt, some cracked black pepper and the juice of one or two limes. Add a tablespoon or so of olive oil and then the avocados. The easiest way to get the avocado flesh out is to cut each one in half length-ways, remove the stone and then gently slice the flesh top-to-bottom, left-to-right. You should then be able to scoop big cubes of the flesh out using a big spoon straight into the bowl of ingredients.
5. I usually put one half of an avocado to one side, mash everything else together, and then add the one half back in and just turn it over a few times with the chopped coriander leaves, to give the guacamole a nice variation in texture.
6. Next, you need to turn your grill on, or a clean dry frying pan, on a low heat and warm the tortillas on each side. I find the easiest way is to put about 8 down on a grill tray, and warm them all at the same time, but you can do a couple at a time in a frying pan.
7. Now you just need to build the tortillas into tacos, which can be done at the table. Take the lid off the quinoa, stir it around a few times and spoon however much you fancy on the flat tortillas, along with some of the finely cut lettuce, kale, or whatever you’ve chosen. Then add a couple of pieces of Seitan, followed by a big dollop of guacamole.
9. As a variation, you could use Tofu or Tempeh instead of Seitan, add some black beans from a can or use rice instead of Quinoa. Sometimes I add slices of banana and you may want tomato salsa in your tacos. I always think of Tacos as being similar to a sandwich -you can’t really go wrong by experimenting with what you put in them.