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).
SALTED CARAMEL CHOCOLATE CAKE (FREE FROM GLUTEN & REFINED SUGARS, TOO)
To make the base
1 cup / 150g cashews
1 cup / 140G macadamias
1/2 cup / 90G buckwheat (optionally, toasted in a pan to make it crunchy)
1 cup / 80G desiccated coconut
1/4 cup / 60ml rice malt syrup
1O pitted dates
1 1/2 cup / 225g pitted dates 1/4 cup / 60ml melted coconut oil 1/2 cup / 120ml almond butter
1/2 cup / 120ml rice malt syrup
1 tsp vanilla essence
Big pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup / 120ml cacao butter
1/2 cup / 55g cacao powder
1/3 cup / 80ml maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla essence
Big pinch of sea salt
1. I don’t like to use expensive Medjool Dates to make cakes when other dates are cheaper and just as good. The trick is to soak the dates in boiling or very hot water for ten minutes before using them. This way they get plump and juicy just like Medool dates. So do this with the two different measures of dates for this recipe, straining them off after ten minutes.
2. To make the base, process all the dry ingredients in a food processor starting with the biggest sized pieces first. Add the pre-soaked dates and rice malt until mixture all sticks together. Spoon the mixture into an 8” spring- form cake tin and push the mixture down as firm as you can, all the way around. Then chuck it in the freezer.
3. To make the caramel, place the other other pre-soaked dates into the food processor and whizz them around for about twenty seconds before adding all the other caramel filling ingredients. The mixture may get stuck going around in the processor, this is fine, you just need to help it on its way until the mixture is one smooth lump of sweet sticky caramel.
4. Take the base out of the freezer and spread the caramel over, get it even, and then put it back in the freezer whilst you make the chocolate topping. Clean the food processor bowl.
5. Using either the grater attachment on your food processor, or a box grater, grate the cacao butter into a metal or glass bowl and then place the bowl into a larger bowl that has boiling water in it. You want the Cacao butter to melt, so help it on its way but stirring it. Once it has pretty much all melted, pour it into the food processor and add all the other chocolate top ingredients. Whizz it all around until you have a creamy chocolate sauce and be warned!- once you stop moving this mixture, it can quickly go hard.
6. Take the cake tin out of the freezer and do either of these following things- Put the chocolate sauce into a squeezy bottle (using a spatula) and zig-zag the sauce over the caramel, and then remove the complete cake from the tin (this looks nice as the sides of the cake won’t have chocolate on). You will have lots of chocolate sauce left over to serve with the cake as long as you keep it in a jug of hot water.
7. The other way to serve the cake is to take it out of the tin first, place it onto a large cake plate and pour the chocolate sauce over the caramel and over the sides too. Then just cut it up and eat!