An Interview and Recipe with Vegan Chef Steph Schall
Steph Schall proves that plant-based eating has never been so easy or tasty.
Steph Schall left her comfortable career in the medical industry to become a plant-based chef and is advocating a healthier lifestyle through her recipes, programs and cooking classes. Giving vegetables the accolade they deserve, Steph is showing us that going vegan is not only healthy and good for the planet, it's delicious and a lot easier than you think.
You have been living on a plant-based diet for many years now, what was the reason for making the change?
I originally made the change to living a plant-based lifestyle in 2013, back when I started training for long-distance running. I fell into it after researching some of the world's finest ultra athletes and what they were saying about increased performance, decreased recovery time and creating a smaller footprint on the planet, and absolutely loved the initial challenge and ongoing creativity it sparked in me.
Was this an instant change or did you gradually transition?
I actually started out dipping my toe into vegetarianism, and then quickly realised within a few weeks I should just jump into the whole experience and go 100% plant-based. I tend to be all or nothing with many new things!
What advice do you have for someone considering a plant-based diet who is unsure how to navigate the change.
Not everyone is like me with my background and passion for cooking. I would say for most people (who aren’t total food nerds) that a slower change is more sustainable in the long term. Making humongous life changes and then actually sticking to them long term doesn’t work out for the majority of people. So focusing on one thing, changing one meal at a time to plant-based throughout your day can be a really accessible way to navigate the transition. Focus on just breakfast for a few weeks, then when you feel confident, add in a plant-based lunch and see how you go. You’ll likely realise you have a few “accidentally” plant-based recipes in your repertoire. Then add in dinner and snacks when you feel you can take on some new recipes!
You have helped so many people through your cooking classes. What is the main hurdle you feel people have when becoming plant-based?
Getting their head around what a balanced plate looks like as a plant-based eater, when you remove the meat. In Australian culture, although this picture is changing somewhat, we tend to look at a balanced plate with a focus on meat for our protein, and then building our veggies, fruits and grains around this centrepiece. In my eyes, transitioning from this old way of eating to encompassing a far more diverse array of foods (wholegrains, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, fruits, fungi and fermented foods) led to more freedom and creativity because I didn’t have to follow the restriction of meat + sides, which was the way I grew up eating. There are obviously guidelines to follow like with any dietary pattern, to ensure you get all the nutrients to stay healthy and vital, but with some solid foundational principles- which I teach in my classes, you can become so much more expansive and creative with the food you eat. It really does open up a whole other world!
What are your top 10 pantry staples?
Condiments condiments condiments! These are the cornerstones of any good dish, and knowing how to use them to create depth of flavour in dishes is essential to any good cooking. Here are some of my favourite flavour builders. 1. Citrus - most dishes can be elevated with a dash of lemon or lime juice, or zest!
2. Vinegars - I have a few faves, vinegars are a great way to balance flavours in a dish.
3. Plant-based stock powders - these add so much flavour and are super convenient. I have chicken, beef and plant “style” stock powders.
4. Tamari - adds saltiness and a depth of flavour you can’t get from plain salt.
5. Maple syrup - I always have this on hand to balance flavours in savoury dishes.
6. Sriracha - my go-to chilli condiment!
7. Miso paste - adds an umami depth to so many dishes.
8. Nutritional Yeast - this should be up at number one, but learning how to use this to create cheesiness in dishes is paramount when you cut out dairy!
9. Dried herbs and spices - need I say more! Having a range of these can add so much flavour.
10. Nut and seed butters - these add so much in terms of texture, taste and mouthfeel.
What do you say to those who say plant-based eating means you miss out on nutrients from meat and dairy? Do you take supplements?
The only vitamin you can’t get on a plant-based diet is Vitamin B12 which is essential to nervous system health. Originally coming from the bacteria in soil, animals eat this and then omnivores would get the B12 from the animal flesh. Vitamin B12 is becoming a problem to obtain not just in the vegan community but also the omnivorous and elderly population.
Nutritional experts recommend supplementing vitamin B12, which I take in a multivitamin supplement made for plant-based eaters, which also includes iron, calcium, omega 3’s, iodine and selenium (however this isn’t strictly necessary). This gives me my insurance that I’m getting what I need even if I’m too busy to plan and eat well, which happens, even as a chef and cooking instructor!
You do a lot of exercise and training. Did you find there was a difference in how you felt when eating a conventional diet compared to eating plant-based while training?
I’ve followed many different training disciplines over the years, both as an omnivore and a plant-based eater. I can say, personally, I feel that with short and long-distance running, yoga and resistance training/weight lifting that I recover so much quicker, and have far fewer injuries since I have been avoiding meat dairy and eggs.
Kids and plant-based eating. Any advice for busy mums and dads wanting to make the change but unsure how to convert their fussy eaters?
I have worked with many parents of both fussy and cautious eaters over the years, and my advice is always this: start with the dishes your kids already love, and make them plant-based. Most kids will have a few classic dishes they love, which can easily be made plant-based. Take a lasagne or spaghetti bolognese for example. These dishes are a great way to add in some mushrooms and lentils to take on the texture of a meat-based dish. Or take fried rice, risotto, pasta, noodles- and make it plant-based. The meat in these types of dishes is generally only in the background and can be easily omitted or replaced! There is a whole world of incredible plant-based bloggers and recipe developers on the internet who let you take their hard-earned work for free. Use those recipes and experiment!
I also encourage parents to serve vegetables at every meal. Even if fussier kids don’t touch or acknowledge they are there, it reinforces how normal it is to have veggies available all of the time. Eventually, when they are ready, they will start to explore. It does take time, and consistency, but you will make progress!
If you could sit down and share a meal with any chef in the world, who would you choose?
Jamie Oliver for sure. He has a clever way with flavour and simplicity that I strive to create in my own dishes. But on the other hand, Yotam Ottolenghi, because his dishes speak to my soul. They aren’t usually simple in terms of the number of ingredients, but to create and eat one of his recipes is to experience true love and passion through food. Also, Shannon Martinez because she is one of the most badass plant-based chefs in the world and I love her style! I would love to pick her brain about the way she creates her food!
Can you recommend a book that has been a game-changer in your journey?
When I first started out I read How Not To Die, by Dr Michael Gregor. It was eye-opening, and spoke to me on a deeper level because of my medical background. It's a massive book though, and not for the faint-hearted.
Another fantastic read, which is much easier to digest, The Proof Is In The Plants, by Simon Hill. If you want to cut through all of the nutritional confusion with some solid evidence-based science on plant-based nutrition and planetary health, (which you don’t need any background in medicine or science for) then this is the perfect book. Such an interesting and informative read if you’re even remotely curious about improving your own health, and the health of the planet!
What is something that most people don’t know about you?
I am a total introvert. I can perform pretty well in front of groups and the camera, and if you know me well I am pretty outgoing. But in reality, I need a lot of solitude and time to recharge after social situations. In unfamiliar situations and with people I don’t know, I am awkward as hell, but I'm learning how to work with the combination of being an empath and an introvert, which is lots of rest!
Easy Tofu Vegan Pad Thai
Who doesn’t love noodles? Especially noodles tangled up with veggies in a sweet and sour sauce. Everyone’s favourite Thai noodles dish, Pad Thai, is usually made with egg, lots of sugar, and some kind of animal protein. This version uses tofu, 5 types of veggies and a silky sauce that all comes together very quickly. Make sure to source the tamarind paste, find in the Asian section of your supermarket or at an Asian grocer, it’s well worth the effort and gives this dish its signature sweet and sour flavour. Change up the vegetables to whatever fast cooking veg you have on hand, but be sure to serve with plenty of lime and roasted peanuts!
100g dry pad Thai noodles (rice noodles)
Boiling water to cover noodles
2 tablespoons light olive oil, divided
2 large shallot or 1 small onion (brown or white), finely diced
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
200g tofu, cubed
salt and pepper to taste
4-5 shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 carrots, julienned
1 cup broccoli florets
1 red capsicum, julienned
4 spring onions, roughly chopped
1 lime, juiced
Pad Thai Sauce:
3 tablespoons tamari
2 tablespoons coconut sugar (or maple syrup)
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sriracha (omit for kids)
2 tablespoons water
lime wedges, chili flakes, thinly sliced spring onions, roasted peanuts, coriander
Place rice noodles in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for 5-7 minutes, until soft and pliable, but not fully cooked. They will continue to cook in the frypan. Rinse with cold water, drain and set aside.
To a jar, add the dressing ingredients and shake to combine. Set aside.
Add half of the oil to a large frypan or wok, over medium heat. Add tofu cubes and cook for 5 minutes, until browned on all sides.
Move tofu to side of pan and remainder of oil. Add the mushrooms and sear for 2 minutes on each side, until caramelised and brown. Move to side of the pan with tofu.
Add shallots top pan. Sauté for 2 minutes, then add in garlic for 30 seconds, stirring continuously until fragrant. Add in vegetables and toss for 4-5 minutes.
Pour over half of sauce, tossing to coat everything, and simmer for 2 minutes, or until vegetables are mostly cooked.
Add in noodles and remaining sauce, then toss for a further 4 minutes, until noodles are cooked through, and vegetables are tender. Add in lime juice and adjust seasoning to taste. It may need more sugar for sweetness, tamari for saltiness, lime juice or tamarind for acidity.
Serve immediately, garnished with roasted peanuts, sliced spring onions, coriander and wedged of lime.