When you wake up one morning to the reality that you are unhappy with your life, you can either carry on and see how it pans out or begin the journey of turning it around. That is exactly what happened to Philipp Ertl of Exceedingly Vegan 8 years ago and despite having to make some difficult decisions he broke away and set his life on a different course.
It has to be said, that we have been fans of Philipp for a while; with his relaxed approach to plant-based cooking and the delicious food bursting out of his Instagram page, but Philipp has an inspiring story too, which he kindly shared with us in a recent interview.
What did you have for breakfast today?
Hummus on rye sourdough with sliced tomatoes on top. I am totally addicted to hummus, it’s my staple food I could never live without.
When did your love of food start?
Good food has always been important to my family. My auntie reads cook books like novels. But I really became invested in food when I turned vegan. A few years ago there were barely any vegan foods available in supermarkets. I love rich and flavourful dishes, so I to started experimenting in my kitchen and I realised how much fun and how rewarding it was to come up with my very own recipes.
How long have you been vegan and what made you make the switch?
8 years ago I made a decision to quit smoking. After smoking around 20 cigarettes a day this was a big life changer for me, which set off an avalanche of other changes in my life. From the end of a long term relationship to a complete rethink of how I wanted to treat myself and how I wanted to live my life. I wanted to be kinder to myself, which inspired a food detox. What was only supposed to be a quick fix led me to discover a plant-based life style. Once I learned about how healthy foods can impact your health I was hooked. I spent hours every day researching and informing myself. After the end of my month-long detox I couldn’t go back to my old ways anymore. Later I also learned about the impact our food choices have on animals and the planet, which affirmed my decision even more.
When did you decide to become a chef and what inspired you?
When I first became vegan there was a lot of resistance from my friends. People had very little understanding of what it means to go vegan and there was a preconception that plant-based food was boring. At the same time I also went through a light activist phase, when I sometimes had arguments with people about eating animal products. But personally I don’t like arguing and I find it draining. Yet I felt a strong urge to change things and become the change I wanted to see in the world. I realised that if I put a positive spin on things it was much easier to reach people. So I decided to show people how delicious vegan food can be. There weren’t as many plant-based blogs out there as now and a lot of of the recipes were very complicated, which discouraged people to try them. So I decided to come up with the most easy and most delicious recipes out there. Once I got cooking I couldn’t stop anymore. Every day I came up with at least one new recipe, it was so exciting. I finally decided to share them with a wider audience and Exceedinglyvegan.com was born.
What things do you consider when selecting your ingredients?
For me it’s very important that my recipes are for everyone. Therefore almost all ingredients in my recipes are bought from my local supermarket. So anyone can make my dishes without having to spend a lot of money or going to different shops.
You are a keen DIY enthusiast, what has been your biggest ever project?
It’s funny because I would’ve never thought anyone would ever call me a DIY enthusiast. I had never built anything in my life before, but then lockdown happened. I started to grow veggies on my balcony and I needed to organise this small space somehow. So I came up with the design for a storage shelf for my plants (I am a graphic designer by trade and run a boutique design agency) and, to my surprise, even built it myself with timber from my local DIY shop. I loved the result! Since March this year I have now built 4 shelves and a wooden free-standing clothes rail, which was quite a big challenge, but I am pleased with the result.
You have launched your own range of Tahini sauces, tell us a little more about that?
It’s something I am super passionate about. When I started my blog exceedinglyvegan.com it was important to be inclusive and get everyone back to the table - vegans and non-vegans. With our tahini dressings we are going a step further and making eating well even easier. You can pour our dressings over almost anything to add some extra flavour and nutrients, because tahini is an incredible superfood. It’s full of non-dairy calcium, high in iron and protein and it tastes amazing. It’s a staple food in the Middle East, yet people in the West often didn’t know how to use it. By using tahini as a base ingredient in much loved classic dressings (like our herb and garlic tahini dressing) we wanted to make it accessible to a much wider audience.
What is the biggest myth about cooking plant-based foods that you encounter?
That it’s ‘difficult’! With every recipe I develop I like to prove people wrong and show them how easy vegan food can be. I am quite time-poor so I always try to simplify things. And having grown up in Austria, efficiency is in my genes (in my case the cliché is true), so I try to come up with lots of cooking hacks to make things easier in the kitchen.
Which 5 ingredients should be in every vegan pantry?
Who has been the most influential person in your life?
My mum. She’s as very strong person, loves unconditionally and she is someone who never gives up. She gave me wings to fly and taught me to always believe in myself.
How important do you think sustainability is and how does it influence how you live your life?
It’s very important to me and I do get very worried about it. I think when you become vegan and you are more conscious about your food choices and where everything comes from you automatically try to live more sustainably. It’s an area I am still learning about every day. Right now we are seeing a big unstoppable trend in vegan foods, which in themselves are much more sustainable than animal products. I hope that we can soon have more sustainable packaging as well though. And because I believe in ‘change starts with yourself’ we decided to use glass bottles instead of plastic bottles for our Dressini tahini dressings.
Who would you love to cook for (dead or alive)?
There are a few, but I would love to meet Ethan Brown, the founder of Beyond Meat. I think it’s incredible what he has achieved since he started his company in 2009. He made tasty plant-based foods that taste even better than the originals accessible to millions. And that’s what it’s all about: making good food anyone can enjoy.