Interview series (15 minute read)
It’s been four years since Mitch Lee began his foray into cheffing, beginning his story at a popular vegan restaurant in the south of England, where he learnt the foundations of plant-based cooking and took a more considered approach to fuelling his body with fresh, healthy foods.
Now, fast-forward four years, Mitch has put all his beets into one basket and opened Mitch’s Kitchen in a bid to feed the UK the freshest plant-based meals. Enthused by Mitch’s passion for vegan cooking, we sat down with him to discuss how things are going down in the Kitchen.
Introducing the founder of Mitch’s Kitchen, Mitch Lee
Night Slides (NS): Hello Mitch, thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. First things first, for those who don’t know who you are, please introduce yourself to our readers…
Mitch Lee (ML): Hey Sally, thanks for having me. I guess the best place to start is with the very basics. My name is Mitch and I am the co-founder (along with my wife Shirin) of Mitch’s Kitchen, a range of Fast-Paced Plant-Based™ ready meals that are 100% vegan and free from gluten, dairy, nuts, refined sugar and pesticides.
When I was young I was always active and playing sports, but I also loved to eat. A lot. I was fairly overweight and chocolate and sweet things were always on hand. In 2005 I saw a freerunning documentary called Jump London and was amazed at the way these guys were using the city as their playground, running, jumping, climbing – it struck a nerve with something inside me. I decided that was what I wanted to do and I knew I had to make changes, so I changed my diet, cut out junk food and threw myself into training. I had no clue what I was doing but along with a few friends we became obsessed and within 3 months I’d lost 2 stone and felt amazing.
NS: Wow, that’s quite the achievement! Did you manage to keep training and eating consciously?
ML: Thanks! Yeah, absolutely. From then on I was always active and my freerunning took off. I went to Bournemouth University and gained a 1st Class Honours in Sports Development and Coaching Sciences and began coaching parkour and performing in freerunning shows all across the world including some ‘Bag Jump’ stunt shows in Dubai and even being involved in the launch of the 2015 Mustang!
The whole time I was doing this I used to make meals and healthy snacks and share photos of them on social media. People would always ask for the recipes and so eventually I started a food blog called ‘Macro Mitch’ which slowly took off and opened some great doors up for me in the fitness industry. It was here I discovered my creative side as I would take something like a chocolate brownie and work out how to make it healthy and high protein.
NS: That sounds like great fun! So when did you start solely eating plant-based foods?
ML: In 2015, I began working as a chef at a vegetarian restaurant called Offbeet. They had decided as a company to go vegan in January 2016 and encouraged by my wife Shirin, I decided to take the pledge and sign up to Veganuary.
Immersed in the kitchen and with the freedom to experiment, I quickly discovered amazing new cooking techniques and an even greater passion for food. Meals were no longer just meat, carbs and a veg source – it was all about the flavour, texture, colours, sprinkles and seasoning to finish. I suddenly had a new ‘thinking outside the box’ attitude towards food and a passion for making exciting meals, so plant-based cooking became easy.
NS: And why did you make the switch?
ML: I suddenly realised I no longer needed meat or dairy to enjoy good food. Why should something else suffer for me in order to have dinner? It just seemed selfish and unnecessary and I’ve kept this attitude and way of eating ever since. I still keep fit, healthy and strong on a vegan diet, I sleep better than ever and wake up feeling fresh in the mornings ready to hit the ground running!
During Veganuary I began watching many of the well known vegan documentaries like Cowspiracy, What The Health, Forks over Knives and more. I immersed myself into it and the more I discovered, the more I knew that I believed in it and it was the right thing for me.
You’ll have noticed in the news recently that veganism is becoming mainstream and the impact of the meat and dairy industry not only on your health, but also the planet is huge.
Mitch’s Kitchen: Where It All Began
NS: You’ve been eating a plant-based diet for a while now and have clearly experienced the benefits, but what drove you to open Mitch’s Kitchen?
ML: I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit in me and I love a challenge. From trying to pursue a freerunning career full-time, designing and setting up a clothing line, running a food blog, to even taking a band on tour across Asia I’ve tried many things and never really found my calling.
NS: Until now!
ML: Absolutely, yes! On top of being plant-based, me and Shirin are both gluten-free. I loved working at Offbeet and treasure my time there greatly, but after 3 years I decided it was time to set out on a new adventure, be my own boss again and create my own path.
Ever since the early days of making recipes, I’ve loved the idea of people far and wide being able to try my food. We toyed with the idea of a restaurant or deli – but then that still seemed too small scale – we wanted people from all over the UK to enjoy our food and that’s when the delivery idea was born.
NS: So what makes you different?
ML: That’s a good question! Nowadays, everyone is short on time and often our diet or eating healthy is the first thing to be overlooked. We knew we needed to create a product suitable to those living a fast-paced plant-based™ lifestyle.
After a year of research, testing, early mornings and late nights – Mitch’s Kitchen was born. Every dish is 100% Vegan and free-from gluten, nuts, palm oil and pesticides – opening up a world of choice to those seeking a plate full of colour and a whole spectrum of flavour. On top of this all of our packaging is sustainable and fully recyclable – we want to have as little impact on the environment as possible so from the offset we’re doing our part to tick every box – I love it!
NS: What does the next few years hold for Mitch’s Kitchen?
ML: Right now we’re selling both direct to customers online, and we’ve just started selling wholesale to select health food stores (like Wild Thyme in Southsea and Rice Up in Southampton) and Red Spider rock climbing centre in Fareham. We hope to grow this over the coming weeks and months stocking all the major cities so people can grab a meal for an easy dinner when they’re short on time.
We also recently hosted our first supper club at The Quarterdeck cafe in Chichester and as it was so much fun and a great success we hope to do more in the future so keep an eye out for more events and supper clubs.
Our major aim for Mitch’s Kitchen is to prove to more and more people that plant-based eating can be delicious, nutritious and it shouldn’t have to cost the earth – both literally and metaphorically. It can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone and so we hope that as we grow, Mitch’s Kitchen becomes a well known stamp of quality, convenient food. Long gone are the days of bland, over salty ‘Ready-Meals’ – We cook with passion and freshness so when you enjoy your food, it should taste like it’s been cooked in your very own kitchen.
I’d also love to do more public speaking, spreading my joy and passion for food and hey – maybe one day have my own cooking show or cookbook… watch this space!
The Effect of Eating Vegan on Your Mental Health
NS: I read in the news recently that eating plant-based foods can improve your mental health. Have you noticed a difference in your mental health since switching to a plant-based diet?
ML: Before going vegan I actually had a very obsessive and unhealthy relationship with food. I became obsessed with counting calories and making sure I had huge amounts of protein throughout the day, at many times gravely under eating just so that I could binge massively on junk food at the weekend. I verged on becoming ‘orthorexic’ (developing an unhealthy obsession, with eating healthy) and coupled with intermittent fasting – I got very, very small and lean, but looked gaunt and, ironically, unhealthy.
Vegan cooking is a different ball game. Yes you can still eat a very unhealthy vegan diet – especially right now as the amount of new vegan junk food products hitting the shelves is amazing. However, the process of making delicious foods, focusing on natural wholesome ingredients, you can’t help but feel good. The food is colourful, bright and packed with goodness – It looks amazing and it can taste even more amazing too and the passion I have making these meals has made me change my relationship with food.
With regards to mental health, I think you almost flick a switch of compassion when making the commitment to Veganism. Not just towards animals, but also to other humans. Having compassion and gratitude in everyday life is an amazing feeling. Things like my sleep definitely improved and the fact I can be on my feet for 12 hours a day and keep going must be a good sign my body is feeling good too!
Keeping Active Whilst Eating Vegan Food
NS: With Veganuary in full swing it must be hard to train during busy times, how do stay active?
ML: I’m on my feet for at least 12 hours a day in the kitchen and with the lifting and shifting of 20kg pans of food, unpacking heavy produce etc – some days can feel like a workout! I could never work in an office, I’m such a fidget and I have to move around. For anyone that does work at a desk however, be sure to get up and walk about, take the stairs not the lifts – there’s always little things you can be doing every day to get you more active.
My main passion right now (other than food) is bouldering or rock climbing. I’m a member down at Red Spider climbing centre in Fareham which is just around the corner from me and it’s an incredible space. Bouldering literally works every single muscle in my body and even if I can only commit to one night a week, I still manage to keep fit and strong. The community there is also amazing and we’ve created an atmosphere on Tuesday nights which pushes you to climb harder which is so motivating and fun – I love it.
Me and Shirin practice yoga at home and have also recently started taking part in Park-runs. They start at 9am every Saturday morning all across the UK and is a free event encouraging people to get outdoors and run 5k (3.1 miles). Again the community and atmosphere there is amazing, and even if you hate running (like us), you’ll no doubt be able to make it round and when it finishes – love it too!
NS: Thanks for your time today Mitch. It’s great to hear your inspiring story of the positive influence of eating a plant-based has on your mental and physical health. All the best with Mitch’s Kitchen.