Chef Edvinas Černiauskas has been cooking plant-based food for about seven years and managed to impress both Lithuanian and foreign residents with his dishes. Although the interest in plant-based nutrition first arose from the side of health, it gradually became Edwin's lifestyle and profession, and the man drew inspiration from as far away as India. As he says, everything happened naturally and he didn't even have to put in too much effort. But maybe when you find your way the natural flow of events takes place by itself?
Edvin and I met for a chat over a cup of tea in late spring, and now we invite you to get to know us too.
Let's start from the beginning. Are you vegan yourself?
Yes, I'm vegan. However, I am not very radical or strict, although I was at the very beginning of the plant-based diet. I have noticed that this attitude creates tension with loved ones, and maintaining good relationships and communication is important to me. Therefore, if I have to eat products of animal origin when I go to my parents, that also happens, although I try to avoid such situations. That's why I make plant-based food myself, to show people that it is possible to make food without animal products that is tasty, filling, and fulfilling.
What prompted the change in eating habits?
Experimentation with eating habits was prompted by work. At that time, I was working in a demanding job with high physical endurance and sudden reactions, to ensure safety, and I started to observe how I felt through dietary changes. I accidentally noticed that when I eat meat, my body becomes heavy, so I started to eat vegetarian. After feeling the positive changes and lightness of the body, I also gave up dairy products. But it also happened that I didn't eat meat for about a couple of years, and then I started again. It was interesting to compare how I will feel, whether there really is a positive change after giving up meat, or just my own beliefs. But once again I felt that my body functions much better when I don't eat meat, when I started again I felt like the reaction slows down, my body freezes and I become angrier. And looking back from the beginning, it is the very primary factor that led to changing eating habits more from the prism of health, and then came the awareness of the ethical side and animal welfare. After rethinking my values, I realized that the consumption of meat and other animal products does not fully correspond to my point of view.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering a plant-based diet but doesn't know where to start to make the change?
Do not start with fast food, semi-finished products or sweets, as I did in the beginning. True, leavened and fermented foods helped me a lot to reduce my cravings for sweets. I recommend liking and consuming legumes, rice, buckwheat, simply more vegetables. The more varied your diet will be, as many colors as possible on the plate - the more likely it will be full-fledged.
What made you choose the path of a chef, and have you always cooked only plant-based food?
The choice came naturally, a little inspired by traveling and getting to know Indian culture. I first met through literature - a friend left a book, then I traveled by myself. I felt inspired by the country's cuisine and its flavors, so when I returned I got a job at the Moksha restaurant in Kaunas. Other restaurants followed later and cafes, but the desire to cook has not disappeared. I experimented, prepared food at popular festivals, events, sometimes it seems that everything just happened by itself - the chef's profession chose me. Since I have worked in a pizzeria and other restaurants, I used to cook all kinds of food there, not only vegetarian.
What opportunities does plant-based cuisine offer that are missed when working with traditional products?
The nature of the work makes it easier to get permits. Since there are no different product categories such as meat, fish or eggs, there is no need for special different equipment to prepare them, such as sinks for washing or cutting boards, so The requirements of the Food and Veterinary Service are simpler, and it is also easier to follow the correct food hygiene standards. Also, the products have a longer shelf life compared to products of animal origin.
What do you see as the future of plant-based nutrition in the context of the restaurant industry?
In my opinion, the plant-based diet itself is basically becoming more of a fad than its benefits are actually taken into account, but even that is already a good thing - less animal food is consumed, and it is also more beneficial to health. I had the opportunity to communicate and discuss this topic with one famous Lithuanian chef, and in his opinion, plant-based nutrition is the future, from which we will not disappear anywhere or run away, no matter how much we want to. I also tend to agree with his insights and think that a plant-based diet is our future. I think that someday it will even be the opposite of what it is now, there will be many more vegans than omnivores and eating meat, for example, will be a rarity.
Where do you get your culinary inspiration from?
I'm looking online for plant-based meals and more. It happens that I find several recipes and combine them into one, changing the ingredients that I think are not quite suitable. I also follow culinary content creators on YouTube and end up just experimenting in the kitchen - inspiration comes from trying.
What ten plant products do you always have in your kitchen?
I really like to cook Asian cuisine, it's always onion, garlic and ginger, soy sauce, miso paste and nut butter. Also rice noodles and peppers, zucchini, broccoli. For spices, I always have high-quality salt.
What is your favorite dish to cook?
It may sound strange to many, but it's fried potatoes. I also like buckwheat.
What plant-based dish do you think would conquer the heart (and stomach) of even the most hardened omnivore?
A delicious dish does not necessarily have to be made of meat. I remember how I made falafel for my dad according to my recipe, he couldn't be surprised how delicious it was and that there was no meat in it. I could make chili stew or lentil dhal with soya from the dishes I cook, I have made it many times and everyone loved it.
If you could sit down and share a meal with any chef in the world, who would you choose? Why?
The first thoughts that come to mind would be Gaz Oakley, otherwise known as Avan Garde Vegan. I follow his content on social platforms, I like how he cooks plant-based food from more natural, simple ingredients, so I think it would be quite interesting to chat with him.
What achievement could you name as the greatest success in your professional career so far?
Maybe it would not be so much success as a pleasant event and appreciation of my work. I worked as a chef in Tenerife where I cooked plant-based food. Customers kept saying it was delicious, but I thought they were just being polite. But after one of them left, his sister arrived from Budapest. Who, as it turned out later, came precisely to taste the food I cook - she heard from my brother that it was very tasty. It makes me happy when people like and appreciate my plant-based food.
Your new page called Mantra Foods has recently been launched. Could you briefly share what this project is about and what services and news you will offer?
Mantra Foods reflects my passion for cooking and immersion in Eastern culture. I have been studying Tibetan Buddhism for a year now, and I repeat the mantra while cooking - this way the food is charged with positive energy. This is where the new name was born, although the direction of activity has not changed. I continue to provide catering services for festivals, events and private lessons.
Thanks Edwin for the nice chat. You can get to know him more closely and follow his culinary activities Mantra Foods on Facebook.