Vivian Chang is a restaurant owner, chef, and vegan lifestyle coach. Following her last venture, MissGreen and The Green Room in Taipei, Chang now seeks to establish herself in Shanghai with a similar concept. Due to open in spring 2018, the Shanghai restaurant will take from Chang's Taipei model, offering vegan meals, as well as cooking classes and workshops on vegan lifestyle. Chang is also gearing up to open in Beijing, summer 2018. Until then, she'll be running a few pop-ups in both cities.
We reached out to Chang to find out more about her brand, and her plans for MissGreen in Shanghai, along with the challenges of vegan cooking and the trends in this cuisine.
City Weekend: Why Shanghai, why now?
Vivian Chang: China has a huge population. I used to work in Shanghai and I believe this city deserves better food options, and in China it can be hard to get that. I have faith. I’ve met a number of farmers who are growing organically, so I’m not worried about getting the right ingredients I need.
If I can change 1% of the population, that will make a huge difference. Wellness and health is such a trend now in Shanghai. I can see plenty of vegan restaurants and healthy options setting up in Shanghai.
CW: How is it like cooking as a vegan? Are there enough ingredients for you to continue to be creative and inventive?
VC: Vegan cuisine is challenging because the limitation of ingredients. Creatively, it helps us chefs to think outside of the box—what if we can make plants taste as good as meat? How do I use plants to create certain types of texture and layers?
Cooking vegan is quite interesting because not many chefs do this type of cooking, and to me, plant-based food is a hell of a lot of exploring.
There’s American Cali vegan, NYC vegan, Mexican vegan, Thai vegan, Italian vegan…all these cooking styles can be recreated in a vegan way. As I always tell my vegan friends: don’t be afraid to go to a restaurant ask them to “veganize” your dish…even it’s in a fine dining restaurant, because any restaurant should respect any type of diet.
CW: Would you ever consider cooking meat—but without tasting it—for work?
VC: I think I won’t ever eat meat again, but perhaps, under one condition: in the wild, when I have to catch my own food, kill my own food and peel my pride, and eat it because I need to survive.
CW: Will the concept of your new restaurant be similar to your previous restaurant in Taipei? What is your plan or goal that you hope to achieve with your concepts?
VC: The decor will be similar to MissGreen in Taipei—green, leafy, and hip. My concept is easy-going Western fusion with Thai and Californian influences, and will be accessible. It’ll be for friends to hang out and for the young generation to find out more about food.
Customers can also attend cooking classes. I would like to build my brand so it can have influence on people so they will stop and reflect on their experiences in MissGreen, and so they can make better food choices in the future. And also to inspire industry people to rethink how they make food.
CW: Is it a challenge to source quality local bio independent farmers to provide you with the products you need here in Shanghai?
VC: Yes, it is a challenge. As chefs we all want the best ingredients, but have to consider our budgets and provide what the customers are willing to pay for. Farms here are not as well developed as in Taiwan. Then again, organic produce is very expensive in Taiwan, but is better priced in China. How the food is grown is very important. Hunter Gatherer has done a really good job with this, highlighting farmers and their farms.
CW: Is there a wide array of vegan desserts in your menu? Are there simple replacements to get similar results?
VC: I love that you asked me this question. MissGreen Taipei is famous for our desserts, and with my pastry chef, we are known from Vogue to F&B operators for our desserts.
There are challenges involved with only using plant-based ingredients, but we persevere and there is always a solution. For example for Mid-Autumn Festival, we just made this “Pomeron” raw pie with nuts, coconut cream, and unrefined sugar syrup. It tasted amazing and it is a lower calorie and healthier dessert. I make my desserts as healthy and as delicious as possible.
CW: Can traditional Chinese cuisine be easily converted into vegan dishes?
VC: Chinese dishes can be very easily made into vegan dishes. And Buddhist dishes are often vegetarian. The only concern is they use fake meats, which are very unhealthy.
CW: Do you believe to revolutionize the vegan food scene here in Shanghai with the opening of your restaurant?
VC: There are already high-end vegetarian restaurants, but this is different to my concept, which is to be accessible and affordable. I offer fun décor and fun presentation, so you can come on a daily basis without hurting your wallet.
CW: What do you think of vegan culture in Shanghai from what you’ve experienced over the recent months testing your brand with pop-ups?
VC: It’s not a strong scene but had many people attend the pop-up, especially from the Vegan Shanghai WeChat group, who are very supportive. We also received support from Eco & More, another fantastic company doing great things in China.
CW: Do you believe that veganism could be part of everyone’s lives in the near future?
VC: Yes! There are a lot of multi-billionaires investing in vegan and plant-based lifestyle businesses. Bill Gates and Richard Branson have both invested in clean meat ventures. They believe in five years, our planet will have to go through a food revolution—either half of the population becomes vegan, or there will be companies needed to provide clean meat, made out of plants. Sooner or later, you will eat “meat” without slaughtering poultry or livestock. It’s healthier, more affordable and causes less pollution.
CW: Finally, what is your definition of vegan cuisine, what is your motive behind going vegan?
VC: I believe that animals can feel and love, they can also feel pain and grief, and the idea that we build our appetite on their suffering worries me. Animals are here with us, not for us. The whole idea of eating clean meat or becoming vegan is beneficial to the earth, nutrition, and health.
The motivation of sharing this passion with the world has made my venture become even more important, as well as the “what ifs”.
What if a veggie burger not only tasted as good as a beef burger, and what if that burger does good in your belly and also gives back to nature and your community? What if the livestock industry starts changing the way they raise our animals, because people started to care where their meat is coming from? We provide a choice when it comes to your meal. What if there was a healthier, more affordable and consciousness choice, will you choose different?
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