Tom Riley and Chris Kappely are at the helm of Green Dinner Table, a plant-based subscription box that brings local produce direct to your door. They tell What’s Hot New Zealand about their passion for healthy and sustainable food.
What is the vision behind Green Dinner Table? How do you differ from other food subscription services? T: The vision was to show people how eating a plant-based diet can be delicious and simple – you will not miss the meat at all – and to teach people new cooking techniques that aren’t based around a piece of protein in the centre of the dish. This is how conventional cooking has worked for so long, but with plant-based cooking you’re focusing on the individual ingredients more. C: We differ because we’re a 100% plant-based service and don’t have to contribute to the harming of animals. We strive towards sustainability and looking after the environment and we want to help people with a solution to eating more plants. T: We’re totally vegan, we use small suppliers and support the local community.
You have a new business partner on board – has that led to any change in emphasis or direction? T: Chris owns a gym, so his initial motivation for turning vegan was health reasons. When I set up Green Dinner Table my initial focus was on making the meals really delicious and assumed that if you’re already eating plants it must be inherently healthy, whereas now with Chris on board we’re going to try and take it to an even healthier level, ensuring we’re hitting all the daily protein targets. Previously we focused on eating the rainbow, which is great with a basic philosophy of health, now we’re going to try and really up the health side of things. C: We want to make our current menu slightly more wholefoods focused and balanced. We’re pretty much already there, it’s just adding some extra bits, like pumpkin seeds, to the recipes. There’s a common misconception that when eating a plant-based diet you’re not meeting your nutritional needs, which is why wholefoods are called wholefoods – they’re balanced in themselves, so they have the right amount of protein, the right amount of iron, and different foods have different amounts, but as long as you’ve got plenty of wholefoods in there, you’re covering all your bases.
What’s coming up for Green Dinner Table in 2020 and beyond? T: We just brought Green Dinner Table to Nostalgia Festival, which was a good way to kick the year off. In our second quarter we’re going to start shipping to Auckland, and we’re heading to the Go Green Expo in March to kick it all off. Everything will be shipped from Christchurch to Auckland, to ensure we can continue to manage the quality. C: We’re already shipping to Wellington, so it’s essentially the same process
Are you noticing more and more choice in ingredients as the market for plant-based foods grows? If so, what is your current favourite ingredient? T: From a consumer perspective there’s a massive amount of stuff – there’s the Sunfed Chicken and other Sunfed products, which are really cool New Zealand made products, there’s Beyond Beef and Burger King just released the Rebel Whopper. For us, not really as a lot of those products are too processed, it’s more about wholefoods and sourcing local ingredients and getting out to the markets. My favourite ingredient this week is some beautiful purple garlic that was grown out of Rangiora.
You use a lot of seasonal produce, can you talk to us about the benefits of eating seasonally? T: As a consumer the price point is a benefit and knowing that it’s local. It’s easier to support local when you’re eating seasonally. It guides you in eating the rainbow, too, and enables you to look forward to vegetables more. We follow the seasons as much as possible, which helps us to source produce locally.
How important is customer feedback in guiding Green Dinner Table’s future direction. What has been the most useful piece of feedback? T: Just keep doing what you’re doing. C: The customer feedback is essential to keep moving forward and keep improving our product. It might help us to change the menu slightly if there’s anything on that.
Is there a particular dish that stands out as a favourite with customers? And one that is your favourite? T: The customer favourite is the Mexican loaded nacho wedges. It’s wedges topped with beans, cashew sour cream, guacamole, pickled red onions and a pico de gallo, and some salsa. That’s a really popular one. C: I really like the Bibimbap – it’s a Korean dish that has kimchi with it, and I really like kimchi, and we make the kimchi fresh. T: We make everything in-house. I’m fermenting chillies at the moment to make some hot sauce because they’re in season; and preserving some lemons for winter.
What are the most common misconceptions about a vegan diet? C: An inadequate amount of protein, or iron as well. Also that it’s boring and just salads, really basic salads like tomatoes and lettuce. But it’s not, it’s wholefoods, and when you’re eating wholefoods you’re getting everything you need.
How has being part of Green Dinner Table affected your own diet and lifestyle? C: The variety of the different meals. I find when I’m doing my own thing it’s easy to stick to the few same things each night, so having Green Dinner Table allows a different meal every night and you’re getting a variety of nutrients from the different vegetables. T: We have over 220 recipes on our website, so it’s challenging to create new recipes. I find I’m doing a lot more reading and research to create new recipes. I find myself going to markets more now to find new ingredients, ideas and suppliers.
Do you still have some guilty pleasures? If so, what? T: A nice bottle of Riesling. My current favourites are Terrace Ridge and Pegasus Bay. C: Dark chocolate and vegan Trumpets.
What’s your go-to place in Christchurch for a meal out? And for a great night out? T: For a meal out, Miss Peppercorns, and for a night out, a swim at the beach. C: SUPER for dinner and Utopia for dessert.
Is there a particular book or author that has inspired you in your life or career? T: Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell, which is about a shitty chef in London and Paris and all about how horrible it is working in the kitchen; I don’t know why it always appealed to me. C: I’ve got a few, but I’d have to say The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – basically the moral of it is that life is about the journey.
What advice would you give to your younger self? T: Travel more. C: Work as hard as you can before you have kids so you can have more time with your kids.
Do you have any simple tips for increasing the amount of plant-based foods in our diet? T: Avoid the meat and dairy aisles in the supermarket and order Green Dinner Table. C: Smoothies at breakfast is a really simple one. They’re a great way to get a bunch of spinach or greens into breakfast – add some bananas and berries and you can’t even taste the spinach. I make a smoothie in the mornings and can put in huge amounts of spinach, and my two-year-old daughter will drink the whole thing – she loves it and doesn’t even know, it’s great.
Do you have any suggestions on where people can find more info on plant-based diets? T: nutritionfacts.org, SAFE have a really good vege starter kit, which is really cool, and the Green Dinner Table website. My favourite cookbooks would be Isa Does It, which was one of the first cookbooks I had when my wife first went vegan. The Enchanted Broccoli Forest is a real ‘70s, hippy cookbook and The Moosewood Cookbook from 1974, one of the top-10 selling cookbooks of all time. C: We’ve got a really good cookbook at home called Pure Vegan, which is pretty simple and the meals don’t take too long but there’s some really nice summer salads in there. Celebrity chefs have been great at raising awareness, because they bring attention to it. There’s three main reasons you’d go vegan, which are health, animal cruelty and environment, and we tick all three with our boxes, so we offer something that our competition can’t.
Have you noticed more options now for dining out as a vegan? C: Yep, I definitely have. Most menus have at least one vegan option, and some places even have a vegan menu, like Formaggio’s. It has come a long way since I returned from Sydney seven years ago. It was really hard to find vegan meals, you’d have to basically make a meal out of sides, but now people are coming to the table, which is good. T: Yeah, it’s got to be a pretty lame restaurant if it doesn’t have at least one vegan option on the menu.
Where do you go to – Wine and dine with friends: T: Three Boys and bring in some food C: Evil Genius. Morning coffee: C: Claude’s Kitchen. Blow off some steam: C: The Gym. T: The Commoners Bar in the British Hotel. Shop up a storm: T: The city. Get away from it all: T: Waipara – there’s nice wineries and great places to stay. C: Hanmer Springs – it’s easy for the kids and close enough.
Currently available for delivery in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, other regions coming soon. Check the website for more details.