Ten years ago Trevor Johnstone never would have imagined he would one day become vegan.
But at 35 he has fully embraced the lifestyle and, through his company Plant Based Fuel BDA, offers his skills as a “plant-based chef and nutrition advocate”.
His transformation was a gradual one that began in 2015 when he moved to Barcelona, Spain to further his career. The first job he found was at a vegan café.
“The owner gave me the job on the spot because she really needed a chef,” Mr Johnstone said.
He worked in the café for a year-and-a-half, often eating there himself, losing about 50lbs in the process. Despite the radical change, “it did not click” that the change in his diet might be the cause.
As it was, he often fantasised about how, if he added a bit of meat or dairy, he could make the meal he was making taste better.
“After a year, I got bored and found another job,” he said.
In 2017 some documentaries on Netflix that linked health and diet caught his interest.
He soon discovered the World Health Organisation warning: a diet rich in fat, refined carbohydrates and animal protein, combined with low physical activity, increases the risk of colon and rectal cancer.
“That education part of it intrigued me. I started to watch more. I started to read. I started to get deep into this pile of information out there about food and health and plant-based nutrition.”
Stuck at home with his wife Maricela and their newborn son Marcelo when the pandemic hit in 2020, he decided to take an online plant-based nutrition course which “sealed the deal”.
Today he is convinced that many people don’t understand that a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Many choose to instead believe what they have been programmed to believe – that animal-based foods are good.
“I want to show people a different avenue,” he said. “I know I cannot change people per se, but I can truly change the way people think by showing them what is possible. You can have a full course meal with no meat and it will still taste awesome. It is better for the planet. Everyone benefits.”
Once he started experimenting with vegan dishes he began sharing them on Instagram.
“People were asking, ‘Where can I get this?’” he said. “They thought I was in Bermuda.”
In July 2020, when he and his family were finally able to move to Bermuda, he started his company.
At first he was mainly cooking for family and friends but he has since broadened his client base and is working on getting a commercial kitchen – and the go ahead from the Department of Health – so that he can offer meals to the general public.
Mr Johnstone was thrilled to discover Bermuda had a dedicated community of vegans and vegetarians when he returned home two years ago.
“I feel people are more conscious about what they eat,” he said. “That is a good thing.”
On his list of offerings is peas and rice, grilled mixed vegetables doused in homemade barbecue sauce, dairy-free rolls and pineapple coconut cake; tuna salad made with watermelon and seaweed.
“I don’t use a substitute for eggs in my cake,” he said. “We just found a way to work around them. It has been trial and error.”
He is determined to change the negative perceptions that some people have about vegan food.
“People think it is just salad and tofu,” Mr Johnstone said. “I have done dinner parties where I heard people saying, ‘I don’t know if I will eat a lot, because it is vegan.’ The same people came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Wow, I could have someone make this for me every night.’”
His long-term goal is to open a fine dining vegan restaurant.
“It won’t be too posh, but it will be nice enough to take someone there on a date and will also be family-friendly,” he said.
He stumbled into cooking 16 years ago while studying business administration at the Bermuda College.
Having decided he was doing the wrong thing he turned to his adviser for help.
“She said ‘What do you like to do?’ I said, ‘I like to eat.’”
He transferred into the culinary arts programme and felt immediately at home, despite having only done a bit of cooking.
“It was 100 per cent me,” he said. “I love food and I love learning about different types of cuisine, flavours and techniques.”
After graduating with an associate degree, he obtained a bachelor’s in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University in Florida. As part of the programme he did a three-month internship at what had once been the Versace mansion, The Villa Casa Casuarina in Miami.
“At the time it was a very high-end hotel, and we were using very high-end, expensive products.”
Working with a small team of six or seven other chefs he was tasked with making everything. Burgers on the menu were made with only the highest quality Wagyu beef.
His next job was at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel where he cooked for Kobe Bryant, Shakira and Will Smith.
“One night George Bush came in with a big security team,” Mr Johnstone said. “Will Smith was the friendliest celebrity. He stopped and spoke to us in the kitchen.”
At the end of his time at the Mandarin Oriental he returned to Bermuda where he worked hard for two years to save up enough money to go to Spain with or without a job. It was a gamble that paid off.
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