Meet the Chef
- London, UK
- “Food should be something that we have to survive, rather than living to eat.”
- Grime, gangster rap, NYC 80s hip-hop music and BBOY style, graffiti, breakdancing, and a new found love for boxing.
Chef-owner Bounsou Senathit (aka King Cook) has been at the heart of a bold food revolution since he opened his meat-free kitchen CookDaily in 2015. Situated in Boxpark, a shipping container complex in east London, Shoreditch – next to a Korean barbecue restaurant and a fish and chips joint – vegan eateries in the capital were few and far between back then. His vision and mission of vegan cooking has revolutionised the capital’s vegan dining scene and culture. Cook originally became vegetarian in 2009, then vegan in 2014. He made the switch from being a heavy meat-eater after he was burnt out from working in high-end restaurant kitchens dealing with dead flesh, blood and bones on a daily basis. After going back to his roots, it was Buddhism that triggered him. Since meditating, he’s become calmer, cut out meat and adapted a clearer vision of Buddhist ethics.
King Cook's Recipes
Angela Hui talks to Chef King about becoming vegetarian then vegan, cooking for celebrities, and how the purpose for cooking can evolve.
How would you describe CookDaily to someone who’s never been to your restaurant?
It was straight up vegan grub street food, but with a chef twist I’ve gained from years of experience. Without my strict culinary background I couldn’t have done what I did. It would’ve been so unorganised like a kid trying to open up a restaurant. As soon as you walked into our first Shoreditch site we had a sign that read: ‘Vegan. No Blood. No Bones’ and we’ve always lived by that unapologetic ethos. I was the only one with balls to be loud about plant-based eating and it had ignited an appetite. Whether it be roadmen or yoga moms, they connected with me in a different way. People were telling me how much they loved the food and new vegan places nearby started to open up.
What are some of your favourite regional dishes you’ve cooked at CookDaily?
I draw a lot of influences from my Lao heritage and South East Asian street food. I did a stint cooking Thai food in pubs with my parents and spent a lot of time in Bangkok. Our signature Pad Thai uses vegan prawns and Laotian omelette, a caramelised rice noodle dish with chickpea omelette vegan chicken and sweet chili sauce. In the beginning they wanted to box me up to say CookDaily was only Asian food, but we also served ‘chickn’ and mushroom pie, jerk chicken and a full English breakfast on the menu. I love food and I represent international world foods.
Do you think veganism allows for more creativity and room for experiments rather than thinking of being restricted of what you can and can’t use?
Absolutely. Cooking everything to order and fresh is a blessing and a curse. There’s a tonne of work and we need to have more staff. The veggies are cooked at 40 degrees, so it holds all the nutrients and is still crunchy. We made ‘meaty’ toppings such as crispy bacon and char siu crumble made out of dehydrated coconut flakes marinated in bacon and Cantonese flavours. These take a long time to prepare, sometimes 24 hours.
You’ve had a revolving door of inquisitive Londoners, grime stars and celebrities such as Childish Gambino, JME, Skepta, Emeli Sandé and Professor Green come through your doors over the years. How did that make you feel and did you ever imagine you’d get this level of success over the years?
Kids would often hang around trying to get a glimpse of someone! I appreciate all the love people have shown me love over the years. To be honest, I love cooking for big names, but I started CookDaily for the people.
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How has marriage and parenthood influenced your cooking?
I’ve been married for twelve years and father to four young children. Being a husband and parent, your priorities change. I want to give back to the community and the vegan scene has become bigger than me. I started teaching people how to make oat milks through the internet. Now, there’s oat milk on supermarket shelves. I’m glad there’s more of a vegan world open to my kids and for others. My dream is for vegan food not to be expensive. I’m currently designing happy meals and want to include kids’ meals, which is something I’ve never done before.
How do you think your cooking has connected with the community? And what do you want to do more with CookDaily?
In the beginning, I wanted to make a statement and put my own stamp on things. Before I was just in it to make more restaurants to make people happy and to feed the nation. I was thinking like a chef, but now I have to think like a business. I’ve always stayed true and carved my own lane. Somewhere along the way, I’ve sort of become a celebrity chef. Although, I don’t want to be the next Jamie Oliver, I want to be the next Jamie Oliver on my terms.
You’ve recently temporarily closed all your restaurants last month. Was this due to the pandemic or something you had been planning for a while? What are your plans for the future?
I don’t want to be in the rat race anymore. It felt like I was trying to keep going for the sake of going in the pandemic. It was hard to step away, but it felt needed. All I can say right now, I’m currently in talks with good people and I’ve got locations set up to be bigger and better. I know that the brand is so strong. I can think carefully about my next step, come back with a bang and it’ll be like I’ve never left.