Meet the Chef
- Cape Town, South Africa
- "Do no harm or nonviolence."
- Jivamukti Yoga, animal rights and liberation, mountain climbing, motorcycle riding, travel, and tattoos.
Cape Town-based chef Jason “Jay Mac” McNamara focuses his ethos on the connection between plant-based living, vegan activism, animal rights, mindfulness, and how they all connect in the real world.
The new father promotes plant activism through The Kind Kitchen, his vegan butchery and cafe where he offers innovative plant-based meats like apple sage sausages and king beet burgers. At the cafe, fans can dig into dishes like the F’egg sandwich, which is made with gooey v’egg yolk with seared tofu, house-made seitan bacon, melted vegan cheese, and baby spinach. When in the kitchen Jay listens to heavy metal, thrash, punk, indie, and death metal bands.
Jason McNamara's Recipes
Yolisa Qunta talked to Chef Jason about his scrappy startup beginnings and what drives his mission.
You used crowdfunding through Thundafund to open your business. Tell us about the experience.
So initially, I wanted to open up Africa’s first vegan butchery. Investment is such a difficult thing to come by as this is seen as a niche market, even though plant-based is the next boom. Through crowdfunding we received R38,000 (about $2,600) which was just enough to get us started with rent, some small equipment, and some running capital for a month or two.
However, at the time, when I got crowdfunded, it wasn’t enough.
I used my knowledge to create my own ideas like The Kind Kitchen pepperoni and chicken fillets. But what became quite evident very quickly was that people liked the idea of a butcher, but they liked the idea of another vegan cafe better. The core idea of making our own plant based meats and products remained but our meals became more popular so it drove us to focus on being a cafe/restaurant instead.
As we move forward with the right partners and investors we are focusing on two aspects which we believe will be part of the cornerstone of the plant-based movement in South Africa and Africa. The re-introduction of Africa’s first Vegan Butchery in every community, and the introduction of SA’s first shared vegan kitchen where startup brands have the safety and guidance to learn and grow from those like myself that have failed forward so many times.
You have had a long career in plant-based cuisine. At what point did the reason click for you?
I think sitting by myself at about 10 o’clock at night, it was probably Christmas Eve 2019, just staring at the mountain after a long day of work. And sitting back and going: I did it. I created it. We got to where we wanted to be where we’re offering our meals to mostly meat eaters who are loving what we’re doing. People just enjoy our tasty food. That was an aha moment for me.
You live in South Africa, which is a deeply unequal country. Veganism has been marketed as this elite thing, where price is a barrier to entry. How do you reconcile with that?
Yeah, it’s a very good question. I’ve been brought up where I had more than most people in this country, the color of my skin also helped with that. There’s that whole legacy. So that is something that’s quite close to my heart: how do we actually change that going forward? Most of my chefs started in the scullery and worked their way up within the business. So it’s something that’s not going to get fixed quickly and easily. But the meals that I create should be available to everybody. I want to create sausages, burger patties that are 10 Rand (about $0.70) that everyone can afford. So the way to start that is huge investment into having farmers that produce the things that we need here that supply jobs in the market here that bring the price down so that entrepreneurs like myself can then bring it back to a point that it needs to be.
You had to close both your restaurants due to the effects of the extended coronavirus lockdown in South Africa. How are you feeling about it today?
I was gutted. I was devastated with Constantia where we lost 16 staff members; 16 livelihoods gone. It’s very sad. There’s so many reasons why these things happen. One of the biggest reasons for me why it happened was foot traffic fell away in Woodstock. People were working from home, people didn’t feel safe to go out. It gave us a very short timeline to make our money in a day, which was very difficult. Also, we had to cut down staff just to give some staff a decent salary. So there were so many aspects to it that businesses like mine didn’t even forecast. Small businesses are the first to get destroyed.
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Sounds like COVID hit you quite hard. What are your plans moving forward?
A shared kitchen concept is a better idea. What I’ve noticed in the last three years of operating The Kind Kitchen was there are so many great vegan brands or plant-based brands that come out, but they don’t survive the first six months because they don’t have a space to operate properly or don’t have any knowledge of processes and procedures. So they die before they’ve even made it to market.
Going forward, I’ve partnered up with Penguin Books. My first first cookbook will be coming out at the end of the year. The pitch I gave them was, “So I’m vegan now. What do I do?” The book has over 90 recipes trying to show people really simple things that they can do and make vegan food really delicious. And here are some really complicated things that you can do if those are too simple for you. That’s definitely something that’s close to my heart, trying to educate people. I am also working with a dietician to write a children’s vegan cookbook.