Q&A: Kevin Farrell, Vegivores

Kevin Farrell moved to England from Belfast in 2010 to further his career in commercial banking. In 2017 he established Vegivores, at the time Reading’s only fully vegan street food and catering company, with regular appearances at Blue Collar and various other events. This helped build a strong and loyal following, and Vegivores opened its first bricks and mortar location in St Martin’s Precinct in Caversham in October 2019. Kevin lives in Caversham with his wife, Emma.

Vegivores has continued to trade during lockdown and has a popular delivery arm with online ordering. Later this week, they will officially announce that they will also open weekend daytimes for brunch, coffee and cake takeaways.

What are you missing most while we’re all in lockdown?
From a work perspective, I miss having our whole team together. We assembled a great bunch and we have a lot of fun at work so it’s strangely quiet at times now. 

From a personal perspective I miss having some sort of social outlet. I didn’t have a lot of free time from work pre-lockdown and if I did it was always for a specific event or concert. Now, like many people I guess, I find myself with a bit more free time and nowhere to go. I can’t complain though: in honesty I’m appreciating the slower pace of life a bit and there are definitely things I’ll try to maintain when lockdown ends.

What’s your favourite thing about Reading?
I’ve lived in Reading for over eight years now and in Caversham for five of those, and I like that I am still constantly discovering things and places that I knew nothing about. I also like the fact that outsiders think the town is dominated by chains but people who live here know that we have a thriving independent (and therefore unique) sector across retail and hospitality, and an amazing sense of community that sits behind that.

What’s your earliest memory of food?
This isn’t a pleasant story but, regardless of veganism, I’ve been allergic to all forms of poultry for my entire life (weird, I know). One of my earliest memories is being about three years old and ending up rolling around choking on the kitchen floor after being given a chicken leg by my parents. They were obviously oblivious to the cause at the time and a few similarly traumatic occurrences happened before it got worked out!

What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
I’ve had a few spells of living in Spain and I’m obsessed with all things Spanish so a lot of our downtime is spent there. It’s impossible to pinpoint a specific plate of food, because they eat so well, but nights spent bar hopping in San Sebastián grabbing a couple of pintxos in each place have been some of the best food experiences I’ve ever had.

What were the biggest challenges in going from a street food stall to permanent premises?
Getting to the point where we could actually open the doors was really tough. The process of getting the keys to the property following acceptance of our offer was incredibly drawn out (it took about 10 months in total and another 3 months of fit out), so trying to keep the existing business going and growing whilst dealing with lawyers, builders, licensing and suppliers and recruit a team meant there was seldom a dull moment! The biggest challenge when we opened, I think, was being able to deliver a much more varied menu from a space that isn’t that much bigger: over time we managed to streamline some processes to make that work.

What is your most unappealing habit?
This might make me sound like a toddler, but I’m a notoriously messy eater. I don’t know how it happens but I seem to manage to spill at least a part of almost everything I eat or drink. It’s incredibly frustrating and a source of constant amusement to my friends.

Who are your biggest influences in the world of food?
My earliest memories of being completely engrossed in something food-related are from watching Keith Floyd on TV. I think I was more mesmerised by him and his swagger than the food he was cooking, and even today I’ll never flick past one of his programmes. Watching him gave me a great awareness of how food varied from country to country and definitely led to me taking an interest in the wider world of cooking. 

In more modern times my biggest influence has to be Sarah (the other half of Vegivores’ management team). She quite literally never stops thinking or talking about food and how it can be done better, and it’s impossible not to be motivated by her passion.

What is your favourite smell?
Probably a strange one, but without a doubt it’s stale beer. When I was about 15 I got a job in a local pub and it sparked my whole interest in hospitality. I had so many good times there over many years and every time I walk past a pub in the morning when the cleaners are doing their bit I can smell the revelry of the night before and it instantly takes me back.

Where will you go for your first meal out after lockdown?
The strong likelihood is that it will be Quattro. It’s a ten minute walk from home, they have a decent vegan menu, their food is always good, it’s always busy with a nice atmosphere and the staff are always lovely. Hopefully it’s a Saturday and I can make it down to the Double Barrelled tap room for a couple of hours in the afternoon beforehand. That would be a pretty perfect day in my book.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
‘Why?!’ (apparently), and ‘Delicious!’

It feels, as an outsider, that the world of plant-based eating has made exponential progress in the last five years. Would you agree, and what changes would you most like to see in the next five?  
I’d definitely agree. From supermarkets to restaurants, the plant-based offering has exploded and it’s because the public has created such a demand. The government has been telling us relentlessly that the response to this pandemic has been led by science. Independent science has been telling us for quite a while now that plant based eating is optimal when it comes to health, so my hope is that the government allows itself to be led by science in other areas and makes plant based food the norm in schools and hospitals where the consumers are those most in need of the right nutrition.

What was your most embarrassing moment?
When young and naive I once inadvertently told a job interviewer that his boss (who I knew socially) had told me a monkey could do his job. It caused a full-on mutiny amongst the staff and needless to say I didn’t get the job. Not my finest moment!

What one film can you watch over and over again?
To be my usual cool self I would say Goodfellas – and I’d mean it – but my wife would tell you that the true answer to that question is Jurassic Park!

What’s the finest crisp (make and flavour)?
As far as I’m concerned you can’t beat a simple salted crisp, the thicker the better. Real, Tyrrell’s and Kettle are probably the pick of the bunch in the UK.

What’s your biggest bugbear about people’s attitudes to vegetarianism and veganism?
Probably a reluctance to try something because of a preconceived idea that it won’t be as good. Our customers are an adventurous bunch, so I’m lucky in that respect. Amongst the wider population though, if you sit two identical products next to each other and label one of them as vegan it’s likely to elicit a reaction in people. That’s part of the reason why we downplay the vegan element of our business, because in our eyes ultimately it’s all just food and anyone can enjoy it.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
An obscure one but Eamonn Owens is ginger, Irish, and the same age as me so he’d have to be in with a decent shout.

Where is your happy place?
A golf course on a summer evening or on a boat, any boat.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure when it comes to food?
Cold pizza the morning after the night before. Delicious!

Tell us something people might not know about you.
Some very questionable music that I made quite a long time ago is still on iTunes now.

Describe yourself in three words.
Happy, excited, exhausted!

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