Danny McLaren otherwise known as the Mad Chef is the head chef at Bar Bloc in Glasgow, he’s also the man behind such creations as The Veganoid and the Not Dog, we sat down with him to get his take on the thriving Glasgow vegan scene and his future plans for his Street Food Assault Crew.
Danny first got into the hospitality industry at the age of 16 when he started working as a waiter, soon after by complete chance he made his way into the kitchen. “The commis chef basically never turned up for his shift so the chefs asked me to come in and work in the kitchen.”
He immediately knew he had found something he loved, the sense of togetherness and support in the kitchen was an important factor for him.
“I enjoyed the camaraderie of it, being in a world where all these big guys all look after you. I done a good job that day, that was the start of the madness.” Despite being passionate about cooking. Danny admits in his younger years he was more interested in partying than cooking.
“I did have a wee bit of a problem when I was younger I couldn’t stay anywhere long enough because I was still a bit immature and was in party land.”He believes that it was his talent that kept him in jobs where others may not have been so lucky. “I was really good at what I did and it was the only reason why I got so many opportunities and chances and never got sacked.” He continues, “I used to phone in sick quite a lot. I would phone from being out on a bender like, ‘aw I cannae come in’.”
Living the party life did mean that Danny job hopped as a young chef, although he soon came to the realisation that he’d soon run out of luck. “I practically worked everywhere, so I decided to get my head down because at some point you’re not going to get a job again.” It was around this time that Danny got involved with Bloc, he spent three years there but then decided to move to Spain to run boat parties and club nights. After three years in Spain he began to think about the direction he wanted to take in life, “I came back and thought ‘fuck man I’m 30, what am I going to do?’ Either I keep pursuing this music career which will keep getting me involved in getting wrecked and mad wae it all the time or I take this cooking thing seriously.” “I thought fuck it, I need to build a bit of a better future for myself and got the head down and that’s when I really started to apply myself.” Danny soon became fully committed to his craft, giving him a real sense of purpose and drive for the work he was producing.
“That’s how I basically got into cooking, and then once I found it, I got fully absorbed in it.” He says, “It actually done me a world of good for me calming down and focussing all my energies into one thing and then obviously, it became my life.”
It was around this time that the “Mad Chef” brand formed, simply starting from his own Facebook page, the power of the internet, right?
“It all just started off with me posting up things that I made… I was experimenting, creating and cooking up stuff and the reaction I was getting from it was fucking crazy.”
If you’re a vegan living in Glasgow, you’ll know Bloc is a great place for vegan food. Danny created such delights as the Veganoid and the Not Dog, he introduced vegan food into a non-vegan restaurant at a time where others in the industry disregarded vegan food as a FAD. He admits he’s had to go on a huge learning curve in cooking vegan food, but it’s one he’s relishing.
“I’ve learned about so many different products that I never knew existed and it just so happens that they’re good for you and it just so happens that they’re not fucking the world up the ass’.” He continues, “It’s intriguing as well, it’s a bit of a process and it’s more of a challenge, if no one else is going to do this shit, then I am.”
Continuing to cook and use vegan products has certainly become a passion for Danny, although not a vegan you can see that it’s something he’s thinking about more and more.
“Eventually I was like, I can’t be fucked looking at a bit of meat, I just want to keep it away from me, I want to take these lovely bright ingredients and see what I can do with them.’”
In his experience, Danny believes that a welcoming and accessible vegan community can help it prosper. “I think it’s important not to isolate non-vegans because that is what predominantly will help the vegan community. The minute you isolate someone, they become aggressive, they become emotionally detached.”
He also believes that high quality vegan products can also make veganism more accessible to non-vegans. In creating his vegan food, quality is the key and it’s something he strives for in every dish he creates. “One of my main challenges was that I wanted to make vegan dishes and feed them to somebody who was non-vegan and for them to never know they were vegan. That was and still is the goal and I’ve achieved it in a few dishes.”
Near the end of last year Danny and the team from Bloc raised money for the Calais refugees through his “Eat to Feed” campaign in which people could buy tacos with all the money going towards food and supplies for the refugees in Calais. They smashed their target raising £2090, it was an experience Danny won’t forget and it’s motivated him to do even more.
“From that trip what I’ve seen is the beautiful side of people, I’ll always say it, for every one bad person there’s at least ten good guys. It’s restored a bit of my faith in humanity, you know?”
He plans to use this experience to help the people of Glasgow, through his new venture The Street Food Assault Crew. “The Street Food Assault Crew is basically an organisation that was born through the need to combat food poverty using street food. The idea of it is that we will have members, like a collective.” “There’s going to be a big launch for it, a Ted Talks style launch, we’re going to be telling you what it’s all about, what you can do, what our three-year plan is and how we can help.”
There’s even plans that will leave every vegan in Glasgow drooling. “One of my aims for the Street Food Assault Crew is I’d like to open up Glasgow’s first vegan take-away.” I told you!
It’s evident to see that Danny’s passions lie between food and Glasgow and through his new Street Food Assault Crew he’ll be combining both these passions by combatting food poverty in the City.
“Right now, I’m still on a bit of a journey, researching how bad Glasgow food delivery actually is and that’s where I’m at just now.” He continues, “There’s further plans, we’re going to be crowdfunding, applying for some social enterprise loans for a food van that can turn up anywhere and help any cause. Say you need to go down to a food bank or you need to go help somebody, it’ll be like the SAS of the food world, I’m not being egotistical, that’s the pressure we need.”
His love for Glasgow is clear to see and he believes there’s already a culture of giving within the city that he can tap into for the Street Food Assault Crew. “Some people will say ‘aw Glasgow is a violent city, knife capital of the world, can be quite racist.’ It is everything but. It’s one of the most warming places ever. If your fellow man needs help, there’s someone there for you. People just don’t understand that Glasgow is fucking amazing, the people round about you are just so nice, but they’re aw bonkers.” He aims to get the younger generation involved, he sees them as the game changers. “It’s trying to get that age group involved, it’s the younger generation that have those crazy ideas that could help change the future, these are the people you want to influence.”
Sitting with Danny for over an hour, I was taken with his passion for what he believes in. It’s very rare to find someone who is willing to stick their neck out on the line and say, “things need to change”. This is what Danny continues to do in his work with The Street Food Assault Crew which looks set to grow throughout 2017, we wish him all the best.