We’re happy to announce another expert has joined the Pod-to-Plate series. Heaven Leigh is a third-generation restauranteur and owner of Bodhi, Sydney’s largest plant-based restaurant in operation for over 30 years. You might recognise it if you’ve ever been to either Cook & Philip Swimming pool or St Mary’s Cathedral - it’s the undercover restaurant, nestled near parkland between those two attractions.
We sat down with Heaven and discussed what she’s been doing under Covid-lockdown, her inspiration for South-East Asian cuisine, and her newfound love for gardening with the Vegepod. Stay tuned to the end to see a video of Heaven’s fantastic ‘Warm Mushroom Salad with Asian-Style Dressing’. It’s plant-based and seriously delicious - you won’t regret giving it a try from #podtoplate.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your restaurant?
As a third-generation restaurateur, I've quite literally grown up in the hospitality industry. I own and operate Australia’s largest and oldest plant-based restaurant, Bodhi Restaurant Bar which specialises in vegan Yum Cha (Dim Sum) and modern South-East Asian cuisine.
Before Bodhi, I’ve had the privilege of working in some of the world's best modern Asian restaurants in Australia, Hong Kong and the UK.
My side hustle is investing in up-and-coming businesses and producing plant-based digital content, and I also love travelling around the world, connecting with other people in the industry and eating amazing food.
That’s fantastic - hopefully, we’ll all get to travel again soon once restrictions ease. So, as a vegan restauranteur, we're wondering what's your top tip for those wanting to try vegan cooking?
If you're interested in plant-based food or the lifestyle, I always suggest starting with simple things and growing your repertoire from there.
I've seen a lot of people try to go vegan suddenly and they tend to fail and give up. My advice is to be gentle with yourself and go slowly by just swapping out a few dishes at a time. If you are a heavy meat-eater, give your body time to acclimatise. Make sure you get your health checked before you make any changes, as a baseline to be able to monitor.
These days there are some fantastic alternative products out there for people to try and some great plant-based restaurants (like mine!) that you can get inspiration from.
It’s not as hard as you might think it is to include more vegetables in your diet and the side effect is feeling healthier.
Great advice, couldn’t have said it better ourselves. So we know you’ve been setting up a Vegepod at home; how are you finding it? Any chance you'll be using it for Bodhi?
I am in love with the Vegepod! As someone who is food-obsessed, it's a real game-changer.
The abundance of food, the ease of looking after the plants - my husband put our watering system on a timer so even if I’m not home for really long periods beyond the capacity of the reservoirs, the plants still look after themselves!
I was very busy at work for a few weeks and when I finally had time to go out and do some gardening it was like an explosion of plants in our Vegepod!
We also have two young children so it’s been such a great experience to be able to introduce ingredients to them which we have grown ourselves. I can ask them to go grab me some fresh herbs when I’m cooking and they love going out and collecting the things I need. They're actually getting very good at identifying each of the plants.
I would love to have the pods at Bodhi. I just have to think of a way to convince the Council to allow me to take over part of the surrounding parkland around the restaurant to create a garden.
Fantastic to hear you’re enjoying the Pods! One last quick q for our audience: what are three veggies every wannabe-vego should get growing, right now?
I think the best advice is what Simon from Vegepod shared when we were filming our gardening story: when you’re starting, plant what you would eat! This way you will get the most joy and use from your garden.
For me, I am leafy-green obsessed so I have many varieties of Asian greens like bok choy, choy sum, Chinese broccoli and various types of lettuce in one pod.
In my second Pod I have all the herbs I love to use in my cooking which are coriander, mint, parsley, thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary and chili.
Thanks to Heaven for chatting with us about the #growyourfood experience. See more of Heaven & her team at bodhirestaurant.com.au and while you’re there, check out her gardening collab with us: ‘5 Tips for Creating Your Own Veggie Garden’.
Warm Winter Mushroom Salad Recipe
For more great vegan and vegetarian recipes from Heaven and Bodhi Restaurant, visit: bodhirestaurant.com.au/blog/categories/recipes