Pastry Chef Toni Rodríguez and his sweet obsession: Vegan desserts

Imagine 15 years ago, talking about vegan pastry when veganism was not yet so well-known, strictly speaking, especially in Europe. Pastry chef Toni Rodríguez started working in the kitchens of vegan restaurants at the age of 19. From there, he hasn’t stopped.

In his research, he found out Sosa potato whip, the perfect ingredient to give texture, and saw that the sponge cake no longer crumbled, and allowed him to make more complicated desserts that he always dreamed of. In 2010, he creates the first vegan macaroni. His obsession was to find the perfect recipe. It was all trial and error. On the 300th attempt, he had finally achieved it, a macaroni that is equal to or even better, he says, than traditional macaroni, without using eggs or magical ingredients like aquafaba.

He is also the author of “Vegan Cupcakes” and “Vegan Delights: 88 delicious recipes” in Spanish and English. In 2011, he founded Lujuria Vegana (Vegan Lust) in Barcelona which was the first vegan bakery and pastry shop in Europe. Today, all his work is devoted to Toni Rodríguez Academy, that opened in 2018, where he’s a teacher. His online courses of 100% vegan fine pastry for students from 35 different countries. If you see his fine French vegan pastries, you won’t notice that they don’t contain any animal ingredients. They are delicious, flawless and conscientious.

“Cooking is love” as you say in your book “Vegan Delights: 88 delicious recipes for the complete three-course meal”, I think that’s the ideal definition to explain why you do vegan pastry.

I make vegan cooking and baking because I’ve been living a vegan lifestyle since I was 17 years old. I have always been involved in animal rights activism and it was very important for me to be able to change from the food side, especially the cooking side. But when I got into the world of gastronomy, I realized that it was more important to focus on being able to develop vegan pastries, because in 2004 there were almost no vegan sweets in all of Europe. I wanted to get a good pastry to make a better world for animals, but also to enjoy something as important as the whim of eating a sweet and sharing it with someone you love.

Toni, we met you when we talked to Juanjo Ramírez from the Bon Lloc restaurant as its executive chef, where you are responsible for the sweet but also the savoury part. Did you first start preparing the desserts or the main dishes?

Juanjo, he’s one of the best cooks I’ve ever seen. He’s a great inspiration to me, as well as one of my best friends.

First I started with the salty world, I started cooking to be able to eat a variety of food every day and I realized that I was falling in love with spending all the hours possible in a kitchen. The pastry came later when I wanted to accompany the dishes I made with something sweet.

 

Do you remember the first time you baked vegan food?

Of course, I do. Poor my ex-girlfriend who ate what I made… hahaha. Fortunately, I have worked hard all these years trying to do better.
From the first time until now, how much has vegan pastry changed?

It’s incredible how much it has changed. In 2004-05, there were already some vegan bakeries in the US, but there was nothing in Europe. In 2005, I created the Proyecto Lujuría Vegana (The Vegan Lust project), a vegan bakery company, and a pioneer in Europe. I started making an American type of pastry, but I began to travel to Paris to see what the pastry mecca was like, what kind of desserts I would find there, and I fell in love with French pastry, so today, I focus on finding references to classic French pastry, but with a modern touch.

I see that everything has evolved a lot. When I talk to my fellow pastry chefs in Paris, there is a lot of interest in offering vegan desserts due to the high demand. Nowadays, even Pierre Hermé has already made two vegan desserts in his shops. And this is only the beginning.
Egg, milk, and butter are the 3 basic ingredients for baking. How does vegan baking replace these products of vegetable origin?

Dairy and butter are pretty easy. The problem is when we get into the world of the egg and the different proteins that are in the yolk and the white. Not to mention animal gelatine, which is applied differently to vegetable gelling agents and has a totally different texture. There is still a lot of research to be done to find out how to replace gelatine and egg.

Toni, lead us to creativity. What desserts, sweets, can be made with vegan pastry?

For now, almost anything is possible. The only preparation I can’t make is choux pastry. But you can make sponge cakes, mousses, creamy, crunchy, croissants, brioche, puff pastry, macaroons, ganache, icing, cookies, etc.

What innovations are you making with vegan pastry?

The big change came in 2010 when I created the first vegan macaroni. Even so, it was in 2011 when we managed to perfect it and get a much nicer texture and look. But during these years, we have created many types of well-made preparations that seemed unthinkable in the past: mousse without gelatin and meringue, sponge cakes without eggs, creamy without dairy or eggs, brioche without eggs, etc.

Right now, our plan is to make all the preparations that we have exquisite, reviewing the recipes well and see how to improve them to achieve it.
Banishing myths about the lack of common baking ingredients. How do we avoid dry or dull preparations?

Sugars always give the shine, when you see a super shiny glaze, it’s super loaded with sugar. Call it white sugar (sucrose), agave syrup, molasses, maple syrup, etc. And dry preparations is something I don’t understand how they can possibly do that. In the end, when there is a good balance of basic ingredients in a sponge cake: flour, baking powder, sugar, water, salt, and oil, it should be amazing.

Toni, you’re the spearhead in vegan pastry. How did you open the first vegan bakery and pastry shop in Europe?

In 2011, I opened Lujuría Vegana (Vegan Lust) with several partners. I went from having a pastry project at home (with professional machinery) to a large workshop that produced for patisseries, shops and restaurants across Europe.

Which are your favourite desserts?

My favourite is carrot cake, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it. It was the dessert that made me become a pastry chef.

Where do we try your creations?

Come to our Toni Rodriguez Academy school. At the end of the courses, there’s always a dessert tasting.

About Toni Rodriguez Academy, tell us about the training school for all applicants who want to learn more about vegan pastry.

Toni Rodriguez Academy is a vegan pastry school in Barcelona, we have a 2-afternoon masterclass and a 40-hour intensive course (5 days) where you will learn many preparations and the theory of how the ingredients we use work in the recipes.

By Fabiola Gálvez