chef Nacho Sánchez, about Slow Vegan and “Pizzi & Dixie”
Today we have been with Nacho Sánchez, chef of the Italian Vegan restaurant Pizzi & Dixie, located in the heart of Malasaña, in Madrid. His specialty is fresh pasta and artisan pizzas with double fermentation. Also, the purple potato gnocchis with pumpkin sauce or the tagliatelle with yellow curry and black garlic are surprising. A more universal proposal than the first one: the remembered “Botanique”, a space he had in the Antón Martín Market.
He is also the author of the book “Slow Vegan”. The term is a fusion of “slow food” and vegan philosophy, which combines the consumption of local products with the sensitivity of taking care of animals and the planet. And that represents his cooking concept: creative, colorful, and plant-based so that everyone can enjoy it.
For all Pizzi & Dixie lovers, you can find several of the recipes that he serves in the restaurant in his book, as well as those of Botanique and a personal selection of his favourite vegan and gourmet recipes.
This interview was done when Spain has just begun the relaxation of the coronavirus confinement measures. Pizzi & Dixie returns this May 7th, with delivery and takeaway services, from Thursday to Sunday.
We talked to chef Nacho Sánchez, about Slow Vegan, “Pizzi & Dixie” and reopening
By Fabiola Gálvez
Right now we are living more calmly, we pay more attention to details that were previously unnoticed. How does this fit in with slow vegan cooking?
I think there are two things here: what has happened has a very negative component at the economic level, consumer level, social level; we will see what happens but it has a very positive component and that is that people have cooked more, and they have connected with cooking, and they share recipes in Whatsapp, it’s been beautiful. That’s exactly what I’m saying in the book, we have to connect with cooking and enjoyment. The key is to do it slowly as our grandmothers did, and that’s what people have been doing all this time.
Exactly, I think it’s been the most straightforward connection we have with nature, which is cooking from our home.
We weren’t connected to nature and yet we have the need for it. Right now, what I’m most looking forward to is being allowed to visit the countryside, and smell the pine trees. I feel more like going out for a drink. We had it there but we were more urban than rural and we miss that. And we realized that nature is freedom. And that’s very nice.
Tell us about your book. What is Slow Vegan? Is it your philosophy?
Is it my philosophy of life? I don’t know. Of course, it’s my cooking philosophy. I think of my cooking as something vegan, that has no animal ingredients and I like it to be as slow as possible, it follows slow, artisan processes, I take great care of what I do, I try to make the ingredients ethical. These are the main characteristics of my cuisine and that’s what I thought to give the title to the book.
Did you coin this term?
I have joined two terms: the slow food that I love, talks about buying ingredients that are as ethical as possible, that are local, that don’t follow the impressive industrial processes that absolutely transform what we are eating, and on the other hand, the vegan philosophy, I am against animal abuse, and in favor of other positive characteristics for the planet.
And to get an idea of the products?
Slow food at a vegan level, we can find it in a thousand things, from buying seasonal vegetables for our fruit bowls, buying the most ecological possible, and what I like the most is to use ingredients that are there and we don’t know it, like the herbs that we step on, and many of them are edible and super delicious. We can apply the term slow to the fact of picking mushrooms in the field. I walk around the countryside with friends, and I say, “You can eat this,” and I love it.
A world to discover.
Yes. Nettles, we can boil and eat them, golden thistle, chickweed, lots of variants that are similar and we buy at the market, we have wild fennel, bladder campion, wild chicory, and monks cress, are everywhere. In Toledo, I am going to open a restaurant there and the parking lot is full of monks cress. We can cook with things we have in our hands.
You studied psychology, but life led you to become a vegan chef. How was your experience like?
It was very nice. I studied Psychology but I didn’t practice, I had jobs I didn’t like, I worked in insurance, and before that, I worked for the CEOE, management, and training stuff, etc. And well, I discovered veganism and I found a beautiful world, I connected with injustice, with animal suffering, and I understood cooking as an activist act. It hit me very hard over there and I ended up transforming my career, and I’m delighted. So much better, now than before.
What is being a vegan in your own words?
For me, the word vegan, it’s a label, it’s positive for understanding each other and for naming things, but for me, it’s much more important to develop as a person than to have a label without hesitation. We have to be careful because we risk becoming inflexible with others. If you talk to me about being vegan, it means not consuming animal products at all levels. If someone is looking for perfection in things and criticizes me for using certain home-delivery food providers, I feel exasperated and when I see people start giving lessons to others, the same thing happens.
A vegan is someone who wants to eradicate animal suffering, in a super legitimate way, without consuming animal products, from the very activism of going and buying and not consuming what you don’t want, but that’s it. We are much more than vegans.
You don’t want to be categorized, you want to be more flexible.
Sure, I like living with each other. I remember with the previous restaurant Botanique that being inside the market, it was usual, for example, that people bought pizzas from the restaurant next door being a vegan restaurant and we let them eat it so leisurely in my local. So there were two people who ate at my restaurant and the other two who didn’t. For me, that’s a value that makes us live with each other.
Speaking of Botanique, did you also apply the slow food concept? I saw that your dishes have also followed your new proposal of Pizzi & Dixie
From Botanique, only the stuffed peppers remain on the menu. The menu of Pizzi & Dixie changes constantly, it is very difficult to find already a permanent menu at Botanique, but if I did have those dishes and they will probably come back.
How was this change of concept from Botanique to an Italian vegan restaurant?
There’s nothing slower than Botanique. It was a super local proposal in a market, where I bought the products in the market itself, we lived with each other, it was wonderful. And I had a healthier menu than it does now. But now we’re evolving. The Pizzi & Dixie concept is very universal, and from there, it’s Italian food for the most part, because I love that people recognize lifelong flavours, in a vegan way but enjoy them.
I also saw that you have a proposal for a burger from Beyond meat, this very famous brand in New York. Can you tell us about your experience with this brand?
As I said, I like the flexibility. There’s nothing less slow than Beyond meat, from the pea we go to the meat, that implies a brutal processing of what we are eating, it’s even healthier to eat meat than to eat Beyond meat, but it’s still a vegan product, it’s still an exception at a given time, it’s very cool.
I don’t eat Beyond meat, but if a friend has a barbecue, I take my little burger with me, I have a great time, and it looks a lot like meat. And those of us who have been meat-eaters, we like meat. We find something that is super similar to meat, to make other dishes like minced meat, it’s a lot of fun. It’s also demanded, people love it. It’s cool.
I haven’t tried it, I know it has peas and soy protein in it.
No, not soy, no allergens. If you like meat, I recommend it.
That’s interesting, I’m curious to try it.
You’ll like it, you’ll see.
Do you feel there’s a tendency to eat less meat?
Yeah, sure, people are giving it up a little bit.
I read a ProVeg study called “Más allá de la carne” and it says that especially young people are decreasing their consumption, 1 in 5 Spanish people reduce or eliminate it. I don’t know if you’ve felt that.
I remember a family that came from outside of Madrid, disappointed of restaurants and they said: “This way, yes! This way, yes! (laughs). Madrid has a lot of vegan offers, not just mine, which are really cool.
I do notice it a lot because the non-vegan people who come to me are mainly derived from vegans who take them because in my restaurant they have a great time. My family, who are all from Valladolid, in a lost village in Castilla, used to come and try the Beyond and they told me that it was very good. A guy who eats torreznos. What does it matter if he’s a vegan or not?
After this pandemic. You think it made us more conscious about what we eat.
I think that with or without a pandemic, meat consumption is going to continue to drop dramatically. With the pandemic the way of consumption has changed, I think because of economic reasons it will tend to more basic products and that people have discovered that cooking is a great plan, regardless of whether it is vegan or not. Of course, I assume this with fear, I have a restaurant, but I see it very positive and I like it that way.
Yeah, I was just going to ask you that. How do you plan to reinvent yourself in the post-pandemic?
I have a lot of ideas. The restaurant itself will follow a different course than the one I had, they will see new actions regarding delivery with Pizzi & Dixie.
Now, I’m about to open a new restaurant in Toledo, it’s going to be very similar to Pizzi & Dixie, and we are proposing a deeper change than just delivery service. Having two restaurants, and the scenario that I’m going to find that people are going to attend less, as is normal. So it isn’t going to be necessary to have so much personnel if we are saying that people are going to eat more at home, then what I am proposing is to structure a central kitchen that supplies both restaurants. And also, I don’t know if it will come out, but we are considering taking out a range of vegan products produced in our workshop to sell in the shop. I think it could be a good formula to supply two restaurants, to continue having a good level of staff, just as we don’t have to lay off many people and we can get to the houses. Of course, everything requires an investment that we are studying, we will see. Everything will be okay.
Thanks for the interview, Nacho! We wish you all the best for the reopening. Here you find his new recipe.