“Sometimes people come in and ask if the animals were all fed vegetarian, or if we are a conventional butcher but the owner is a vegetarian,” laughs Suzy Spoon, vegan chef and energetic force behind the freshly opened Suzy Spoon’s Vegetarian Butcher in Newtown. “There are so many different interpretations that I could never have guessed.”
Luckily people are curious. “Mostly, if people aren’t sure what we do, they just come in and ask, and we say we make all of this,” she says, gesturing towards the hefty display of patties and sausages. “But it’s all vegetarian.”
The self-taught vegan chef, who is herself vegetarian, has carefully created and styled each product in her butcher’s display and it’s an inviting array, from seitan (wheat gluten) pieces, with their resemblance to chicken, to vegan schnitzel and the popular vegan sausages. Spoon and a business partner originally opened the vegetarian butcher in Enmore after huge success with the meatless products at Marrickville markets, but after several months in the Enmore shop – and with growing demand – they had outgrew their venue. The duo went their separate ways, but by mutual agreement Spoon kept the butcher name and concept and worked on landing new digs on King Street in Newtown. A few months on and the vegetarian butcher is back in action, throwing open the doors to an eager fan base.
Given the chef’s aversion to flesh, why did she choose to align herself with the carnivorous concept of a butcher? “It just describes exactly what I do,” says Spoon. “I make products that butchers make, but I just make them all vegetarian. I guess I could have called it a vegetarian deli, but that would also make you think that I was going to be doing all different cheeses, dips and olives and I’m not doing that.”
The new space is part cafe, part butcher, part commercial kitchen and part display kitchen. Step in off the street and you’re greeted by an inviting display case complete with salads, vegan sweet treats (including cupcakes from Socially Vegan Cakes) and chalkboard lists of cafe food to enjoy in-store. Coffee is by Double Roasters and while there is cow’s milk on offer, you can also choose from soy, rice and almond milks. In the second part of the shop, there is a kitchen where Spoon makes her butcher products while you watch.
“You can get a Spoon Burger made with our garlic and rosemary burger patty,” says Spoon. “You can get a schnitzel burger from our schnitzel or a spaghetti bolognaise.” There’s even a range of panini to choose from, maybe filled with smoked tofu and vegetarian cream cheese for an alternative to smoked salmon. The one thing you don’t have to ask is if it’s vegetarian-friendly. The secret lies in Spoon’s dedication to creating just the right mix of ingredients to deliver textures that align with the idea of a sausage or a patty - without the added synthetic fillers found in mass-produced vegan/vegetarian foods. The schnitzel for example is made from high protein wheat flour, tahini, water, nutritional yeast, miso, sesame oil, paprika, onion, garlic, white pepper and vegan breadcrumbs, all combined to create just the right mouthfeel for a schnitzel alternative. While Spoon’s popular seitan pieces contain nothing more than “unbleached flour, soy sauce, ginger and water. It’s just the technique that gives it the right texture. It’s a really lengthy process that takes three days to make. You have to let it sit and cook.”
But in order for the meat-free butcher’s products to be a success, Spoon is adamant that they must meet some strict criteria.
“They have to taste good, but they also have to look good and have a great texture and mouthfeel.” And while they are alternatives to meat, they aren’t necessarily supposed to act as faux meat. They’re simply sausages and butcher-style products for vegetarians.
“Vegetables are fantastic and I eat them every day, but they’re soft and sometimes you want something a bit chewy or something with a bit of a different texture,” says Spoon.
After years of eating vegetarian sausages from the supermarkets that were full of preservatives and unrecognisable ingredients, Spoon felt it was time that vegetarians should be able to access products that were made with everyday ingredients.
“All the ingredients are things that you would mostly have at home in your own cupboard,” she says, noting that yeast flakes and TVP (textured vegetable protein) might be the only exceptions. Everything else is made from balanced combinations of vegetables.
When the smell of even the cleanest conventional butcher can be an issue for some, an added bonus for Spoon is that when you’re only using vegetables and vegetable proteins, then all you get are the delicious smells of cooking.
Suzy Spoon’s Vegetarian Butcher
22–24 King Street, Newtown
(02) 9557 9762