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Louise Palmer-Masterton: Globe-Trotting DJ to Award Winning Vegan Restauranteur

Louise Palmer-Masterton is the founder of plant-based restaurant business Stem & Glory an extremely successful restauranteur whose career has spanned successfully from her former global DJ’ing days. Her restaurant Stem and Glory was this year’s winner of the National SME Awards and celebrated as one of the Government’s ‘Heroes of Net Zero’ at last year’s COP26 awards. Louise is a passionate campaigner championing the issues vital to our planet and world economy, informing us how veganism can save our farms and agriculture.

The overall growth of the brand can be attributed to an exponential shift in attitudes towards plant-based cuisine. More and more of us are growing conscious of leading more ethical lifestyles, with talks of sustainability, animal welfare and veganism featuring heavily in our everyday conversations. Researchers at Oxford University conducted a study last year which concluded that eating a vegan diet is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the Earth – this is more than reducing the number of flights you take or switching to an electric vehicle.

Arguably, the best way we can win hearts and minds to tackling climate change and supporting UK agriculture is by never underestimating the contribution that an individual business can play.’

Let’s go back to the beginning – what led you to choose a life that consisted of compassionate eating? Can you tell us more about your earlier journey with veganism?

In my late teens, I had a friend who was a Krishna devotee. He introduced me to the idea of compassionate eating, i.e. not eating animals. It was the first time I had considered this, and it was one of those pivotal moments that changed the course of my life forever. I gave up eating meat on the spot and never looked back. Throughout the decades that followed, I saw the evolution of veganism (and plant-based) in the UK. It grew gradually at first but then started to grow exponentially in the last 10 years. When I was a young vegan, decent vegan food in a restaurant was almost impossible to find, and it continued that way until quite recently. It’s actually why I started Stem & Glory, as I knew from my own experimentation in the kitchen that vegan food could be delicious, but there just were not any good examples of that in the wider world.

What inspired you to launch Stem & Glory? What are some of the challenges you have faced whilst launching and growing your business?

It was more like I was compelled to start Stem & Glory. I truly believe life will be better if we stop consuming animals. We do not need to kill other beings to sustain our lives. Stem & Glory aims to show people how delicious plant-based cuisine can be, and for every meal eaten with us, that is one more plant-based meal consumed. It’s not just a question of sustainability either; there is a lot wrong with human behaviour, which can be helped by living more compassionate lives with respect to all beings, including all other humans. If we treat animals so barbarically, it’s no wonder how we treat each other.

Regarding challenges, I really don’t think in terms of challenges! Everything that happens is an opportunity for learning, and I am an intensely curious person. I do not linger on things, I look at them from all sides to work everything out, and I am not afraid to move on. If your mindset is thinking of challenges and obstacles, then you will probably encounter them. 

There’s an increasing demand for vegan options, with more and more people choosing a vegan lifestyle. Being vegan isn’t just about cutting out animal products but also being environmentally aware. How do you implement this in your restaurants?

As a vegan brand, we have always been heavily scrutinised as to our sustainability credentials. We are just at the end of a huge net-zero project, and by the end of this year, we should be carbon-negative going forwards. It’s been a massive undertaking, but worth it as we now have a handle on our emissions right across the entire business, and are working with Net Zero Now on our reduction and offset strategies. There has been a huge amount of education behind the scenes of our business, and with our staff and customers. Although we have progressed significantly compared to many businesses, in reality, we are all at the beginning of this journey towards sustainability and net-zero. If you take non harming to the next level, which is essentially what compassionate eating is all about, then your impact on everything should be taken into account. We also have a big social responsibility programme now as a business, such as our meal for a meal programme, where for every meal we serve in our restaurants, we donate a meal to someone in need. It’s not enough to care for ourselves now – we all need to reach out and care for as many as we possibly can. I am pleased that we as a business are successful, which means we can do more of this.

A vegan diet is often considered too expensive and a ‘weaker diet’ from a nutrition perspective. Do you have any recommendations to help incorporate nutrition in your meals whilst sticking to a budget?

My favourite questions! Plant-based food is most definitely not inferior nutritionally. This is a huge myth. I could write pages about this, but in short, the truth is, everyone is hung up on this idea that you have to eat food containing a complete protein to get ‘enough’ protein. Animal-based proteins contain all nine essential amino acids, which makes them complete proteins, but it is not actually necessary to eat one food that contains everything. Combining plant foods results in complete protein and gives exactly the same result nutritionally. So, grains and legumes are therefore known as complementary proteins. ‘Rice and beans’ is fairly commonly known as a complete meal. But lesser known is that nuts and seeds together with legumes are also complementary proteins. You don’t even need to eat your full spectrum of amino acids at the same meal. The liver can store essential amino acids, so as long as you eat a varied, plant-based diet that regularly includes all the aminos, you’ll be getting everything you need. Hummus, for example, is a complete protein – chickpea (legume) + tahini (sesame seed).

Other simple full-spectrum amino food pairing tips include:

● One-pot dishes including grains and legumes (lentils, beans or peas) together

● Salads including beans together with nuts and seeds

● Nut butter sandwiches on wholegrain bread

On the subject of cost, whilst I do think vegan junk and plant-based meat and cheese does play a role in converting people to veganism, if you want to save money, stop buying it and fall in love with whole foods! Processed vegan meat and dairy replacements are more expensive than their meat equivalents. British grown lentils and peas (yellow or Carlin peas, not garden peas) grow well in the UK and cost around £4 a kilo. They are extremely versatile and nutritious, and one cup of dried lentils or peas costs less than £1 and will feed 4 people. Yellow peas and similar are what most plant-based meat is made from, so it makes sense to eat them in their natural state. They also come as flour, and split peas so are extremely versatile.

Where do you see Stem & Glory in 5 years?

My aim is to grow Stem & Glory to an aspirational lifestyle brand with restaurants in strategic cities in the UK and beyond, and a product range in supermarkets all over the UK so people can access clean, healthy and nutritious food everywhere. We are also about to publish our first book. I would like to grow Stem & Glory to say 5 sites myself, then join forces with institutional investors to make it huge.

Finally, do you have a dish that you would recommend our readers to recreate?

Well, I might as well go for our yellow pea hummus! Using the aforementioned yellow peas.

Hummus is one of the nation’s best-loved dips, but chickpeas do not grow very well in our climate, so they are nearly all imported. The good news is British yellow peas grow amazingly well here, they make fantastic hummus, and they are even more nutritious than chickpeas. You can of course also use chickpeas in this recipe. Yellow peas are sold online by Hodmedods who also sell many other British grown legumes and grains, and as a side note, buying British grown produce like this will increase demand for farmers to grow them which would ultimately have a huge impact on food security in the UK.

Yellow Pea Hummus

Ingredients

250 grams cooked British yellow peas  (approx ⅔ cup dried peas, soaked overnight, then cooked for 45 mins – (retain the cooking water)

60 ml tahini

1 small garlic clove

30 ml British oil (or olive oil)

1/2 tsp ground cumin

Salt to taste (start with ½ tsp)

60 ml lemon juice

50 to 90 ml pea cooking water

Method

Add the first 7 ingredients to a blender and blend for 2 minutes. Then with the blender still turning, add 50ml of the pea water slowly. Blend until very smooth, adding more liquid if needed.

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