Jemma Dinnigan and Kevin Lappin are sitting at table in their new café, The Electric Vegan, on Ardee Street.
There’s room for about 20 people, and a hard-won espresso machine. The long windows are fogged up from hours of recipe testing, and the tables and chairs are stacked with last-minute papers, and boxes of deliveries.
Dinnigan is twirling spelt spaghetti onto a fork – it’s her favourite dish on the menu – while Lappin talks, rapid-fire, about his transition from meat and potatoes to veganism and beyond.
The Electric Vegan has its roots in Lappin’s struggle with fibromyalgia, and comes out the other side of years of research, recipe trial and error, and self-experimentation.
For two years he was on a steady stream of anti-depressants, painkillers, and morphine patches, to which he developed an addiction, until he got fed up sleeping through the pain.
So he started finding his own answers – in nettle, fern, burdock, and parsley tea, which he says helped the pain.
When he became fully vegan, it was with his own particular preference for the teachings of some doctor-advocates, cutting out anything he considered “too cultivated”.
“I didn’t change my diet in a day. It took a while to cut out sugar,” he says.
So the menu at the new café – which is designed to appeal to both vegans and non-vegans – is a little different to the fare found in other vegan restaurants in town.
You won’t find any soy, carrots, broccoli, or refined sugar here – and Lappin needed a push from Dinnigan to allow coffee past the door.
A Convincing Mayonnaise
“If people aren’t experienced with food, they don’t know where to turn,” says Dinnegan, who became vegan about a year ago, when she and Lappin met (they are together).
Dinnegan ate a lot of chips in the beginning, she says. And there are chips on the menu at The Electric Vegan.
There’s also a “chicken” burger, a no-beef burger, a pot pie, falafel, and desserts. “A lot of people think it’s just salads. They’re scared they’re going to be hungry all the time,” she says.
The chicken burger comes with chips, mayo, and ketchup, and it’s topped with onions, tomatoes, and lettuce. Everything is made in The Electric Vegan kitchen except the bun, and the mayo is disarmingly convincing.
The patty is made mainly of oyster mushrooms, along with a few other ingredients, secrets guarded closely by head chef Alex Cojocariu. It doesn’t taste of meat, but it’s crisply fried, salty, and “meaty” from the mushrooms.
Lappin’s favourite dish is the falafel. It is unconventional in its lack of garlic and its irregular, hand-formed shape, and it is served with rosettes of avocado, and red pepper hummus on the side. It’s fried, but not greasy, and tastes more homemade than “restaurant”.
It’s Cojocariu’s first time working as a vegan chef. It’s a challenge for sure, but he was leaving a cooking job and moving into IT when he met Lappin, who was his neighbour, because he was sick of smelling of fried meat all the time, he says, laughing.
Growing up on his grandparents’ farm in Romania, Cojocariu didn’t eat a lot of meat, or shop-bought food. So he’s excited that all the food he’s cooking now is organic, because “it has more flavour”, he says.
They’ve developed most of the recipes themselves, based on Lappin’s requirements and Cojocariu’s experience as a chef. They wanted the menu to be simple, but they plan to change it up every three months or so, says Cojocariu. “I’m very easily bored with a dish,” he says.
The space is small, and tucked into a mostly residential area, but Dinnigan says there are a lot of vegans in Dublin 8. “People are knocking in to see if we’re open,” she says.
Their plan is to expand into a bigger space for a restaurant, says Lappin. But in the meantime, they’re still grappling with the challenges of opening. Namely, finding suppliers, especially organic, local suppliers. They’re trialing an 8am-to-8pm day, to see when they’re busy.
But Lappin is optimistic, and his aim is to show people that healthy food can be delicious, even if he’s not having the coffee and cake himself. “Nature gives us everything we need, we just have to know how to cook it,” he says.