Earlier this year I met the two guys Stephen and David Flynn for lunch at the INK hotel in Amsterdam. They were in the Netherlands to cook from their wonderful cookbook World of Happy Pear. Later that week I talked about these twins on local radio. About vegan and vegetarian cooking and being a happy pear. Because that’s their starting point. Healthy food and an early morning’s dive into the sea provide happiness. The Flynn brothers are invited to be my next summerguests in my series Talk & table. Based on the answers they give, I will conceive a recipe, that will please them and my readers. I suppose that it will have a vegetarian and Dutch twist. Needless to say I will add a personalized wine pairing suggestion.
Who are David and Stephen Flynn and what would you like to share with us?
We are identical twins from Ireland. We started our business 14 years ago to create a happier and healthier world and build community. Our business – The Happy Pear – started out with Dave, Steve and a little red van. Today there are around 170 people with us and we have three wholefood cafés; two food stores; a sprout farm producing wheatgrass and healthy living, organic sprouts and microgreens; a Happy Pear branded food manufacturing and distribution business producing award-winning products (we have almost 30 products in around 1,000 Irish retailers and six products in the UK in Waitrose supermarkets); a coffee roastery producing hand roasted Happy Pear coffee; and a fermentation kitchen producing a variety of delicious fermented foods. We also have three bestselling cookbooks and a combined online and social media reach of around a million. We love what we do every day and we are passionate about it. The business was conceived to create a happier and healthier world and it’s very much why it exists nowadays.
You have built quite a business with Happy Pear, it is all so joyful. What is up til now your most impressive project?
Like anything, there are ups and downs, sunny days and rainy days, which are just part of life. As a whole, it’s phenomenal and wonderful and we adore it, and we couldn’t do anything else. We’re very fortunate and content because it’s our passion and what we love. However, it is important to have more challenging days too because they make you appreciate the good days even more. Our most impressive project is the business itself and the community we’ve built. We love the team we work with. We have an amazing team of people from many different countries of the world and we’re very proud of that and grateful for the community aspect of our business. Our community is far-reaching and includes our online community, the community around our cafes in Greystones and Clondalkin, as well as the broader community of like-minded people who are interested in eating better, moving more, and being better versions of themselves.
Nowadays you are a culinary phenomenon How did you learn to cook? And where started your ambition to cook vegetarian?
We grew up eating a standard meat and two veg diet. It was only when we went abroad that we changed our diets becoming vegetarian and then vegan/plant-based. Now we eat a whole food and plant-based diet and we have done so for about 16 years now. We started our business with a fruit and veg shop and we were obsessed with fruit and veg and how to cook with them. When we first opened our business there were no vegetarian or vegan cooking courses – they were considered quite niche here in Ireland. The only accessible cooking courses at the time were traditional French cooking courses, based around meat and dairy products, and this wasn’t what we were interested in doing. So, when we decided to open our own café we hired a chef called Doreen Palmer and she had about 30 years of experience as a vegetarian chef and she used to teach cooking. We trained under Doreen and one of the best ways of learning how to cook is to open your own restaurant because if your food isn’t very good you have no customers! We quickly learned how to cook, to cook well, and to cook for lots of people.
Steve: “I was in Whistler in Canada and I changed my own diet to become vegetarian and through that experience, I discovered that I was fascinated with cooking. It’s a cool, party ski resort and all I wanted to do at the time was cook vegetarian food!” Dave: “I was in South Africa and I had a similar experience and changed to a vegetarian diet around the exact same time. It’s a twin thing!”
You both invest a lot of energy in defining new dishes and translating your experiences all over the place? The Happy Pear is more than just Veggies, it seems to me that it is a total lifestyle. In another life, would you do it again? Or would it be something else?
We are both extremely creative and we shoot two new recipe videos for YouTube per week. This means we are constantly in that space of creating new content and recipes and experimenting and adapting. We tend to really thrive in that space!
The Happy Pear is more like a movement, with family and community at its core. It’s all about encouraging people to eat healthier and live better lifestyles and to have a laugh because ultimately, we’re all going to die. It’s not about being veggie or vegan but about having fun, enjoying life, and trying to be a little bit better. We’d do it all again. Even with the mistakes along the way, which have led us to this point!
Your dishes and recipes speak to the imagination, certainly with me. They are gorgeous.I tasted your lasagne! How do you do that?
Certainly, a lot of experience helps! Having cooked so many dishes, in so many ways, for so many things [events] means you have a lot of experience to pull from, and often as a chef one of the most important tools is your tongue and taste buds and your ability to simplify more complex dishes. We spend a lot of time doing this because typically our audience on YouTube is younger and they want a tasty meal now. In our new book we’ve really focused on trying to make healthy food quick, easy and accessible – like a home-cooked dinner in 10 minutes.
In February you told me you liked Dutch produce to work with, can you tell about that?
We think Holland is phenomenal – it grows the most amount of veg for Europe and is a world-leader and leading light in horticulture. We eat a lot of veg and think you do an amazing job!
The last two decades there has been a shift from meat to other more vegetarian cuisines. I see this in your books. Can you tell something about trends. In Ireland?
When our first cookbook called The Happy Pear came out [the one with the yellow cover] it was a vegetarian cookbook and our publishers told us that a typical chef with a TV show might sell around 2,000 copies. We didn’t have a TV show and our book celebrated vegetarian cooking but nonetheless, Penguin [our publishers] decided to print 6,000 copies – they told us because we had a café and shop that we’d sell them over the years. The book came out in October of 2014 and within six weeks we’d sold the 6,000 copies and that Christmas it was the bestselling cookbook that year and to date, it’s sold over 100,000 copies! Our second cookbook – The World of the Happy Pear – won ‘Irish cookbook of the year’ in 2016 and it’s sold around 60,000 copies so far. Additionally, within 3 days our latest cookbook, Recipes for Happiness, became a No. 1 bestseller in Ireland and it debuted in the Top 10 bestseller list in the UK! All of this just speaks to the appetite of Irish people for something different, something more plant-based and veg-centric. It’s amazing to see and there has been a huge shift. Back when we started our business vegetarianism was quite exclusive and now every day we meet people who are vegetarian or vegan or eager to try them out.
What is beautiful about The Happy Pear is that it’s also about forming a community. Did you both foresee that when you started?
One of the main aims of building the business was to create community and to bring people together to share a similar philosophy in life and just to have a laugh! Naturally, as humans, we are all social creatures and we have this yearning to come together so we’ve done lots of things of the years to enable this like our baking competitions. For example, every year in apple season we hold an apple baking competition, or it could be a chocolate love festival, and we ask people to make a dish using apples (we often provide them for free). Then we judge the best baking and we have a party to celebrate the occasion.
Also, in our cafes, we have a long-standing tradition of giving away free organic porridge every single morning (for almost 10 years). These are both great community events where people, neighbours and new friends are brought together through food. Additionally, we go to the local schools and talk to children to help inspire them to eat more veg and be curious about where our food comes from. We also swim in the sea at sunrise every day and increasingly people join us each day from all over the world. We do big public Swimrise events throughout the year and there could be between 200 – 500 people at these so they really help to build community.
We also offer free yoga classes at our cafe in Dublin, in Clondlakin, and regularly well over 100 people attend on a Saturday or Sunday morning!
What do you miss in nowadays cuisine?
Really, it’s the simplest things. Steve: “For example, my wife is Polish and a couple of weeks ago we were in Poland and I walked into the greenhouse on her family’s land and picked a big, ripe heirloom tomato and literally sat down and had tomato with a little olive oil and salt for lunch and it was incredible. Often we forget really good food can just be really simple produce and it doesn’t need to be super-complex.”
Speaking of food, which one is your favorite dish? And needless to ask which wine?
And what do you’d never eat?
We never eat meat. It’s just not for us and each to their own. Our message isn’t about making anyone a vegan or vegetarian, it’s about trying to get people to eat more vegetables and enjoy their lives!
Steve: “I’d like it to be more about cooking techniques rather than recipes because nowadays people have access to so many recipes that I’d try to go back to teaching an appreciation for simple things. For example, with vegetables the key thing to getting more flavour is just trying to brown your veg and to avoid using too much oil. So I think I’d start by teaching people the philosophy about whole foods and vegetables and their importance for our health and then I’d show them the cooking techniques.”
Steve: “I loved The Shape of Water that was out recently, directed by Guillermo del Toro. It’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.”
The most charming aspect of David’s and Stephen’s quest for plant based food, is that they don’ t want to be gurus, but want to show us what plant based food and buidling a communitysense did for them. They are happy with it. And as they say in their new book, that’s due in August: “Everyone is invited!” Since it is high summer and Gereons Keuken Thuis still cooks a lot outside on his Amsterdam balcony, my recipe for them is easy and colorful. David and Stephen love Dutch veggies. A plantbased mixed grill of cauliflower, kohlrabi turnip, leek, red sweet bellpeppers and courgette in differntastes it will be, with my homemade pinkish hummus. As the guys don’t drink wine, I will serve them my tasty water infused with rosemary, basil and cucumber. Lavender will give an extra mediterranean hint. As for my wine suggestion I would say a summer white blend of chardonnay and viognier from Chile.
1 small cauliflower, maybe you can get a colered one
1 kohlrabi turnip
2 sweet red bellpeppers
1 yellow and green courgette
4 small leeks
8 organic carrots
sea salt flakes
2 tbs of Moroccan ras al hanout
1 lemon in parts
1 jar of chickpeas
1 cooked beetroot
4 cloves of garlic
2 ts of ground cumin
1 ts cayenne pepper
Wash and peel all the vegetables and cut them in medium sized parts. Remove the seeds from the sweet red bellpeppers and courgettes. Cut the leeks in halves. Make an infused oil from the salt flakes, peper and ras al hanout spice. Sprinkle the infused oil all over the vegetables. Put them on the BBQ or grill, make sure that you start with the caulifower, kohlrabi turnip, carrots, followed the softer varietals. When the vegetables are done put them aside under some aluminium foil. Let them sweat a bit.
Put the drained chickpeas in a bowl together wit the beetroot, cut in pieces. Add the juice of one lemon, 4 cloves of garlic, salt, cumin, cayenne pepper and oil and blend the whole thouroughly into a nice thick hummus. You could use some aquafaba to add some fluffiness to the mixture.
Serve the grilled vegetables on a plate, with some extra salt flakes, lemon part and sprinkle some chopped parsley over it. Serve and share with extra pita bread and the pink hummus.