For Chef Skye Michael Conroy, cooking is all about the animals. Not the rumps and cheeks and wings of dead animals (as per a conventional chef) but the living, breathing animals — the pigs and chickens and cows traditionally used for food.
He loves them, so he chooses not to cook or eat them.
A former vegetarian, Conroy went vegan several years ago after seeing the notoriously harrowing documentary Earthlings. He was inspired to watch the film by a vegan friend, though initially he thought her lifestyle was “too extreme.” “I went on PETA’s website and they had a 30 day challenge. I thought, this is doable. And once I got into it I just never went back.”
A hairdresser by trade, he retired early, and his love of vegan cooking later evolved into a second career. “I saw commercial products on the market and thought, maybe I could make this taste better,” Conroy says of his early experimentations with cooking vegan food.
Now he’s known as The Gentle Chef. “I started a blog and a little Facebook group and began posting some of my recipes and it kind of just took off from there.” These days he boasts a growing cult following of vegans and non-vegans obsessed with his wildly realistic re-creations of meat, dairy and egg products.
His most recent publication, The Vegan Eggz Cookbook is an 88-page volume dedicated to every egg creation imaginable. There’s eggnog, eggz foo young, eggz whites, “hard-boiled” eggz and shirred eggz, among dozens of others.
Conroy’s cookbooks are all self-published, available as downloadable e-books via his website, and he admits that they’re not as glossy or aesthetically appealing as those lining the shelves of Barnes and Noble. The decision has been a conscious one, however, as he doesn’t want to turn his power over to a publisher.
His first publication was The Gentle Chef Cookbook. Since then there have been three additional books, and hundreds of recipes that look and taste like meat, dairy and now — eggs.
His dedicated fans don’t seem to care about the more superficial elements of his operation, like printed copies or layout design. They’re all about the recipes, as evidenced by the dozens of photos posted in his Facebook group.
For Conroy, finding a unique niche amid a litany of talented vegan chefs was important. So, as his career developed, he focused on the science and molecular gastronomy of plant-based cooking.
“It worked out really well for me in that respect,” he says. “I never intended years ago to become a chef, I never thought of that, it just sort of happened. I thought, ‘maybe this will become a second career,’ and it’s kind of cool that it has. I’m a lot more passionate about it than I was when I was a hairdresser. This is what I was meant to do.”
The history of science is littered with accidental discoveries, and Conroy’s path is parallel. “My shredded chicken recipe happened because I was trying to do a chicken roast. It came out horrible, and I broke it apart to throw it in the trash and noticed it had all this shredded fiber, like meat. I was like, oh my god, how did I do that?”
Eggs were their own obstacle, says Conroy, due mainly to texture issues. Thanks to the smoky, sulfurous taste of Kala Namak (black sea salt), egg flavor has long been easy to re-create. But getting any egg substitute to set when it cooks was a challenge.
Christopher Anderson, a friend of Conroy’s who runs Modernist Pantry — an online specialty chef’s store — suggested he try cellulose gum, a plant-based substance that gels when heated.
“It was a matter of finding the ratio of cellulose to food gum to get it to set properly, and it just kind of happened one day,” Conroy explains. “I mixed up a certain batch and it cooked right and that was it.”
From there, he and Anderson developed Eggz Essentials, a package of two products that are utilized in all of Conroy’s vegan eggz recipes and sold for $20 via Modernist Pantry.
Conroy sent a package of Eggz Essentials to try, and I dove into the eggz whites — one of the only animal-based dishes I’ve missed since going vegan three years ago.
The whites might be the easiest dish in the book. They involve only four ingredients (two of which are the Eggz Essentials) and a quick spin in the blender is the only prep necessary. The eggz whites mixture can be kept in the fridge for up to a week, which makes for an easy make-ahead breakfast. All they require is a scramble, and the end result is surprisingly close to the egg whites I remember — soft, gooey, and light in flavor.
Then there’s the skillet-cooked eggz — a combination of Conroy’s eggz whites and broken yolz (a sauce that resembles a broken egg yolk) recipes, cooked in a skillet. (There are more labor-intensive options that include the use of a spherification spoon — which gives it the round appearance of a traditional yolk — but I went with the easier alternative.) While never a big fan of egg yolks, the final product had the color palette and taste profile I remembered — an experience I’ve rarely had as a vegan.
While some of Conroy’s creations are pretty labor-intensive, time-crunched cooks can stick to the easier options and still get the full egg flavor, texture, and experience. The eggz whites, the scrambled eggz, the skillet cooked eggz — all are extremely simple to prepare and cook, though it’s important to remember that almost all of the mixtures require a refrigeration time of two hours. So, should the reader want eggs for breakfast, that means planning ahead a bit.
For those who are into investing time in the kitchen, the hard-boiled eggz, the eggz sunny side-up, the poached eggz with whole yolx, and several of the other more involved recipes offer a remarkably similar egg experience and the opportunity to flex those chef muscles.
The only downside to the Vegan Eggz Cookbook is that all of the recipes require the specialty ingredients, so readers need to be stocked up on Vegan Eggz Essentials in order to start experimenting. But for the ultimate “eggz” experience, it’s worth having those on hand. As the popular saying goes “anything you can eat I can eat vegan.” With Conroy’s creations, it’s truer than ever.
For vegan eaters and omnivores looking to cut eggs out of their diet — be it for health, animal welfare, or environmental reasons — these vegan eggz are the best alternative out there.
Hannah Sentenac is a freelance writer and journalist who covers veg food, drink, pop culture, travel, and animal advocacy issues. She’s written for Live Happy magazine, Foxnews.com, MindBodyGreen.com, and numerous other publications and websites. Hannah is also the Editor-in-Chief of LatestVeganNews.com, a publication dedicated to positive, original news from the vegan and plant-based world.