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.”