With the word ‘vegan’ tattooed on his right forearm, there’s no mistaking the sensibilities of top vegan chef and Toronto entrepreneur Doug McNish. He’s an ethical vegan who changed his diet years ago to reflect both a respect for animals and a healthy way of eating.
Along the way, this classically trained chef has won international awards for two of his three vegan cookbooks (a fourth is coming out soon), worked in kitchens doing everything from catering to fine dining and realized his dream of opening a high-end vegan restaurant. Mythology, the restaurant he co-owns and operates with The 5700 Inc., an events and hospitality group, just reopened in late July after an extensive makeover from menu to décor.
McNish’s vegan epiphany came in his early twenties.
“I had a bunch of weight to lose and needed to make a change,” he says. “I began working out and then I watched a PETA documentary called ‘Meet Your Meat’ and thought, ‘What am I doing? What am I contributing to?’”
“At that time, I was working at a grill at the Air Canada Centre – a steakhouse,” he laughs at the irony. “And really, I didn’t think about the fact that animals have feelings and emotions. I’d take a package of meat, open it and cook it without a second thought,” he explains.
By the time he was completely vegan, McNish was still working with meat in his job as a sous chef for a celebrity chef in Toronto. But in his off hours, he was an activist, protesting against animal cruelty.
“I had a girlfriend in New York and had been going back and forth quite a bit. New York was a vegan mecca at that time with over 100 restaurants. I’d see what they were doing and come home and try to replicate it.”
“I tend to work backward when creating a recipe,” he explains. “I first envision the flavour or final dish I want and work backwards from there to create it. Basically, with creativity, the sky is the limit but at the end of the day, you have to put the work in.”
McNish began his foray into vegan cuisine by opening Doug’s Public Kitchen in North York, a suburb of Toronto. Despite’s its popularity, he closed it in 2018 with plans to open Mythology.
Like many chefs, he didn’t start out dreaming of a career in cuisine. But after his first job in the kitchen of the Hunter’s Horn Pub in Whitby, Ontario, he fell in love with food.
“It’s crazy, creative and delicious, like no other environment in the world,” he says. “I literally learn something new every day in the kitchen.”
While he might be crafting high end dishes at Mythology, at home McNish’s favourite entree is simple – steamed quinoa with brown rice, tofu, avocado and roasted sweet potatoes topped off with a tahini dressing.
McNish has his sights set beyond the confines of the Mythology kitchen; in fact, he says he’s at a point in his career where he’s actually not in the kitchen very much anymore. Instead, his everyday life consists of accounting, marketing, consulting, development of new restaurant ventures and vegan food products among other tasks that keep him busy.
“My M.O. is to do lots of things. I’m not just a chef, I’m an entrepreneur. You only have one life to live!”