Douglas (Doug) McNish, executive vegan chef and activist (born 7 January 1983 in Toronto, ON). Author of the award-winning Eat Raw, Eat Well, 400 Raw, Vegan and Gluten Free Recipes (2012), Doug McNish is an innovative and influential vegan chef and activist.
Education and Early Career
While attending Henry Street High School in Whitby, Ontario, McNish grew to love cooking thanks to his mother, an enthusiastic home cook who made spring rolls, gnocchi and other global dishes from scratch. When he was 15 years old, she encouraged McNish to apply for a cooking job at The Hunter’s Horn, a local British pub. It was here that he fell in love with the camaraderie, pace and creativity of working in a kitchen .
McNish graduated from George Brown’s culinary program and apprenticed at the Donalda Club, a private golf club in north Toronto. In 2004, McNish toiled at Jump Restaurant as a Chef de Partie, where he learned the value of keeping a kitchen perfectly clean, especially in the middle of a frantic dinner service. Beginning that same year, he started what would be a three-year stint at Couture Cuisine, moving up from a cook to a full-time manager. As manager, he oversaw 15 cooks at chef Arpi Magyar’s boutique catering company. McNish credits Magyar as a major influence who exemplified the qualities of a hard-working, passionate chef.
In September 2006, he moved on to Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment’s Hot Stove Café, working under chef Brad Long to grill up to 250 steaks in two hours. The gruelling, stressful work schedule of a chef was taking its toll and 21-year-old McNish’s weight ballooned to 270 pounds. In interviews, McNish credits this year as a major turning point, saying he was “miserable and needed a change.”
Around this time, McNish saw a People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) documentary on animals in slaughterhouses and decided to cut meat out of his diet. Soon after, he became a full-fledged vegetarian, and later a vegan. He threw himself into exercise and the study of diet and nutrition, losing 100 pounds in two years.
McNish’s passion for animal rights and healthy, plant-based diet motivated him to take a pay cut to learn how to prepare vegan cuisine. He became kitchen manager at Urban Herbivore, a sustainable, vegan restaurant and catering company in Toronto. After one year there, he moved on to become head chef at Live Food Bar, a vegetarian restaurant offering vegan and raw food (dishes composed of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds not heated beyond 46 Celcius) dishes.
McNish is now a popular spokesman for veganism and often appears in magazines, TV and newspapers speaking about the relative ease of switching to a vegan diet, and proudly sporting his tattoos: on his left arm, the word vegan is written in black script, and on the right is a colourful cornucopia of fresh fruit and vegetables.
About one year later, in November 2009, he became Executive Chef of Raw Aura Organic Cuisine in Mississauga. Prominent food critic James Chatto said it was “worth the detour,” and called his dishes, “rich, dense and packed with flavour.” He is especially known for his desserts.
McNish’s classical chef training and insistence on using the best ingredients allows him to create fine dining–style vegan and raw dishes, like a red beet ravioli stuffed with herbed cashew ricotta cheese, sun-dried tomato, red pepper and basil marinara sauce. After leaving Raw Aura in April 2011, McNish was hired by the upscale Windsor Arms Hotel, and later by Taboo Resort in Muskoka, Ontario, as their Consulting Vegan Chef—where he implemented vegan and raw food programs and menus from start to finish.
In March 2012, McNish’s first cookbook, Eat Raw, Eat Well, 400 Raw Vegan and Gluten Free Recipes, was published internationally and went on to win Best Vegetarian Cookbook worldwide at that year’s Gourmand Cookbook Awards.
That April, McNish opened his own company, simply titled Doug McNish Vegan Inc. He works out of his “Public Kitchen” in north Toronto, offering a take-out shop of prepared vegan meals, weekly Sunday brunch and occasional vegan dinners for the public. A hub for vegan cuisine, McNish offers chef-style cooking courses, a kitchen space that can be rented by vegan start-ups, and private consulting and chef services.
His second cookbook, Raw, Quick and Delicious!: 5-Ingredient Recipes in Just 15 Minutes, was released in September 2013. Publisher’s Weekly called it, “an imaginative and approachable group of recipes that promises raw food devotees greater variety.”
McNish has a vegan food and cookbook stand at Toronto’s Evergreen Brickworks Farmers' Market every Saturday.