The Vegan Tart delightfully challenged my preconceptions – I didn’t imagine that vegan cakes and savouries would tempt me, or that their ‘Head Tart’, Dumisani Nyathi, would turn up sporting a beard, but after talking to him I’ll be pigging out on a ‘lime & thyme’ cake at the next opportunity!
Read on to find out what made The Vegan Tart special enough to win ‘Best in Show’ at the 2013 Brixton Bake-off.
Tell us a bit about The Vegan Tart, what you make and where you sell it.
I run The Vegan Tart with my partner. We make high quality vegan cakes and savouries. We bake traditional cakes but use our unique combinations of flavours to make them special.
Since 2011 we’ve been selling at the ‘Bakers and Flea’ market in Brixton on Station Road on the first Saturday of every month (next one April 5th). As well as the regular Brixton crowd, the Brixton Vegan Walkabout meetup comes along, bringing us up to 35 eager customers!
Our products are also available at The Lazy Rhubarb in Tulse Hill, and we do other ad-hoc markets and events, such as the Greenwich Food Fest in February and a recent vegan high tea at the Effra Social – these are listed on our website www.thevegantart.co.uk . We also take orders and are often baking away for a birthday or wedding, making sure there is great tasting food which can be eaten by everyone.
What inspired you to get started?
I’ve been vegan for about 5 years. Even before I became vegan, as an American, I found British cakes very dry, and after it was worse – the restaurants seemed to provide only dry bland offerings for vegans. I felt I could make better ones myself, and started experimenting. Then friends started to buy them, and orders started to take off in 2011. I was a support worker at the time, but after I went travelling to Spain and north Africa I began to think about working for myself, and decided to make baking a business on my return.
It doesn’t yet bring in enough to pay the rent, so I work 3 days a week as a gardener, but we are currently negotiating with the ‘cat cafe’ opening in the East End, and once we have two clients of that sort, I can bake full-time!
What makes your products special?
Besides them all being completely vegan, we do both cakes and savouries, and try to make our products a bit different from the usual – we mix it up a bit, jazzing up the flavours to give people alternative flavours eg a lime & thyme cake, a savoury fig & asparagus tart. We were also officially acknowledged as special by winning the Best in Show and Best Savoury categories at the 2013 Brixton Bake-off! There were over 30 entrants and the judges included the Mayor of Lambeth, Ms Cupcake, the manager of Morleys and Levi Roots.
It’s not just the quality of our products which makes us stand out though – we have quirkiness to our brand, such as our special apron and hat outfits, our branded granny trolley and army bag for transporting our goods, my job title (Head Tart), etc, which make us stand out from the crowd – people often make comments or ask to take pictures. I’d like to have a branded cargo bike to transport my goods in. It’s all very fun and home made, for example a friend made the aprons and hats, and we used an old banner to brand our trolley.
Sounds exciting – how do you go about marrying unusual flavours?
Even as a child I used to try making weird concoctions of noodle packs, those were my first experiments in flavour! I suppose it meant I was used to trying things out… I also invested in the Flavour Thesaurus. It’s not that good for vegan produce, but can give good ideas, it makes us think about the way the food hits the taste buds. We also research into websites and recipes and when we see an interesting combination of flavours, try it out. That’s how I discovered the ‘fig and asparagus’ combination.
You have a section on your website for ‘themed and quirky’ cakes. What’s the strangest cake you’ve been asked to make?
It was a topsy turvy cake for the annual ‘time for tea’ event at the Mental Health Foundation. I made a ‘Mad Hatters’ cake involving big chunks of cake which had to be balanced at crazy angles – that was not an easy cake to make!
What attracted you to get involved with Makerhood?
I wanted to get involved from the beginning but at that time it was just in Brixton and we were in Tulse Hill, I could see all these great networking events and very personable emails coming out and I kept thinking ‘hurry up, hurry up and come to our area!’ so I joined as soon as it opened to Tulse Hill, about a year ago.
It’s great, very friendly and affordable and the events are very useful. I’ve been to events on ‘branding your stall’, social media, and a food taster where Jay Rayner of the Observer gave feedback and a local shop owner helped with pricing, it’s really nice to have that kind of help and diversity.
I’m now a member of the steering group for Makerhood Lambeth, which gives me an opportunity to interact with a wide group of individuals who have a passion for creating and sharing that passion with others.
What do you like about living &/or working in Lambeth?
I’ve lived here since 2003, and I don’t know what it is about Lambeth, it’s brilliant, so diverse – in a lot of people’s minds it’s just Waterloo or Brixton, but there are all these places you can go to and the communities are never the same, the shops are never the same – I’m glad that Lambeth hasn’t been “uber-branded”!
What’s your hot tip for a hidden pleasure or treasure in Lambeth?
Bonnington Cafe in Vauxhall. It’s one of Lambeth’s hidden gems. Also the Rookery in Streatham, which is never busy and is very secluded…and the things you see by looking up. Opposite the White Lion in Streatham is a building with 4 elephants, take a look next time you are up that way!
You can try some of the wonderful cakes and savouries The Vegan Tart have to offer at the ‘Bake and Flea’ market in Brixton Station Road on the first Saturday of the month* , or check out the mouth-watering cakes you can order via their website www.thevegantart.co.uk
*next one is April 5th, but alas The Vegan Tart will be missing this month due to injury, so catch them on May 3rd