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The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry: Lee Tran Lam quizzes chefs, critics, bar staff and other people from the world of food about their career highlights and lowlights, war stories and favourite places to eat and drink in Sydney.

Oct 19, 2017

"The chef said he was going to the bank and never came back." Shannon Martinez was working as a bartender at The East Brunswick hotel in Melbourne when she was asked to take over the kitchen. She happened to put a vegan parma on the menu and it blew up – the pub sold close to 300 portions on a Monday night, attracted huge queues and Pink even turned up with her security detail to try the dish.

It proved to Shannon there was a massive interest in vegan food and it led to her running Smith & Daughters and Smith & Deli with business partner Mo Wyse in Melbourne: they're eateries famous for their lines as well as their great, sceptic-defying vegan food.

So you might be surprised to know she’s got a tattoo of jamon on her body and it’s not the only meat-related tattoo she has. You might also be amazed to know of her music career – she's actually played to thousands of people on the Vans Warped tour who sang along and wore her band's merch. And because she runs vegan businesses, people might not realise that Shannon is a chef who eats and cooks meat, but that’s her advantage – she’ll try a Spanish blood sausage at Porteno and think, "how can I make a version of this that everyone can eat?" and it’ll end up a bestselling item at Smith and Daughters.

"Food is my number one passion. I cook vegan food purely because it was a market, a demographic of people that weren’t being looked after. And I thought that was really, really unfair," she says.

Shannon also talks about her start in commercial kitchens: "40 chefs, three women, I was 15. It was horrible. That was probably the first time I had to deal with such intense misogyny and harassment and abuse." One of her hazing stories is truly eye-opening. Nowadays, the majority of chefs that work with her are women and have been with her for years and years. "The only people I’ve had to fire have been men." 

We also chat about why she opened a vegan deli, her Smith & Daughters cookbook (which includes everything from her version of chorizo to a dessert that sparks memories of her granddad breaking giant slabs of chocolate with a hammer) and how meat eaters are weirdly grossed out about vegetarians wanting to eat vegan bacon or sausages. ("How is that yuck, it’s a plant? But here you are, eating the face of a cow.")

Shannon's truly kick-ass to talk to – she's faced dinosaur attitudes in her line of work and not backed down and what she does is ground-breaking (especially with the vegan deli).

Look out for her upcoming 'My Australia' lunch at The Unicorn Hotel, Paddington on November 26, where she'll be doing a vegan version of Sizzler – yep, that's right, her interpretation of the pasta bar, the Parmesan toast, jelly cubes and bacon bits. What an awesome way to make her first proper cooking appearance in Sydney!