If you’re ever given the opportunity to have a DJ cook a meal for you, say yes. Not that being a pro on the decks equates to being a pro in the kitchen, but there is an undeniable connection between how music and food please us mentally and physically. So maybe there’s something to be said for DJs who are drawn to being good chefs, as well.
Though my experience is limited, I became a believer when Chris Liebing—well-known German techno god, DJ, producer, label owner, and radio host—cooked a vegan meal for me at Red Bull Guest House in Miami Beach (*insert Lil B vegan emoji here*). He’s one of four DJs cooking lunches throughout the four-day weekend at the Traktor Cookery School during Miami Music Week, and since he’s vegan, he made the type of meal he loves most: “vegan fast food.” (And no, that’s not a reference to Beyoncé’s vegan meal delivery service.)
While I didn’t get the extra Chris Liebing DJ set I’d hoped for, he definitely served up the most satisfying veggie burger I’ve ever had. Inspired by a Jamie Oliver recipe and tweaked to Liebing’s preferences, it was a meal I’ll never forget (and can hopefully replicate myself at home one day).
Here’s what Liebing had to say about staying vegan on the road, his advice for aspiring vegans, and his love of fast-food–style dishes.
Written by Cedar Pasori (@cedar). Photos courtesy Red Bull Guest House/Robert Snow.
What inspired you to make a vegan meal?
I’ve been vegan myself for four years now, and when they asked me to do the Traktor Cookery School this year, I was absolutely sure that I would do a vegan dish. Then I thought about the fact that it’d be a daytime meal in Miami. I love “vegan fast food,” that’s my vice, so I thought I’d do a vegan burger to convince all of my fellow musicians and everyone else who comes that you don’t necessarily need to have meat as the patty on your burger. You can do it in a different way. Mayonnaise doesn’t necessarily need to have eggs to taste good.
How did you alter the Jamie Oliver recipe to your liking?
When I started planning the vegan burger, I wasn’t sure they could get the right seitan burgers here in Miami, so I looked into a burger where the patty has a recipe of its own made of chickpeas, peas, et cetera. So I looked up recipes everywhere, and I ended up with Jamie Oliver’s. I used to cook his non-vegan recipes all the time, so I decided to trust him on the vegan burger, and it came out well.
How would you describe “vegan fast food”?
There are two methods when it comes to burger patties. The rest is always the same, besides the mayonnaise. When it comes to the patty, you either do a fake meat like seitan, tempeh, or some sort of tofu-based patty, and then season it right. I’m a fan of seitan burgers when they’re perfectly seasoned. If it’s a well-done burger, you really taste no difference, from what I remember a burger tasting like. And then as a second method, you do patties made out of grains, like chickpeas. The patty has a lot of different spices and grains in there, which give it a consistency to make a patty out of it and grill it.
Do you experiment with different types of “vegan fast food,” whether it be chicken nuggets, nachos, hot dogs, or anything else?
Oh, definitely. In Germany and all over Europe, there’s döner, which is originally a Turkish food. Instead of the meat, you can cut up little slices of seitan and put it in a pan. With the right seasoning, it’s perfect. It really has the same texture and the same taste as döner, because most of the taste from meat dishes comes from herbs anyway. If you can imitate the texture of meat, the seasoning is not a problem.
Were you much of a cook before you became vegan, or did becoming vegan inspire you to cook more?
I’m the father of two little girls, now 9 and 6 years old. Before the first one was born, I was always interested in cooking, but at that point I was pescatarian. I haven’t eaten meat for around 17 years now. I wanted to cook for the family, and as the girls grow up, it’s a nice ritual to cook for them so they can see how the food is prepared.
I started getting more into cooking about 10 years ago. And sadly over the past four years since I’ve been vegan, I haven’t had as much time to do it. I’m traveling so much, and now when I spend time with the girls I’m in the kitchen less. So because of that I basically end up making fast food. We make vegan hot dogs and vegan burgers. They love it. It’s not necessarily the most healthy, and being vegan does not automatically mean you’re being healthy. It just means you’re not hurting animals anymore, and you’re doing better for the environment.
What are your tips for being vegan on the road? It can be difficult in different countries that have meat-based cuisines.
There are countries where it’s easy, and there are countries where it’s hard to travel as a vegan. Especially in South America, it’s pretty hard. In the U.S., when you’re in big cities, you have amazing offerings of vegan places everywhere. Europe has caught up a lot, too.
I usually have a big bag of nuts with me all the time. You can survive if you have a long flight or something like that, or if you get somewhere and you don’t have something to eat. It’s easier for me now because everywhere I go, people know that I’m vegan. So I always get something prepared already, and it’s taken care of.
How should people approach eating vegan at restaurants?
There are really nice apps, like one called Happy Cow, which is worldwide. It basically scans your location and all the places that offer vegan food in your area. I use that wherever I go.
Otherwise, anywhere you go, you can talk to people and tell them you don’t want any animal, or some call it animal proteins, in your food. Sadly some restaurants will get confused and say, “Oh okay, no cheese, but cream is fine, yeah?”
In Italian restaurants you have to be careful since some pasta is made with eggs. You can get a nice whole-wheat spaghetti with tomato sauce, which good Italian places do really well, and it’s delicious.
I used to love cheese, and I thought, “Can I really get rid of cheese? Can I get rid of pizza?” It wasn’t as hard as I originally thought. I completely skip cheese now. I don’t even do the plant-based cheese anymore. It’s not necessary. With pizza I’ll order it without cheese, adding a bit more tomato sauce and more vegetables, so it’s not really a problem.
What inspired you to be vegan specifically?
It started a long time ago when I stopped eating meat because I read a lot about animal transporting issues—all these crazy trucks that have loads of animals in the back and go on 10-hour journeys somewhere. I didn’t want to be responsible for that anymore, so I stopped eating meat. I didn’t know that much about how animals get treated and how the environment is actually polluted by the animal farming industry, because no politician wants to talk about that. They’d rather talk about how cars pollute the environment.
I ate a lot of fish over a long time, but at some point, I had a moment where I couldn’t eat fish anymore, and I was like, “I guess I’m vegetarian now.” But that only lasted a year, because I made the mistake that most vegetarians do—eating way too much eggs, cheese, and dairy. I remember one time I was in a hotel, about half a year later, and I looked at a scrambled egg. I was like, “Wow, I can’t eat that.” Then I walked over to the cheese, and I was like, “I can’t eat that either,” so I ate some fruit and I was like, “Wow, I guess I’m vegan now.”
Only then I started to inform myself, because I wanted to eat healthy and had to find my proteins. It’s a myth that you need to get proteins from dairy or animals; there’s so much protein in plant-based food, you don’t even have to substitute anything. The only thing that I do substitute is vitamin B12.
I’ve learned that dairy products are worse for us than meat products. So now if someone approaches me about wanting to cut down on something, before meat, I’ll suggest to get rid of dairy in your diet. That had the biggest effect on me ever. I started to feel a lot better. I rarely have colds and have had way more energy since then. And now I know about what the other benefits are—environmental, health, and animal treatment benefits.