If you frequent the Leicester market in town, there’s a chance you have seen Rajiv and his colorful Zukini bicycle stocking up on fresh fruit and veggies.
Started in August 2013, Zukini is Rajiv’s home delivery service for freshly made, raw vegan dishes used with organic ingredients where possible and delivered via his colorful, custom-made bicycle. I heard about Zukini through Twitter a few weeks ago, and since then I have had the pleasure of enjoying some great homemade dishes including raw stuffed red peppers, coconut soup and my absolute favorite, the green buckwheat porridge topped with fresh fruit.
I caught up with Rajiv recently to find out more about the story behind Zukini.
Q: What was your motivation behind starting Zukini?
A: My motivation consists of many things. For a very long time, since living in London and owning a health food shop, I have wanted a place where people can come to buy homemade food from, which would offer a variety of things – a place to sit and just pass time, have interesting conversations, create a community to share ideas with. That’s not what happened though! I came back from France over 14 years ago, after working in the markets over there making and selling Indian vegetarian food. I then moved to Leicester, instead of going back to London and I did not know what I wanted to do. In the end I went into design and IT – odd crazy choice! This lasted for about 10 years, after this I was getting tired of building websites and fixing Macs. It was not fun and my passion lay elsewhere. I explored doing Thai yoga massage, teaching yoga and even making natural beauty products; I enjoyed them but there was something missing from them and it was quite obvious what. I’ve always enjoyed making and experimenting with food, so why not do what you’ve always enjoyed? My ideas with food have changed hugely over the years and this time I wanted to make food that is all natural, completely made by hand and using as much fresh produce as I can, with ingredients that are easy to get hold of locally.
I also decided to do the deliveries by bicycle because I love them – they are so much fun and very social. I also wanted something that would allow me keep my overheads low, that would be fully sustainable and easy to use in town – a bicycle ticks all the boxes and more! Bicycles are the future – we just need to do more about making it easier to use them everywhere.
Q: How long have you been vegan? What was your inspiration?
A: Since I came back from France, so over 14 years. While I was out in France I was hardly eating any dairy or eggs, because I did not like the taste or smell of them anymore. Just like when I became a vegetarian and stopped liking the smell, taste and sight of meat. When I came back to the UK, I wanted to try being vegan for a month. Stopping all animal products was something I felt I strongly wanted to do. Well it lasted for more than a month! Being vegan has made me rethink the way I eat and make food. It’s made me much more creative with it too.
Q: Your deliveries are now solely raw vegan – what was your decision behind doing so?
A: My food choices have changed hugely over the years and they continue to evolve. I like some cooked foods but not huge amounts. I feel much better when eating raw foods. When I started Zukini I thought doing raw food only was not a good idea, so I started with part raw/cooked food and before long there was a menu with lots of cooked foods on it. It got to a point where there were too many choices and I felt uncomfortable about it all. I was making lots of cooked food and I was trying to keep everyone happy but I realised it’s not a good idea. It would be just like going back to design and IT, so why not do what I enjoy and am passionate about – raw vegan food! It also means I’ve lost some customers but hopefully I will get new ones too. There is much to be said about people’s food choices over the last few years and the rise of obesity, diabetes, heart disease etc… I believe we can all improve what we eat even if it’s a few times week. Eating more fresh produce is the way to go, and maybe I can help some people change their eating habits a little?
Q: Do you think people in Leicester are receptive to the idea of veganism?
A: No, not the whole idea of veganism but maybe the food part. What’s funny is so many people eat vegan food without realising it! If you told someone this particular food is vegan you might get a strange look, because to many people, vegan equals odd. When they try food that is vegan but are not told so, they usually like it lots! I even think vegans get the idea of veganism wrong. It’s made into a difficult subject but it does not need to be.
Q: You also do workshops – tell us a bit more about those
A: Yes workshops are fun and really give people a unique look at not just how to make vegan foods but how I work in the kitchen, equipment used, what ingredients I buy and where I buy them from. I keep the workshops small, so they will never be more than 12 people attending, and everyone can be involved in someway. These are not hands-on workshops. Participants get recipe cards for all the food made. While I’m making the food, we talk about lots of things, people are taking notes, taking photos. Sometimes we go off topic because an interesting question has been asked. The workshops are never rushed. These workshops are run from a hall that I hire, where I teach yoga. Really for me the workshops are about empowering people to show them it’s not hard to make the kind of food I create and also it does not need to be expensive to eat good fresh food.
Recently I did one at home with only three people, which was really nice. It’s even more personal. It was my first raw food workshop. We made food, talked while I was making the food, the people attending were making lots of notes, as there where no recipe cards this time and then we sat down in the garden in-between making the various foods to eat and talk more, share ideas and just take it easy.
To date I’ve only done three workshops. Organising them and finding people to come is not easy. I do plan on running some more but not from home, as trying to find time when the kitchen is free is not easy.
Q: Have you thought about opening a vegan cafe in Leicester?
A: Yes, I have but when I was creating the business plan, the financial figures did not add up. It showed I would struggle to make the business break even, let alone make a profit. Right now I don’t believe Leicester has the number of people I would need to keep such a business going. Maybe that may change with time?
Q: What advice would you give someone looking to transition to a vegan diet?
A: Keep it simple, use everyday ingredients. Don’t make complicated things to start with. Think about using more fresh produce and less processed food. Even vegan food can be very processed and that’s where you can go wrong. Talk to someone who you know is vegan and see what you can learn from them. Don’t try to become a vegan overnight, do it slowly. I made the change very easily because I was hardly consuming any dairy products and so in effect I was nearly a vegan.
Q: Any big plans for the future?
A: Yes, well it’s not going to be a vegan cafe, but I do have something interesting that I’m working on right now. Maybe it may come to fruition in the not too distant future.
Q: And finally, what’s the story behind the name “Zukini”?
A: I like quirky, short, simple names, that really do not need to mean anything or are a play on words. I’ve always loved the word zucchini, Italian for courgette, and I think it’s used in North America too but maybe with a different spelling? Anyway zucchini is too long and it’s spelling is not easy to read but zukini is! People remember zukini too because it’s a bit quirky and it’s related to food.
Be sure to visit the Zukini website to see this week’s menu and information on deliveries
Follow Zukini on Twitter here
Like Zukini on Facebook here