Article by Joanna Sarah-Freedman
Max La Manna is known as many things: a champion of sustainability, a TV chef and a bona fide millennial heart-throb.
“I think sometimes it’s a loaded word and it comes with a lot of baggage,” he tells Twisted during an exclusive chat. “I never want to be preachy.”
Max La Manna is the vegan heartthrob taking Instagram by storm (Credit: Lizzie Mayson)
Instead, Max says his biggest ambition has always been making sure his recipes are accessible to all, promoting his lifestyle without shoving it down anyone’s throat.
“I think on a collective level we all should be eating more plant based meals,” he explains. “But my MO was never to make the world vegan, because that’s not going to happen.
“I know it has limitations for groups of people all around the world – people with eating disorders and people without money or access to fresh ingredients – so I just want everyone to feel welcome when they come to my page…to get people cooking fun recipes that just so happen to contain more plants and less waste.”
The son of a French restaurateur father and a mother of Italian heritage, Max has always been surrounded by an abundance of fresh, hearty food.
But he wasn’t always the vegan, zero-waste influencer we know him as today – 15 years of cooking everywhere from pizzerias to Michelin starred haunts led to him to challenge his own values.
Max La Manna shares recipes with his 1m Instagram followers (Credit: Instagram/ Max La Manna)
In 2011, Max decided to adopt a plant based diet full-time.
“For me, going vegan has definitely been a process,” he says. “I’ve always been very aware of what I put in my body [but] it was a journey, and I failed at it so many times [before it became] part of my day-to-day.”
There was another key issue that informed the way he cooks today, too: the amount of perfectly edible food he saw his workplaces needlessly binning.
“I noticed the extortionate amount of food that was being wasted in restaurants when I was working in them in New York City and in Los Angeles,” he says. “And I realised that I too could be making more of what I had in my own kitchen at home.
“We’re living in a throwaway society.”
“Here in the UK, the average household throws away roughly around 40 per cent of food every month,” he adds.
“So [I was asking myself], ‘how can I plan better? How can I cook more of the food I have? How can I store this food properly?
“And you know what? Some of my favourite meals have even been from the moments where I looked in my fridge and thought ‘I don’t have anything to eat’ and I pull out a few ingredients and then I whip up a delicious meal.
“So, [my recipe videos] all started from that.”
Some might have scoffed at a vegan, zero-waste chef reaching the heights that Max has. Indeed, in the past, the idea of a chef serving food cooked with aquafaba (excess chickpea water), the skin of an onion and broccoli stems might have sounded a little alienating, and dare we say hippy?
But Max isn’t just flogging über healthy grain bowls on the ‘reg. His Instagram boasts recipes for bolognese, apple pie doughnuts and even ‘aubergine bacon’.
It’s working, too. Over the last three years, Max’s Instagram following has grown to a cool one million, and his recipes have been seen by over a billion people around the world.
He’s taking what society thinks of ‘vegan’ and ‘zero-waste’ and throwing it on its head, and that’s been the recipe for his success.
What’s interesting, he says, is that the majority of his fan-base aren’t living fully plant-based lifestyles, they’re just curious, or at least open minded, about his different way of doing things.
Max La Manna’s recipes are winning over vegans and meat lovers alike (Credit: Instagram/ Max La Manna)
There’s no doubt society’s gradual shift in attitudes is in part to thank for this.
This year, Veganuary searches skyrocketed 300 per cent higher than they did in 2021, and stats reveal that a third of Brits are keen to make the switch to plant based diets in 2022.
“There’s more plant-based products out there now. The tables are turning and more people are coming,” he concurs. “And for what it’s worth, I think people should get excited about cooking something that’s different.”
Influencing the masses is all well and good, but more than anything Max says he just wants people to enjoy the fun and quirky recipes he genuinely loves.
“Cooking for me has always been this invitation to bring people together,” he says. “Growing up in a big household with six of us, all sat at a big table, there were a lot of big egos coming into play.
“I remember my mum, dad, sisters and brothers all yelling, and then Mum made this beautiful pasta and it’s like ‘oh, let’s put our differences aside’. And so I had to kind of draw back on those experiences.
“I want my food to do the same thing – to invite people to my table to eat more plants. That’s what it’s about for me. It goes back to the importance of family, and eating together.
“There is a part of me that’s in every recipe people are bringing into their homes, and there’s a real connection there”.