IN CONVERSATION w/ LUCIANO ZERACHI: NORTH LONDON, SOUTH AMERICA, WEED BROWNIES & ‘VEGAN RUDEBOY’

Highbury North London born and bread. Luciano – from growing up in North London to travelling South America. Running a football school to running a weed brownie “business” to make ends meet while living in Colombia has taken all these experiences and channeled them into a his latest venture.

I caught up with him discuss his life and the journey that lead him to the street food brand and business ‘Vegan Rudeboy’.

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T: So, I always like to talk about going down the route of learning about the person themselves (personally), rather than just what do. So, where are you from?

L’; Highbury, North London. But, my Dad’s from Italy. So half Italian and Mum’s a mix; Scottish, Irish, Welsh.

T: So, they both came over in the 80s?

L: Well, my Mum’s always been in the UK, but my Dad come over when he was young – like 2. In an attic above a restaurant in Camden…

T: And it must’ve been mental back then…

L; I mean yeah it was London back then (70s). And they were in an attic where his older brother couldn’t stand up coz the ceiling was so low. They were poor man. It was hard times…

T: Anyway, you’re from Highbury. But you didn’t go to school in Highbury did you..

L; I went to primary school here – at the end of my road, Joan of Arc. Then we ended up going to secondary school outta the ends which was surprising for us. We ended up going to ‘London Orentory’ which was an all boys school in Fulham Broadway. So trekkin’ everyday.. I mean it was a good school, a lot people did well out of it. But for me it was a bit too constrained – too many rules.

T: And when you say Fulham. Is it Chelsea Fulham, or working class Fulham?

L: It weren’t a private school, but it was very hard to get in to. It was Catholic commitment. So doing the alter service and all that stuff. We were “practicing Catholics”, but we didn’t particularly fit in there – my brother or I. We couldn’t get into other schools that were more suited to us coz of catchment area’s and all that stuff, and the other option was going to ‘Highbury Grove’ in ends *laughs*.  I weren’t lookin’ to do that. Them times it was a rough place man.

T: Yeah and unless you’re from the Estate you weren’t linked it…

L: Yeah, well we knew people from the area from playing football and stuff – and we could handle ourselves – but know one would’ve expected us to. So, it would’ve been a lot of bullshit.

T: You would’ve had to earn your stripes in mad ways. And in them schools earnin’ your stripes is a risky business…

L: Yeah, coz you’re dealin’ with people from your area as well. I’m glad I didn’t go there coz going there could’ve lead you down the wrong path I think…

T:  Yeah yeah. Anyway, let’s switch lanes here, coz we got a bit of the back story now. So, at what point did you get into the Vegan ting?

L: It was only about 4 years ago, at 25. It wasn’t long after starting my Football school – a bit more of the background. I had a kids football school that I started with my brother when I was 22; which is relatively young to start a first business/. It was a great experience. We ran that for about 4 or 5 years…

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T: And was there any link to this that lead you to becoming a Vegan?Or was it just timing coinciding?

L: It was a lot to with my brother and his girlfriend went away to Spain and come back. But I’d already been thinkin’ of it previously and he come back he was like ‘We’re thinkin’ about goin’ Vegan’ and I was like; ‘You’re doin’ it, then I’m doin’ it as well. It just makes sense init’. I always talked about how much I love animals…

T: Yeah people do it for different reasons. Some do it for the climate, some for health reasons etc. But for you it was…

L: It was a combination of loving animals and the environment….

T: So health was secondary or even the third thing?

L: Yeah, I can be honest, I party, and I’m not even the most healthy. A lot of the food I cook is relatively junk food – now Vegan junk food. Which I think is important coz it’s a good way of transitioning people from non-vegan. I mean when we were young we used to hang around in the chicken shop. That’s one of the reasons why I’m doin’ seitan chicken as my meals init. After kickin’ ball in ends we’d go chicken shop, hang around there, fuck about, have banter – it’s for the average person init.

T: But particularly in London. Linking it to the ‘Vegan Rudeboy’ ting. So in some regards – not that it was at the forefront of your mind – this ‘Vegan Rudeboy’ ting is almost bridging the gap between those people that would never consider it…

L: Exactly. I don’t think I’m what you’d consider your “average vegan”. When I tell people they’re very shocked – generally – and I think that’s a good thing.

T: So let’s get to the point where ‘Vegan Rudeboy’ (the business) was starting to become a clear route…

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L: It was really when I went travelling. I was had this massive desire to travel. When I was young I was always saying “I’m gunna travel the world!”. And I used to think “I’ll do one more year of the football school”, but it was going on and on. Then it was comin’ up to the end of the season and I said I’ll do one more year, build up the finances and then I got a message on Facebook from my Colombian friend – I’d been doing the Football school on my own at this point coz my brother had left it….

T: So, this forced you to really consider whether you really want to be doin’ this…

L: That’s it. He’s gone now and I’m choosin’ a different career path..

T: Okaaaay. So now it’s like my thing. “This is my life now..”

L: Yeah, “This is what Luci’ does. He’s that guy who’s got a football school”. And I was thinkin’ “Oh really”. My brother  was the one who was more interested in football than I was. So, at that point people were sayin’ if this is not what you want to do – you’ve built up an amazing thing and we don’t want you to give it up – but if it’s not what really drives you, don’t do it…

T: And did it end then?

L: Mentally yeah – to some extent. The season was approaching the end and I got that message from a friend I grew up with who was living in Colombia and he invited a load of us out there. So I spoke to my Dad about it and he was sayin “Colombia’s really dangerous etc”. Then I was talking to him on the phone and he was like “Luc’ c’mon man. You’re a 27 year old man, you make your decisions.” and within’ 15 minutes of gettin’ off the phone to him I’d booked the flight.

L: So I went away and I was with those guys for a couple of weeks – but I travelled for a year in total. It was a few months in and I met these Colombian guys who were Chef’s…

T: Oh seeen. So, there was food influence on this trip?

L: One hundred percent. The whole time I was travelling I found myself around people that cooked a lot and Chef’s.

T: Okay, some inspiration in that travelling experience that you didn’t foresee…

L: I was staying with a Chef for a couple of weeks in his apartment, and ended up staying there for a bit without him…

T: So you were forced to socialise now…

L: Exactly. So, I ended up meeting this guy and he was a good cook man. We’d be in the evenings smoking some nice weed and cooking really nice food; with a lot of veg and where he knew I was Vegan at the time – he was like “Alright I’ve got to be more creative” because they have a very meat intensive diet.

T: And they’re (culturally) really on their food deen. So he had to work some magic for you *laughs*

L: Yeah, and there was another Venezuelan guy. These guys were kinda trained Chef’s – I mean they’d worked in a lot of kitchens. Anyway, they weren’t too knowledgeable about Veganism themselves. I’d go to restaurant and say “No meat.” and they’d be like “Okay, Pollo” meaning Chicken. And I’d have to say no again. And they’d be like “Oh, Pescado”and I’d be like nah nah nah – so you’d end up in a restaurant with Lentils, Chickpeas and Rice! And a bit’ah Plantain.*laughs*. Don’t get me wrong it was still nice, but…

T: The culture was alien to them…

L: Ah man… But surprisingly there are some restaurants in the more cosmopolitan cities…

T: Yeah coz there’s enough tourists to inform and support the demand. But really it was these individuals you were forced to meet when you weren’t with your mates, who made the effort to cook you something nice that didn’t have meat in it and that played a profound role in this journey…

L: Exactly. They were having to adapt recipes and be “Ah we can’t use egg’s or milk?” and would be like “Nah man”.

T: Was that like a challenge for them?

L: Yeah yeah, to some extent, I think they probably enjoyed it. It was wicked man. So I was with them for a little while, stayed in this flat for 6 weeks, I was doin’ Spanish classes there. Then I thought I had to move on. So I went to Santiago Di Cali coz I’d heard about a work opportunity there. I stayed in a hostel and really liked the people there. One of the guys I lived with before told me that he done batches of food in a hostel and sold it to other guests in the hostel. So they’re gettin’ to eat nice home cooked meals, I’m gettin’ to eat for free and make a little earnin’ back. So, I thought while I’m travelling I might as well make some food, learn to cook and make a little money. So initially it was a load of pasta dishes *laughs*..

T: And couple of things you picked up from the guys you lived with…

L: Yeah, but then it was difficult coz I doin’ shifts in the bar in the evenin’. So, me and Jono – the guy I was working with on the food and in the bar – decided that all of the food we make we put together, we keep everything, we won’t spend any of it and we’ll go on our little travels together afterwards. So, the food starts to get quite creative man, but we have to factor in budget…

T: Okay so now you’re in the “academy of food entrepreneurship” (so to speak)…

L: Yeah. So we’re alternating shifts and then it got a bit deeper than that *laughs*. We started making weed brownies *laughs*. I don’t even know if I should be sayin’ that, but we wanted to make more money. And people wanted it and liked the idea. First we just made a batch for people just stayin’ in the hostel.

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T: And these are Vegan brownies?

L: Of course!

T: So this is kinda where it started!

L: 100%! Initially though the weed brownies weren’t mean’t to be a business thing. It was mean’t to be for the hostel, coz we had a big film night with a big projected screen on the block next to us. So, we thought we’d make weed brownies and watch some cool classic films. By chance we’d met a guy who was a chef, but also a shotta and gave a cookbook dedicated to weed edibles. But we ended up puttin’ an ounce of weed in the brownies; which was not the best idea coz them brownies were strong! So everyone was fucked up! *laughs*

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T: So, you slew’d off the whole hostel *laughs*…

L: Yeah and the owner of the hostel came back and was like “what have you done to my guests?!” *laughs*. Everyone was scattered around the hostel, asleep on staircases, the lounge, the garden… *laughs* Then we got people turnin’ up to the hostel from other parts of Colombia are they’re goin’ “Yo, are you Jono and Luci? We heard about the brownies.”

T: Oh shit so your names ringin’ on da streets now!

L: *laughs*  Ringin’ on the streets across Colombia!

T: And this really validated your ability to make good Vegan food that people are gunna enjoy, and that was like your accidental PR stunt *laughs*

L: That was it. So, we thought why don’t we make these for when people are goin’ on a coach trip – coz when your travelling it’s like 12 hour trips – and people are taking Valium to go to sleep. So, I’m just like “let’s go natural man!”.

T: You’ve had a lot of pivotal entrepreneurial moments in your life…

L: Yeah, but I always like to have someone to work with. I got the idea’s, but I need that little push, and That was Jono at that time.

T: At what point does this madness that’s goin’ on here – that has really interesting aspects with regards to how you upped your lev’s with the vegan cookin’, and how you developed your hustle a little bit more. But how did that travelling experience end? Leading to the ‘Vegan Rudeboy’ thing? You had a really long vegan related travelling experience and it wasn’t planned. You would’ve met other vegans, bonded and there would’ve been a level of camaraderie over the adversity of the lack of vegan food?

L: Yeah and it creates initial conversation.  And the hostel that I said I was living in before. That’s where the ‘Vegan Rudeboy’ name actually started…

T: I could see how someone could be like, coz you’re from London and would’ve possibly been actin’ up a bit. Well, enough to get the nickname…

L: Yeah and the general mannerisms. *laughs*, I think it was a Canadian guy called Jay. And he would buy my food all the time, and he would say “Shit, your foods so much better than eating some Dominoes bullshit.” So, that’s how the name occurred. But then I’ve gone to a vegan restaurant in Cusco (Peru) – run by an American woman. I was like “Any chance you need volunteers here?”. And she said “Actually I really do. I’m quite desperate…”.

T: Once again your sharpenin’ your “vegan culinary sword” so to speak…

L: Yeah. So, she said come in Monday morning, I worked a week, but I was mean’t to carry on to Bolivia. And she said If you come back round you can have a full time job here. So, I did Bolivia for about a month and came back to Cusco, and worked in the restaurant for about 6 weeks. And it was a relatively new restaurant so it enabled me a lot of time to spend one on one with her…

T: So you had another mentor. You had friends who were skilled chef’s who would adapt their food for you and now you’ve lead up to meeting a person who’s now teaching you Vegan cooking.

L: Yeah this is where I learned about Kimchi, vegan cheeses. Originally I thought “Alright I’m never fuckin’ eatin’ cheese again!”. But had this amazing Cashew Cheese. It was a great learning curve.

T: So, that 6 weeks was a really profound part of the journey that lead you to where we’re at now.

L: Yeah I wasn’t just cooking. I was engaging with customers and they liked me, so they were coming back – so she was happy. It’s a food establishment, you need to be able to talk to people.

T: So, you developed your recipe repertoire and validated your ability to build rapport…

L: Which is required specifically in the street food industry.

T: So, you realised I can cook, I got the business acumen – proven from the football school and the weed brownie hustle. I got the people person personality and also I got the edge to be a credible “Vegan Rudeboy” which is an important part of your brand.

L: Yeah coz I didn’t wanna change who I was with anything I do. It’s gotta be myself.

T: Yeah, you can confidently call yourself that – not because your off some block somewhere and you’ve shanked bare man…

L: *laughs* Yeah. And to establish the idea that I’m the average man and not your stereotypical person who went vegan.

T: That’s a better way to explain it. “I’m not some upper-middle class, champagne socialist wanka who became vegan put up Facebook statuses it.” You became vegan for your own reasons, but you’re not cut from that cloth. And you want more people from your social sphere to be able to engage with veganism…

L: And make it more accessible.

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T: Yeah, that wrapped it up perfectly and ‘Vegan Rudeboy’ is a brand name that would work for that type of person. There is that gap in the market that isn’t being stimulated because of the connotations associated with veganism, and what your trying to offer is veganism for people who aren’t cunts…

L: *laughs*

T: You know what I mean. To put it bluntly. Doesn’t mean coz you’re a vegan you’re a cunt, obviously. But you can still be the type of person that the word ‘Rudeboy’ represents and be vegan without being the type of person that ‘vegan’ represents.

L: Even from working in the fruit and veg game, and working with guys from a much older generation, giving them accessibility to even knowing what veganism is and understanding what it is.

T: Yeah they’re staunch working class geezers…

L: They would’ve just been thinking “Tossa’s, animal rights protest mugs!” *laughs*.  And now they don’t think of it as some weird thing. I’ve made food for them that they never would try otherwise, and they’ve liked it.

T: And because of the type of person you and basically what your mission is with this brand, is to engage a different class of society, and introduce them to food that has broader benefits to the environment. You almost doing a duty to society, there’s not a lot of vegans out here doin’ that.

L: I’m like Robin Hood! *laughs*

You can listen back to our full hour long conversation below:

POSTED BY: @TIMI.WATSONROSE

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