With more and more people embracing a plant-based diet, Sarah Freeman meets the two Yorkshire friends, aka BOSH! Boys, hoping to start a meat-free revolution.
To describe Henry First and Ian Theasby’s approach to vegan cooking as enthusiastic doesn’t do it justice. Evangelical is closer. And their message in spreading.
Having launched the BOSH! Boys brand with a YouTube cooking channel, where their masterclasses in making everything from meat-free pies and burgers to their own take on macaroni cheese reach 26 million people a month, this pair are now bent on world domination. Their debut cookbook has just come out and chances are it won’t be long before the boys, who met at school in Sheffield, land their own mainstream TV show. They are bright, breezy and passionate 30-somethings – think a young Jamie Oliver only in duplicate.
“We’ve been best friends since we were 11 years old and then when we moved to London we became flatmates and now we are the BOSH! Boys,” says Ian, whose conversion to veganism began when like a thousand others he decided to give up alcohol for three months. “It was January 20 15 and by the end of the month I was not only finding it easy, but was also feeling so much better that I decided to cut meat out as well.
“I started reading articles and watching documentaries like Cowspiracy and quite quickly I came to the conclusion that being vegetarian wasn’t enough, I wanted to go vegan.”
Noticing that his skin was clearer, his hair in much better condition and that he was losing a few pounds gave him the motivation to continue. So did the fact that he had more energy and the world seemed a much brighter place all round.
“I was so passionate about how my own life had changed that I decided that I wanted to spread the word by opening a vegan restaurant in Sheffield, but then Henry called.”
It turned out that Henry, who was working in the technology sector, also reckoned there was a business to be had in veganism, but rather than renting physical premises, his idea was to open a virtual showcase. Ian didn’t take much convincing, moved to London the BOSH! Boys were born.
“What we wanted to do was show that opting for a plant-based diet doesn’t have to mean you live off nut cutlets,” says Henry. The pair rarely use the word vegan, fearing it still has connotations of joyless, lentil-eating new agers. “We wanted to show that it was possible not only to replicate popular meat and fish dishes, but actually make them better.”
They have lost count of the hours they have spent working out how to make vegan friendly fish and chips where the cod has been replaced by tofu and their version of steak and ale pie where mushrooms do the work of the meat.
“There has been a lot of trial and error, but it’s a great feeling once we’ve cracked a dish,” says Ian. “Once we’ve nailed down the recipe then we will make a video showing others how it’s done. We knew that food was really popular online, but I think even we were surprised by how quickly the YouTube channel took off.”
Their first video – a step by step guide to making one of Henry and Ian’s now trademark dishes, sushi cake – has now been viewed more than three million times. Their straightforward, chirpy approach to vegan food has captured the zeitgeist. According to the Vegan Society, there were three and a half times as many vegans in 2016 as 10 years earlier. The NHS states that more than 1.2 million people in the UK are vegetarian. As a result the BOSH! Boys website is now regarded as one of the UK’s most influential foodie sites.
“There are still some negative stereotypes surrounding veganism,” says Ian. “Part of our mission is to expose those misconceptions and I think because what we cook is simple and doesn’t require a billion ingredients, most of which you use once and then leave in the back of the cupboard, it’s really struck a chord.”
He added: “We all have busy lives and that’s why convenience food has been such a boom industry. When you’re tired it’s easy to want to just shove something in the oven that you don’t have to think about. What we want to do is show people that you can cook something from scratch in the same amount of time and it not only tastes a million times better, but it will make you feel better too.”
It was after repeated requests from their growing fanbase that the pair decided to publish their first cookbook and when we speak they’ve just got their hands on their first copy.
“That was an incredibly proud moment,” says Ian, who has just had a round of peanut butter and jam on toast. “I know we are biased, but it is a beautiful thing and looks exactly how we envisaged it, but more than that it is a real showcase for what we want to be and do. “
Chips in Henry: “It’s funny, no one in my family is vegan, but three years ago I was on cooking duty over Christmas and they were all so impressed that now my meat-free roast has become a bit of an institution.
“We don’t want to preach to people or tell them they can’t eat meat, but we do want to encourage them to give our recipes a go, because we think even the most hardened carnivore might be surprised. When you tell people you don’t eat meat, the cliched response, is ‘you must miss something, don’t you crave for a bacon sandwich?’ But the truth is we don’t.
“We get so much more out of a plant based diet then we have ever given up.”
The boys do admit to having so far been stumped by one particular recipe.
“We have tried and failed a million times to make a vegan-friendly Yorkshire pudding, but it has defeated us,” says Henry. “We will get there, I’m determined we will, but if anyone has any suggestions we would love to hear from them.”
For a selection of the BOSH! Boys’ recipes turned to page 40.