Now that veganism has gone properly mainstream, it is hard to remember the time when soy cubes tasted nothing like fermented cheese, or when coconut yogurt didn’t have the creamy consistency it boasts today.

In the past few years, vegan food has made leaps and bounds in terms of creativity, flavour and, of course, texture, and it is important to acknowledge the many chefs and kitchen pioneers who have been making a green mark.

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The New York-based Hetty McKinnon is one of them. The vegetarian chef shot to fame on Instagram with her beautifully presented account, but more than anything else, she was also instrumental in starting a community that fell in love with her salad recipes.

And it all began with her self-published book Community, which made her to a well-known “salad queen” among the shrewdest of cookbook lovers.

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In her next book, Neighbourhood, she writes about her move from Australia to the Big Apple. “Neighbourhood is a collection of salad and sweet recipes inspired by ‘places’, journeying from Brooklyn in New York to greater Americas, the Mediterranean, Asia, France, my native Australia and many other places around the world for salad-making inspiration.”

And that is exactly what she set out to do in Veda, Hong Kong’s first and so far only vegetarian restaurant in a hotel. McKinnon developed a menu “serving the type of food that I love best – big, bold-flavoured vegetable dishes that are hearty and nourishing”, she says in one of her posts on Instagram.

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In celebration of Veganuary, we caught up with McKinnon when she was visiting Hong Kong to chat about her rise to fame and find what it’s like to be a vegetarian chef, all while learning how to cook her fabulous Aloo Gobi – whole-roasted turmeric and coconut cauliflower with crispy potato and lentils dish (available at Veda, of course).

Video by Bridgette Hall

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