How old were you when you became a vegan? When you decided on a career? When you became a celebrity in your career?
Okay, most of us, including me, have no answer for that last one! But how many of us could answer the first two questions with, “I was 11”? Not me, and (sorry…) presumably not you, either.
Omari McQueen can. Yes, at the age of 11, he’s already a vegan celebrity chef and an experienced restaurateur in his home city of London.
McQueen’s unlikely story began when he was just 7 and his mother became too ill to cook for her husband and six children. When his oldest sibling’s efforts didn’t pan out, McQueen stepped up to the stove — and discovered his destiny.
His father, the son of immigrants to England from Jamaica, taught him to make the spicy Caribbean dishes the family enjoyed, and the experiment was a success. Then, not long after he started cooking, a video from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) led him to become a vegan.
Fast-forward to McQueen at age 11, recently sending a LinkedIn message to Roger Wade, a London restaurateur, saying he hoped to open his own restaurant someday. Wade, who’d started by selling candy to his friends at age 11, had gone on to become CEO of a chain of London food halls. McQueen’s message sparked that early memory…and Wade’s interest.
Wade responded with, “Why not now?” Then he acted on his suggestion, offering McQueen a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: a week-long (and rent-free) pop-up at one of Wade’s London food halls. This past August, the boy became both the “world’s youngest restaurateur” (by his reckoning) and chef at the vegan food-hall restaurant he named Dipalicious.
The dishes McQueen served there lived up to the name, such as Caribbean-style pumpkin soup, BBQ jackfruit with breadfruit chips, and signature dipping purées and smoothies.
Soon McQueen was a local celebrity, demonstrating how to make his dishes as a guest star on television and attending a vegan conference as an expert panelist. There, he asked the other participants to raise their hands if they weren’t vegan and then asked (remember, this is a child addressing a group of adults), “Why not??”
Today, with his pop-up chefdom behind him, McQueen keeps busy with his YouTube channel, where he offers vegan recipes including…no surprise given his age…pizza, and continues to enjoy his celebrity.
What’s next? He dreams of converting a bus to a vegan food truck and traveling around England with his father, who, conveniently, is a bus driver. It’s not just the food he wants to publicize, though; he wants as many people as he can reach to understand how becoming vegan benefits people, the planet, and especially the animals.
He already has a surprisingly adult view of what’s needed to make that happen: He knows the food must come first. “You can tell people that food is healthy or kind to animals,” young McQueen says, “but they won’t care unless the food is fun and delicious.”