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Maidstone: Vegan pub grub by Ponga Foods at Drakes pub in Fairmeadow

By Angela Cole

Can vegans eat cheese? The answer would normally be an emphatic ‘no’ but at Ponga Foods, which has launched at Drakes in Maidstone, they can – as long as it has a Z in it!

Vegan chef, Stephanie Hinton, 33, specialises in making aged artisan tofu cheeses – cheeze, to give them their proper name.

It’s one of the many ingenious creations Stephanie is whipping up at the Fairmeadow pub, after launching her menu two weeks ago.

Stephanie Hinton, head chef and founder of Ponga Foods in Maidstone Picture: John Westhrop

The New Zealander, who only turned vegan herself three years ago, launched Ponga Foods last year with a long-term goal of creating a chain of vegan delis.

Her road to veganism and vegan cookery, however, had been a long one.

After growing up on a farm in New Zealand, where she even hunted, Stephanie trained as a pastry chef and worked in some top restaurants, including at Jamie’s Italian in Shepherds Bush and for MasterChef’s John Torode.

After moving out of London, she started working at Fortify Cafe in Maidstone’s High Street, which at the time was vegetarian, but graduated to vegan soon after she started there.

She said: “My route to veganism was a pretty roundabout one. But I will never go back to eating meat or diary. What I make here is ‘plant-based’ pub grub.

“My speciality is veganising things. I’m working on making vegan sausages and salami by Christmas. I let the flavours do most of the work. It is about long, slow cooking.”

Ponga Foods now serving at Drakes in Maidstone

Top sellers on her menu already are jack fruit burgers, which may start life as a round, green fruit that look mango-like, but end up looking like pulled pork in Stephanie’s hands.

“They can grow to be absolutely massive, so I buy them when they are young and green. I slow cook them down,” she said.

In the kitchen, which she has kitted out herself, she uses only organic fruit and veg, and peelings head back into
the pot for stock.

Around 80% of her customers have been vegan, but her food is also gluten free, so has a wider appeal.

Stephanie Hinton cooks up a vegan storm at Drakes in Maidstone. Picture: John Westhrop

Guests can dine out on dough balls and garlic mayonnaise, loaded nachos, raw Thai green curry salad and chocolate hazelnut mousse tart with vanilla yoghurt.

“I think a lot of vegans had missed having options in town. I have been getting a lot of happy emails. There is definitely demand for it,” she said.

“I’m really happy about it. I was scared because I was worried I couldn’t keep it up, but I’ve been serving around 15 tables a day.”


Ponga @ Drakes pub in Fairmeadow, Maidstone, serves food six days a week, Tuesday to Sunday, between noon and 10pm. Prices range from £4 for dough balls with garlic mayo to £8 for loaded nachos.
For details pop into the pub, or go to the Facebook page facebook.com/crueltyfreecuisine

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