Hugo Hughes is the first graduate from AUT's culinary arts school to specialise in vegan cooking.
As a vegetarian himself and then a vegan, Hughes initially had to cook meat, fish and fowl during his Bachelor of Culinary Arts degree.
He found that increasingly difficult to swallow, so he convinced his tutors to let him focus entirely on vegan cooking.
Speaking to RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan, he says he faced a moral dilemma completing the cooking course with the standard meal requirements.
“Every day I would wake up and say ‘Am I going to stick to my ethics today?’ Nope, I can’t.”
Hughes says several people suggested he cook the vegan option after first completing the standard requirement, but he eventually approached the university to ask if he could prepare solely vegan meals.
“This is what I believe in and let’s do it and it’ll be fun and it’s really taken off.”
Sustainability and environmental impact are his key motivators.
Hughes says he did have to work out week by week his vegan alternatives would be.
“When we did steamed kahawai in banana leaf I did an aubergine, you know, substituted that. I made little deep fried oysters made out of mushrooms wrapped in seaweed.
“In one of my exams I made tofu from scratch and one of the examiners, who was a chef from Auckland, was really interested in seeing what I was doing because I was the only one making my own protein as opposed to working with something that had been provided for.”
He says vegan cooking does involve thinking week to week about what to cook.
Hughes has now graduated and is living in Wellington but is about to move to America to complete an internship at Stanford University Catering, where he will work in the residential dining kitchens.
Stanford University has been voted America’s most vegan friendly campus and the head chef there is an AUT alumni.
Hughes says he will learn how to be in a professional production kitchen feeding 17,000 people a day, which he’s really excited about.