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PETALING JAYA, March 10 — Malaysian chef Kalidevan Murugaya has come a long way since he started his social media career a year ago.
Kalidevan, better known as Chef Dave, has gained more than 60,100 YouTube subscribers and 132,000 Facebook followers by sharing vegan recipes of Malaysians’ favourite dishes, such as nasi lemak, laksa, tom yum, and even bah kut teh.
The 29-year-old was inspired to go vegan at the end of 2019 after watching documentaries about animal agriculture and its harmful effects on the environment.
After losing his job as a cruise liner chef in March last year, he decided to take the leap and start a social media career devoted to his journey of being a vegan.
To share his knowledge and expertise, Dave started an online cooking academy called D’Vegan where students pay a one-time fee of RM88 for unlimited access to virtual lessons and a weekly question-and-answer session.
Dave conducts his lessons on a private Facebook group that has more than 1,000 members and he is looking forward to welcoming students from B40 backgrounds through his Tabung Kasih initiative.
The public can sponsor the admission fee of a B40 individual by donating to Tabung Kasih and beneficiaries just need to show proof of being Bantuan Sara Hidup recipients to be eligible.
Tabung Kasih began when one of Dave’s followers told him that she had been saving up RM1 each day with the hopes of finally having enough to pay the academy’s admission fee.
“I was quite broken when I read her message because I could tell how sincerely she wanted to join, it’s just that she didn’t have the money.
“I ended up sponsoring her place and I shared the story with my audience, and many people came forward offering to pay for her.
“Many people are in this situation so I thought it would be a good idea to create an initiative for my audience to pay for another person to join the academy,” said Dave.
Nak join tapi takde duit 😭 Mak jangan risau just WhatsApp admin kami! Kami telah pun sediakan #TABUNGKASIH, ade org dah...Posted by ChefDave VeganJourney on Tuesday, March 2, 2021
There are currently around 20 people benefiting from Tabung Kasih and Dave’s goal is for 1,000 B40 individuals to join his academy through this initiative.
A video a day
On how he started on the wild journey of online vegan cooking lessons, he said that it started during the movement control order.
“I couldn’t do anything else at the time.
“From January to March 2020, I was posting one or two videos on social media a week but during the pandemic, I told myself that since I lost my job and I’m staying at home like everyone else, why don’t I post a video every single day?
“That’s where I got a bit crazy so I uploaded a video every day for a month to share vegan recipes with Malaysian-inspired flavours,” Dave said,
The multilingual chef subtitles his videos in English, Malay, and Chinese to reach a wider audience and speaks in a variety of languages on his channel as well.
It hasn’t been easy getting to where he is now and Dave recalled how he struggled financially after getting laid off just two days after the first MCO kicked in.
Dave’s mental health also suffered as a result and he went through bouts of depression as he tried to find a new calling for himself.
Learning about veganism gave him a renewed zest for life and he’s now committed to sharing his experience with Malaysians and showing them the benefits of a plant-based diet and lifestyle.
“I started watching a lot of documentaries about environmental issues and I was surprised to find out that one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases is animal agriculture.
“I was also exposed to animal cruelty videos on social media which really broke my heart.
“After that, I felt like I couldn’t unsee what I had seen but I had learned something, so at that moment I decided I wanted to be part of the solution.”
Dave added that while there are many issues in the world that need fixing, anyone can help the environment by simply eliminating animal products from their next meal.
He acknowledges that vegans are often a target for jokes and mockery but is confident that this mindset can be turned around with education.
“I don’t take negative comments personally because, like them, I was once a non-vegan who judged people for being vegan or vegetarian until I learned more about it.
“Everyone is in a different phase of life and I believe that these people will one day come to a point where they will understand why I’m doing this.”
Dave also promoted his social media the old-school way by handing out flyers to his condominium neighbours with a heartfelt message about how he had lost his job and his efforts to make it as a YouTube chef.
One of his neighbours posted a photo of the flyer to Twitter last May and Dave became a viral sensation overnight.
Not a ‘Western’ thing
His main goal is to undo the misconception that being vegan is a “Western” trend and says that many Malaysian dishes can be adapted without the need for complicated or costly ingredients.
Most of the time, all home cooks need to do is remove any animal-derived ingredients from their recipes and replace them with vegetables, tofu, or other substitutes that can be easily found at the supermarket.
“Many people think that being a vegan is a ‘mat salleh’ thing but that’s the perception I want to change.
“You don’t have to limit yourself to salad or quinoa or Western food.
“Being vegan is an ethical stance that you take when you want to see a better world for our kids and the future to come.”
Besides working on D’Vegan, Dave has also been busy at the Plant Based Health Alliance, where he works with doctors and nutritionists to design plant-based meal plans to help people get their health back on track.
He’s also part of the online series Masters of Malaysian Cuisine which aims to equip home cooks with the skills they need to put restaurant-style dishes on the table.