Heaven Leigh is a plant-based business owner and third-generation restaurateur, running Australia’s longest established vegan restaurant, Bodhi Restaurant Bar in Sydney’s Cook+Phillip Park. Heaven has spent much of her career collaborating with like-minded businesses, celebrating her multicultural heritage, advocating for women supporting women in the workplace, and making plant-based food fun and accessible for people to incorporate into their lives. She is also an avid traveller and enjoys writing and filming her journey exploring plant-based cuisine around the globe.
Where did you grow up and how did you get to where you are now?
I was born in Sydney, however I grew up all over South East Asia - Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan and Thailand. My family travelled around a lot and worked in hospitality, so it was natural for me to continue the family legacy, as a third generation restaurateur. But nothing was ever handed to me on a silver platter. I had to work for it!
I gained a lot of experience working in my family’s restaurants as well as some of the best modern Asian restaurants in London where I learned to hone my craft. I returned to Australia to continue evolving Bodhi into what it is today - the largest and longest-running plant-based restaurant in Australasia.
Where do you look for inspiration when you are creating a recipe or menu?
Inspiration always comes from my travels, my childhood and my cultural identity. A lot of the recipes we create at Bodhi Restaurant Bar have been inspired by the comfort food I grew up eating or food I’ve since discovered on my travels.
What’s the one ingredient you can’t live without?
I can’t live without soy sauce - and all versions of it! Some of my favourite variations include sweet soy, soy marinades, mushroom-flavoured soy, Japanese Tamari soy, aged soy, and (for days when I have a bit of a sweet tooth) Kecap Manis caramelised soy. I use it in everything.
Do you remember when you first tried a macadamia?
Yes! When I was a child, my grandparents and mum used to take me to a macadamia farm on the North Coast of New South Wales. We would pack a picnic, spend the day there and collect huge bags of fresh macadamia nuts that had been warmed by the sun. We just loved taking them home and eating them for months afterwards.
What’s your favourite way to enjoy macadamias?
I love to eat macadamias raw. But for something different, I also love to enjoy them salted, caramelised or chocolate-coated. On days where I need to nibble on something with more of a kick, I snack on chilli-spiced macadamias.
For something more substantial though, I use macadamias to make an incredibly creamy homemade plant-based ricotta. It’s super simple to do! I like to dollop it on toasted sourdough, adding tomatoes, basil and a balsamic glaze for a vegan spin on bruschetta. And when they’re in season, I add truffles on top. So good.
Can you tell us about the Bodhi menu and philosophy?
The Bodhi philosophy is based on the principle to do no- harm. Our menu is a balance of eating clean, fresh, natural dishes with as few additives as possible, and indulging in the occasional treat. On the one hand, our food should give comfort, while on the other, challenge you to think outside the box when it comes to plant-based dining.
What do you like to cook at home?
I like to eat very simple, clean food at home with a focus on wholegrains, organic, natural, nutrient rich foods. We are quite traditionally Asian at home and tend to eat simply - usually a rice or noodle-based dish with some vegetables and a plant-based protein. I’ve recently set up an edible garden and a bunch of VegePods in my backyard so now we’re picking a lot of our veggies, fruit and herbs fresh. The kids love it too.
What’s your favourite non-work thing to do right now?
At the moment, I’m working on renovating my home and have plans to renovate the restaurant, so my favourite thing to do in my spare time is to find design inspiration. I also love doing little projects at home. I’ve really been enjoying watching my native Australian beehive we installed at home during Covid lockdown, as well as learning how best to grow herbs and vegetables in my garden.
If you were an ice cream what flavour would you be?
I would be a lemon gelato - sweet and sour at the same time!