Leading Lights: Omari McQueen

With multiple awards to his name, a successful vegan food business, a popular YouTube channel and various appearances on TV, Omari McQueen has already done HUGE things in the kitchen and he only becomes a teenager in May. First starting to help out in the family kitchen at the tender age of 7, Omari’s rise to chef superstar has been astounding and his first cookbook – Omari McQueen’s Best Bites – hits the shelves this month.

You started cooking at the age of 7, how did that come about? 
My mum gets horrible hemiplegic migraines, which make her very ill. When I was younger, they were so severe that she would often be bed bound. As my dad works nights, he got us involved in the kitchen from an early age to help if mum was unwell. Right away, I loved helping out and my passion for food started from there. 

Why did you decide to go vegan?
I remember seeing a video on YouTube that explained some of the health benefits of a vegan diet so I decided to see if I could get mum to have a go to see if it might help her. I pitched the idea and she agreed and when searching for vegan recipes, I saw a PETA advert. I had no idea where the meat I was eating came from and how it actually got to my table so from that day onwards at the age of eight, I made the decision to be vegan. I’m one of six so instead of my mum buying me specific vegan ready-made meals, which were expensive and not that amazing, I just requested a box of vegetables and I started to test, taste and create my own dishes. 

How did your YouTube adventure begin?
My older brother Laquarn, who wasn’t that excited about cooking, is thankfully very talented at making and editing videos. After having a terrible vegan pizza three years ago, we decided to film me showing people how to do it properly. The show really went from there and now I run regular cooking demonstrations showing my latest and best recipes.  It’s something I love to do.

Tell us about Dipalicious.
My favourite time in the kitchen is when I can just rummage around, see what’s in the fridge and cupboards and then experiment. I have always loved dips so after creating my own versions and getting some positive feedback from friends and family, I decided to try and sell them. I now take orders in the morning, make everything fresh and then send it out the same day. Juggling this around my school work is tough but I now offer five dips, a BBQ sauce and have plenty of other ideas in the pipeline. Things are actually going so well that my first products will be launching in supermarkets around the UK very soon. 

You have won a few awards already, do you have one you’re most proud of and any others you have your eye on for the future?
I have been lucky enough to win the TruLittle Hero Award, Compassionate Kids Award and The Proud and Gifted award. I now have my eye on an MBE or an OBE but that may take a little longer. 

How has COVID affected you and your business plans? 
Like everyone, the pandemic has made things very difficult. Thankfully, the business has been able to continue but my plans for more cookery classes and events have been put on hold. My big dream is to eventually get a converted bus, which my dad could drive and then turn it into a restaurant. We could then drive around the world, teaching people to cook and showing them that plants and vegetables are the best. This will have to wait for another day though.

Tell us about your recipe book
I love cookery books and have a big collection already so it’s pretty crazy that I now have my own and it’s available in the shops like Waterstones, WHSmith and Amazon. It’s called ‘Omari McQueen’s Best Bites’ and features over 35 of my favourite recipes. It was great fun to do and hopefully it will be the first of many.

Who is your favourite chef?
I have always liked Gordon Ramsey as you can see how much he cares – maybe just without swearing. 

What are your aims and goals in life?
I’m only 12 years old so I am not getting too carried away just yet. I realise I have been so lucky these last few years and I’m really grateful for everything my family has and all the memories we’ve made so far. I’m just taking each day as it comes and trying to enjoy myself as much as possible. 

What is your favourite meal of the day and why?
I probably pick and nibble on things all day long but my favourite meal is always dinner, especially after an active day. BBQ jackfruit and rice and peas is always a winner. 

And now for three questions that we ask all of our Leading Lights…

What are your three kitchen secrets?
1.  Taste, test and trust yourself – don’t be afraid to try new things and combinations.
2.  Get a good wok. It’s great for so many recipes, cuisines and dishes.

3.  All-purpose seasoning is my ultimate secret ingredient. It’s my go-to spice to lift flavour.

What is your favourite ingredient and why?
It’s hard to choose just one but I couldn’t live without onions and garlic. They’re so good together and are a base for
so many great dishes. 

Please could you share your favourite recipe, along with your reasons for choosing it?
It would be my pleasure – I would love to share my BBQ Jackfruit recipe which is from my new cookbook. Breakfast, lunch or dinner – it’s seriously yummy.