Smith & Deli chef Shannon Martinez (left) with business partner Mo Wyse.
Smith & Deli chef Shannon Martinez (left) with business partner Mo Wyse.

Becoming a chef was a natural choice for Shannon Martinez.

“It was the only thing I’ve ever fully dedicated myself to,” she said. “Cooking was and still is, the first thing I think about in the morning, and the last thing I think about when I go to bed.”

Best known as the non-vegan vegan chef, Martinez develops innovative recipes that appeal to even the most avid meat-eaters. She has contributed to kitchens around Melbourne for the last 20 years, creating recipes inspired by her Spanish heritage. In 2014 she partnered with American Mo Wyse to create Smith & Daughters, and plant-based Latin eatery in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy. In 2015, after two years of immense popularity, the pair opened Smith & Deli, an all-vegan convenience store and deli, just around the corner.

Developments in the vegan food space mean that Martinez’s dishes have evolved accordingly, and she “wouldn't ever serve the vegan food I made 12 years ago to people today.” She cited mushrooms as one example. “There are producers out there growing some exciting varieties that I’ve only ever had overseas. I’m especially excited to get my hands on some lion’s mane.”

Part of the shift also comes from her reluctance to follow trends. “I intentionally avoid trends,” she explained. “If something I’m already doing becomes on trend, I tend to take it off the menu.”

While Martinez isn’t vegan herself (although Wyse is), it was a simple plant-based dish early in her career which stuck with her.

“For some reason, one dish that has stuck with me was one I had the first time I went to Hong Kong,” she said. “It was basically stir-fried iceberg lettuce, but it was incredible! So simple, perfect seasoning, perfect technique. I think that was the moment Chinese food went to the top of my list and has stayed there ever since.” While she doesn’t have a single favourite dish, she admitted to eating Sichuan pickled chilli and fish noodle soup “at least three times a week.”

Not one to sit still, Martinez has a busy schedule in the coming months. She recently travelled to Mexico, where she cooked at two events – an entirely different experience from cooking in Australia.

“Two events I’m really looking forward to are Sydney Good Food month and Gourmet Escape in Margaret River. I’m also heading to Ireland to attend Food on the Edge. Got to stay educated, you know!” Amidst all this, the second Smith & Deli-cious cookbook is being released – an insight into the hundreds of dishes that Martinez and Wyse turn out regularly, as well as a sneak peek into the community which has built itself around the two establishments. The book includes recipes for mac and cheese, spanakopita, meat pies, doughnuts, all of which are completely vegan.

Despite having self-funded multiple successful businesses and becoming a book author before the age of 40, Martinez has bold plans for the future, including upsizing and hitting the small screen.

“We’re looking to expand Smith & Deli as we immediately outgrew the current space,” she said. “We’re also working on getting a TV show produced. Television is long overdue for more female hosted and plant-based food programs.”