Life

Flynn twins double down on health and happiness as they deliver the vegan dream

As the Happy Pear twins launch their fourth book, one happy half, Steve Flynn, tells Gail Bell about the power of plants and porridge, dawn dips in the sea and how smelling like cabbage turned out to be a good thing

David, left, and Stephen Flynn, the entrepreneurs behind the Happy Pear cafés and cookbooks. Picture by Alistair Richardson
Gail Bell

STEVE Flynn is his usual happy-clappy self, although, despite the religious adherence to a plant-based lifestyle (also incorporating yoga and dawn swims in the sea), there is nothing ‘preachy’ about this half of the Happy Pear – probably the most famous vegans in Ireland today.

For the charismatic Flynn twins, Steve and Dave, the clean-eating, clean-living is just one big, happy journey that we should all be on, frankly – and your loss if you don't join the happy band of believers.

‘Happy’ is a word that crops up regularly in both their literature and conversation – and also, their fourth book, Vegan Cooking for Everyone, which launched this month and sets out a simple, plant-bordered path to a happier, healthier lifestyle for would-be vegans not sure where to begin.

“It’s more about encouraging and teaching, not preaching,” enthuses Steve down the line from his hometown of Greystones, Co Wicklow, where he lives with wife Justyna and children May (nine), Theo (seven) and Ned (three). “Even though ‘vegan’ is in the title, it’s a book that’s written with the aim of being super-inclusive.

“I know the word, ‘vegan’, can be a bit binary, but we want to put it out there that this is a plant-based approach because nine out of 10 people in Ireland are deficient in fibre which you get in fruit and veggies, nuts and seeds… so, basically, we want to show people how easy, how tasty and good it is for your health, to eat more of all of these things.”

The book is “a distillation” of all the Happy Pear have learned over their 15 years as plant-based chefs and rather than just throwing out random recipes, Vegan Cooking For Everyone sets out to present a blueprint on how to think, create and cook like a chef and a natural-born vegan, instinctively.

“We’re trying to teach people how to cook without recipes, so instead of giving someone a carrot, you’re teaching them how to plant carrots, sort of thing; that’s the general premise,” offers Steve, who is on high-energy mode following his daily dawn dip and bowl of porridge.

Recently turned 40, the identical twins – they are actually ‘mirror’ twins according to a past study at University College Dublin – have watched, at times incredulously, as their simple Happy Pear idea has turned into something of a Happy Pear empire, comprising three cafes (two in Greystones and one at Dublin airport), YouTube videos for Jamie Oliver, popular online courses and best-selling books, not to mention their own coffee rosterie, a veggie farm (Pearville) and, lately, their own sourdough bakery.

There is some irony that all this has happened ‘organically’ after the duo initially turned their backs on a pending career in business and took off (separately) on the proverbial journey of self-discovery around the world, after graduating from university.

But, after this “existential crisis”, the famed twin telepathy showed up quite dramatically and the twins decided to go vegan, “within days of each other” and while on different sides of the planet.

“Dave and I both studied business and we were kind of sold the American dream – you know, you’ll be successful and then you’ll be more successful and then you’ll be happy!” Steve, “the left-handed one”, stresses in mock exaggeration. “That didn’t sit that easy with me, so I thought I would go away and experience life. I just wanted to go away until I was happy and knew what I was interested in.

“Dave went to South Africa to be a golf pro and I took off to Canada with this cool idea of being a snowboarding instructor. It was the first time we were properly separated, but we decided to do it because so much of our identity had been wrapped up in being a twin and we needed to work out what it was like to be an individual.”

Over the course of two years, they explored everything from rainbow gatherings and meditation to living in caves, returning home to Wicklow, Steve claims, looking like wasted hippies.

“We both got hugely into meditation when we were travelling and with that came the quest for health, happiness and community,” he says, with sincerity. “We started our business, The Happy Pear, in 2004 when we were 24 and hippie idealists. We’re still idealists today; just older ones.

“At separate points on our travels, we both began to see food as a mean of connecting all aspects of society – the economy, the social system, the political system – so, when we returned home, we created The Happy Pear to try to use it as a vehicle for social change and try to create a better world – that sounds a lofty ambition, but, really, that was it.”

Former male models and rugby-playing boys who loved a drink, their reappearance in Greystones with new look, new outlook and new ambition elicited strange and knowing looks, Steve recalls, laughing.

“We had been heading towards a corporate career and everyone was going, ‘What happened to the lads?” he chuckles. “They drive a van, they’ve long hair… and they’re definitely selling weed out the back...’

“There was a kind of sympathy for our parents in that that we had been good at sport, gone to college and now we were back, driving a van and smelling of cabbage.”

The odour didn’t last, though, and along with the cabbage, they sold other choice vegetables from the back of their little red van and soon built up a community of followers until the first Happy Pear cafe opened, dispensing free porridge daily to those in need of sustenance.

Today, while undeniably proud of their achievements, Steve insists bigger does not always equate to better.

“We now have 120 people working with us, helping deliver the dream, but Covid-19 has helped us reassess our priorities again,” he reveals. “We had to close one cafe in Clondalkin, but on the plus side, it has given more time to reflect on what’s important in life and brought us back to our original goal of how can we do less but do it better.”

Quality of life remains the primary focus and he thinks it “absolutely fabulous” that his children are best friends with Dave’s two girls, Elsie and Izzy, who live close by.

“My mum’s sister has twin boys and I always thought I would have a set of twins too, but it hasn’t happened, yet,” he says, sounding wistful. Certainly, ‘twin power’ has been a liberating force in his own life, allowing him to support his “idiosyncrasies and curiosities” without fear.

What are they, I wonder? Well, one time, at the Body and Soul Festival in Westmeath, the Happy Pair entertained customers by wearing aprons and nothing else and, at others, they like to practise their yoga just when the spirit moves them.

“Being twins, you kind of have your own support system, so it encourages you to be more yourself and be a bit more, not necessarily wreckless, but less concerned what others think,” Steve explains.

“Like, if I’m at an airport and feel a bit tired, I might just pull over to the side where it’s quiet and do a bit of yoga, which I would never do on my own, but because there’s two of you, you feel more comfortable being a bit different – if you know what I mean.”

The Happy Pear: Vegan Cooking for Everyone, by David and Stephen Flynn (Penguin Random House) is available now.

Cheesy basil and sundried tomato pasta from The Happy Pear: Vegan Cooking for Everyone

HAPPY PEAR RECIPE:

Cheesy basil and sun-dried tomato pasta

100g pasta per person

45g grated vegan Parmesan per person

10g fresh basil leaves per person

30g sun-blushed tomatoes per person

Method:

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to the packet instructions until al dente, but using a 1:5 ratio of pasta to cooking water (so, 100g of pasta per 500ml of water) based on how many portions of pasta you’re making. Drain the pasta in a colander set over a separate large pot so that you can reserve all the cooking water. Set the pasta aside and continue to boil the pasta water for a further two minutes to concentrate the starch.

Put the cooked pasta into its original large pot along with the cheese and the herbs or seasoning. Slowly add the reduced pasta water a little at a time until the sauce starts to come together. As you stir, try to bang the pasta off the sides of the pot so that the pasta releases its starch and this creates an emulsion with the melted cheese. A silky-smooth sauce should start to form.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with a little more salt if needed, though it will probably be salty enough from the reduced cooking water and the cheese.

Stir in the tomatoes, then divide the pasta between wide, shallow bowls and serve straight away, with extra vegan Parmesan on the side for sprinkling over.

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