Twin ambition: The Happy Pear on life, love and lockdown 

The Happy Pear have just launched their latest book, the ultimate teach-a-man-to-fish cookbook. They tell Helen O’Callaghan about lockdown gains and losses, about what it was like to turn 40, about how twin-ship can be hard on romantic relationships – and about what they’d love to do this summer.
Twin ambition: The Happy Pear on life, love and lockdown 

In recent months Stephen Flynn, aka one half of the Happy Pear, has been getting close to sourdough. “I used lockdown to finesse the art of sourdough – I’ve been eating a lot of bread.”

The whole-food-advocating, vegan-eating identical twins are in the process of opening a bakery and their fourth cookbook published last week – The Happy Pear: Vegan Cooking for Everyone, billed as ‘a vegan cooking bible, perfect for the plant-based newbie and expert alike’.

As for most people, for the twins – who “quaran-twinned together” – lockdown was a mixed bag experience of enrichment and challenge. One of their Happy Pear cafés – the one in Clondalkin – won’t be reopening. “That’s been difficult and challenging. There’s a wonderful community in Clondalkin and great staff. On a personal level, we felt some guilt we’d let the team down – but with entrepreneurship you have to embrace failure. And maybe it isn’t failure – but a lesson we’d over-extended.”

Lockdown gave space to reflect on what’s important, to spend more time with family, says David, whose daughters, Elsie and Issy, are nine and seven. 

“We’d got used to eating from the cafés. During lockdown we had to cook a lot more. One of my daughters didn’t even know I could cook! Friday night was burger night – vegan burger – with chips, all the sauces, mayo and ketchup. Always a winner! And Flynn Island Stew – lentil stew – an easy one I know they like. I made up a story around it, so when they have it they’re eating the story too.”

Such a delightful flight-of-fancy might be more typical of Stephen, who – the twins agree – is “a bit more idealistic, has an artistic streak and a philosophical approach”. Stephen – says David – gets lost in the craft of something, in the romance of sourdough, of roasting coffee. David’s more grounded. “I enjoy writing, reading. We’re similar, but Stephen likes more stimulation (always being on, going full-tilt) than I do.”

They rarely disagree – unless over the writing of a recipe, a cake ingredient. “Our power together is far greater than one of us winning – if one of us wins, it means the other loses,” says Stephen.

“It’s not Utopia – we’re human with the full range of emotions,” David quickly adds. “We’ve got our good and bad days, but we prop each other up.”

What does he get about you? I ask whichever of the pair wants to answer. “Everything,” says David. “I don’t have to explain myself – he gets it.”

“We’ve been womb-mates. We were once one,” elaborates Stephen.

In fact when they participated in a UCD-based twin study some years ago, they were found the most identical of 60 pairs of twins assessed – 99.9% recurring identical. But the nature of the identical twin relationship can create issues for wives/partners. “Our relationship together is a lot longer that that with our partners. Being an identical twin is such a strong relationship – different to normal siblings – we’ve always been part of another half. That can be difficult for partners.”

Separated from his wife six years, David says: “We’re great friends. We’ve a very good parenting relationship. But being an identical twin is a different dynamic – that was a factor.”

Turning 40 last December, neither felt the “societal expectation of a big party” was for him. Stephen wanted to go back to basics, do something quiet with family. 

David, saw it as time to reflect at the beginning of his fifth decade. The day started with their “daily baptism”, their “swim-rise” – a swim in the sea at sunrise. In the moment, it can be hard – “you get out of bed, the last thing you want is to step into the cold sea” – but long-term it helps their mental wellbeing.

“We go down, meet friends – pre-Covid, there could’ve been 30-50 people swimming with us – get our feet in the sea and collectively overcome this hurdle. Facing your fear early, it’s easier to have more grace during the day,” says David, who finds the dawn-time shock encounter with the sea combats anxiety, any future-focused fears. “Getting in the sea gets you back to the present moment. It’s very cathartic.”

On their birthday, their friends brought cake, they had a little party on the beach, followed by lunch with their mum, Ismay, in one of their cafés, and later a coastal walk with dad Donal. And no presents from one to the other – for each, it’d have been like giving himself a present.

With their parents on a plant-based diet for 10 years now (“when we first started, they didn’t know where to put us”), they’re thrilled about a more recent convert: their younger DJ brother, Mark, recently returned from Berlin, where he’d lived eight years. “He can’t believe how much weight he has lost. It’s catalysed a lot of changes for him – he’s training more and interested in where food comes from.”

On the morning of our interview, Stephen made breakfast for Mark: lots of chopped fruit – cantaloupe melon, strawberries, blueberries, apple – mixed with berry compote, served with coconut yogurt and pecan nut butter. “Mark was chuffed – we sat in the sun having brekkie together.”

Dad-of-three Stephen’s seven-year-old son, Theo, loves nut butter too (Stephen recently got a nut press), while Ned, 3, loves avocado, and May, 9, makes pancakes “with any degree of sweetness” (the children are bilingual – mum Justyna’s from Poland).

So what are the Happy Pear’s plans for summer 2020, as we all feel our way out of lockdown? David’s hoping to go with his family in August to Belgium – where partner Sabrina’s from. Stephen says the brothers were meant to go to Noma in Copenhagen – four times voted best restaurant in the World’s 50 Best list – in September. 

It was a 40th birthday present – a really great present.

But like so much else currently, it’s a wait-and-see for the boys as to whether they make it this year.

A vegan cooking bible by the Happy Pear

Having led the plant-based food movement in Ireland for over 20 years, the Happy Pear understand the idea of vegan cooking can be daunting. Their new book distils 20 years of plant-based cooking experience into ten chapters.

It walks the cook through the principles of flavour and texture, and gives adaptable recipe grids and diagrams to show how the same steps, techniques and ingredients underpin many different dishes. It’s a book that aims to help you develop the confidence to adapt recipes to your taste and come up with your own from scratch.

It features breakfast dishes (from granola to the homemade vegan fry-up), soups, salads (green, grain and bean to suit every taste), burgers, pizza, pasta, curries, pies, sweet treats and more. You’ll learn how to make cosy comfort food from store cupboard essentials: vegan korma, mushroom risotto, creamy broccoli pie and shallot, wine and thyme gravy. And it has a recipe for the famous Happy Pear basil pesto!

“It’s a fundamentally different book,” say the brothers, adding that their other three books – which together have sold one-quarter of a million copies – are recipe books. 

“This one teaches how to cook, rather than just follow a recipe. It breaks it [cooking] down into a framework and principles, where you can interchange ingredients,” explain the twins.

The Happy Pear: Vegan Cooking for Everyone is published by Penguin Life and is available nationwide, price €20.

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