At this point I must state that I am not a vegetarian! I am a full blooded carnivore and proud of it but in saying that I wouldn’t be any good at my job and I think quite narrow minded of me if I only focused on that side of food. Why is dry aged beef held in such high regard and the humble cauliflower is cast to the side? Why is salt marsh lamb any better than a celeriac? And the simple answer is that it isn’t! We just don’t put as much love into the cooking of vegetables as we do in our meat or fish.
Daniel Patterson , chef owner of Coi restaurant in San Francisco wrote an article for the Financial Times called “Carrots are the new caviar” where he goes into his love of vegetables and how many of the top chefs all over the world are realising this and refocusing their efforts into a vegetable based cuisine.
Chefs like Rene Redzepi, Alain Passard , David Kinch, Alice waters, Simon Rogan and Daniel Patterson have been setting the path for us all to follow and opening new doors when it comes to vegetable cookery.
About 4 years ago I read an interview with Rene Redzepi and he said the best thing you can do with vegetables is treat them with the same level of love as a piece of meat. Marinade them, roast them, baste them, poke and prod them, check them, baste again, let them rest and carve. I took this quite literally and started adding dishes to my menus that followed this approach. Whole carrots roasted in salted butter and thyme took centre stage on the plate. Cauliflowers were slowly caramelised whole for an hour with pine and horse radish root or leeks cooked slowly over smouldering Birchwood until blackened on the outside but beautifully moist in the centre . This approach to menu writing and dish development shaped a style of food that all the chefs working with me at that time have carried on with to this day. It naturally makes a lighter style of food, highly seasonal and is usually something that our customers have never seen before.
As I said I am not a vegetarian but if I was I would be sick to death of the same old generic default vegetarian dishes. Puff pastry and goats cheese, bland pastas or half assed attempts of stuffing a vegetable with something that should have never been anywhere near it, let alone plonked inside it!
Ferran Adria, The legendary chef from El Bulli in Roses, Spain once said that “All products have the same gastronomic value, regardless of their price” and I couldn’t agree more!
Nothing will ever take away my slightly obsessive love for dry aged longhorn beef or slow roasted shoulder of mangalitsa pork but if I was on death row and I had to choose my last meal, how high up would buttery mash, cauliflower cheese, malt vinegar soaked chips or my granddads new potatoes come on my list to choose from?
If I am honest, it would be pretty damn high!
Executive Chef, bartlett mitchell