Ten years ago, vegetables barely got a look in at many restaurants. Vegetarian dishes were uniformly dull (goats’ cheese and red peppers, anyone?) and chefs viewed vegans as an annoyance rather than an opportunity. How it’s changed. Over the past decade, skilled chefs have embraced their greens, creating dishes that aren’t necessarily vegetarian or vegan, but that put veg centre stage.
With this in mind, Restaurant and Tenderstem® handpicked a crop of the UK’s best chefs to watch three cooking demos and discuss the elevation of the vegetable. Restaurants represented on the day included Hedone, Frenchie, Marianne, The Coach, The Marksman and Isaac At.
All the chefs present acknowledged a step-change in demand for a more vegetable-centric style of cooking and – with that – changing attitudes to cooking with vegetables. Moreover, they are largely embracing the technical challenges that come with vegetables, fruits and grains. As The Coach’s Nick Beardshaw said: “It’s not that difficult to design a great meat dish. Designing a vegetable dish that gets people excited is much more of a challenge and getting it right is the mark of a skilled chef.”
Trinity and Upstairs at Trinity chef-patron Adam Byatt was up first. Roughly a third of Upstairs at Trinity’s menu can be described as vegetable-centric. He kicked off with one of his small plates restaurant’s most popular dishes: Tenderstem® with bagna cauda, toasted hazelnuts and smoked anchovy. Byatt trimmed the Tenderstem® slightly before blanching for a minute and cooling. He then charred the Tenderstem® for a few minutes on one side before dressing with the bagna cauda – a deliciously rich Italian emulsion of garlic, anchovy and olive oil – hazelnuts and anchovy.
The chef also talked about his partnership with a supplier that collects his food waste and uses it to grow high-quality vegetables. The relationship has inspired a fantastic plate of vegetables and salad items that is on the menu at both Trinity and Upstairs at Trinity. He produced a version of the dish topped with tempura Tenderstem® and served it alongside UK-made stracciatella di bufala.
Next up was Alexis Gauthier, chef-patron at Gauthier Soho. It’s difficult to think of a chef better suited to the day’s theme. The Frenchman is a long-standing champion of the vegetable. While his Soho restaurant does serve some meat and fish, vegetables dominate his menus and the chef also offers one of the capital’s best vegan tasting menus.
For Gauthier, vegetable-centric cooking is about celebrating the vegetable for what it is. The carrot dish he demonstrated was a perfect example of this – a high-quality carrot cooked in olive oil and a little water in a broth made with vegetables offcuts, herbs and miso paste. “I gently fry the carrot in olive oil to seal in the colour before adding a small amount of water so it steams rather than boils.
This is a good way of keeping the flavour in the carrot,” he says. The dish is garnished with a little radish salad and a dressing of olive oil, coriander and chilli.
Now a vegan, Gauthier is likely to make his restaurant even more focused on vegetables over the next few years.
Sameer Taneja – the chef behind highly rated Indian small plates restaurant Talli Joe – cooked two dishes and discussed the importance of vegetables in Indian cuisine. The New Delhi-born chef has an interesting background having trained with The Oberoi Group in India before heading to the UK to cook at The Waterside Inn and Pierre Koffmann’s restaurant at The Berkeley.
While he has spent much of his career cooking meat-centric dishes, he now runs a restaurant in which the four best-selling dishes make vegetables the star of the show. “As a chef that has grown up in a country where a very high proportion of the population is vegetarian, I find it easy to be creative with vegetables dishes. In fact, I find meat dishes more challenging,” he says.
Taneja cooked a stir-fry of jackfruit with banana blossom; and papad ki sabzi, a Rajasthan curry made up of yoghurt and tomato gravy with silky pasta-like shreds of poppadom. Jackfruit is an especially interesting product because its texture is virtually identical to braised meat.
Nine reasons to enjoy Tenderstem®
1 It’s an easy way to five-a-day
Health experts recommend we eat five servings of fruit and veg each day for good health. But, figures from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey reveal that most adults only manage four daily servings, with a massive seven out of 10 failing to get the recommended five. Teenagers are even worse – 11 to 18-year-olds have only three servings of fruit and veg day and a staggering nine out of 10 fail to reach five-a-day. Just 80g Tenderstem® counts as one of your five.
2 It’s good for waistlines
Tenderstem® is a great choice to include as part of a balanced, healthy diet that helps us keep our weight under control. It’s low in calories and high in fibre – an 80g serving contains just 28 calories and 3g fibre – and is perfect for adding variety to our diet.
3 It’s a heart-friendly choice
Health experts recommend we pay attention to the amount of fat in our diet and especially reduce saturated fat, the type that increases blood cholesterol levels, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease. Tenderstem® is free from both fat and saturates, making it a perfect ingredient for heart-healthy meals.
4 It’s naturally low in sugar
Sugar has rarely been out of the news recently and with good reason – most of us are having way too much in our diets. It’s good then that Tenderstem® is low in sugar and the small amount present occurs naturally.
5 It’s packed with skin-friendly nutrients
Tenderstem® is rich in vitamin C, which is needed to make collagen, a type of protein that’s found in many different types of tissue in the body including the blood vessels, bone, cartilage and our skin. If our diets lack vitamin C, collagen can’t be replaced and this can affect the health of our skin and how it looks. But that’s not all... Tenderstem® is also packed with 0beta-carotene, a nutrient that the body converts into vitamin A, which is vital for keeping skin in tip-top condition, too.
6 It’s loaded with vitamins for our immune system
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is one of the best things we can do to keep our immune system working at its best, but some nutrients are especially good at supporting immunity. These include vitamins A and C, together with folate (a B vitamin). Many fruit and veg contain these nutrients, but Tenderstem® is one of the few vegetables that has all three of these in abundance.
7 It’s rich in nutrients
For an energy boost, Tenderstem® is packed with nutrients that are linked to giving us energy. Vitamin C has a role to play in producing energy in our bodies and can help us feel less tired. Folate, too, helps to reduce tiredness and fatigue. And it also contains a nutrient called manganese, which is needed in just small amounts, but is vital for energy production.
8 It contains nutrients that are important for healthy blood
Thanks to its high amounts of folate and vitamins A and C, Tenderstem® can have a role in keeping our blood healthy. Folate is needed to make blood, while vitamin A is needed for the normal metabolism of iron, a nutrient that’s important for making red blood cells and haemoglobin, which transports oxygen around the body. Meanwhile, vitamin C helps the body absorb iron from non-meat foods such as eggs, beans, nuts, seeds and green leafy veg. Vitamin C and iron-rich foods need to be eaten together for the best effects, for example, adding Tenderstem® to a tofu and cashew nut stir-fry, or serving Tenderstem® with hummus, which is made from chickpeas.
9 It contains nutrients that protect cells from damage
Manganese and vitamin C both have a role to play in protecting cells from oxidative damage. Just one 80g serving of raw Tenderstem® provides one fifth of our daily needs for manganese and 45% for vitamin C, making it a great choice for boosting intakes of these nutrients.