Friday, July 23, 2010

"Such a Pity to Leave Vegetables Only for Vegetarians"

"We need to have more of a relationship with vegetables," says chef Alain Ducasse, as he serves some delicate slices of beetroot, carrot and celeriac that have been gently poached in a light vegetable stock, and coated with a Montgomery cheddar gratin, during an intimate lunch for eight at the Dorchester hotel in London, where his three Michelin star restaurant is housed. He is showing off a new signature dish -- the Cookpot -- which focuses on seasonal vegetables.

Mr. Ducasse is just one of a number of top chefs who, while still offering meat dishes, is placing vegetables center stage, offering creative vegetable dishes and haute vegetarian tasting menus that start at £95.
"Vegetables are important to me," says Mr. Ducasse. "I grew up at my grandmother's farm in Gascony, always eating seasonal vegetables. It can actually be more challenging preparing vegetables than meat. You have to let them speak for themselves."

Two decades ago in the Louis XV in Monaco, Mr. Ducasse, who holds 19 Michelin stars world-wide, created a vegetable tasting menu where animal stock or jus could be used in the preparation of the dish. "I've been trying to push the trend for 20 years," he says. "And now it is slowly changing." He has just launched a totally vegetarian tasting menu in London and may follow suit with his other restaurants. Typical dishes on his new vegetarian tasting menu include a soft-boiled egg with buttery sautéed wild mushrooms and a creamy broad bean velouté. In the first dish, the boiled egg is placed on a "royale" (a savory egg custard) consisting of cream, egg and chopped mushrooms and finished with cooked and raw mushrooms. Meanwhile, in his broad bean velouté, fresh baby broad beans are slowly cooked with olive oil and vegetable stock, before being thickened with whipped cream and topped with crispy croutons.

In another dish, homemade artisan pasta is cooked in spring onion, green peas and vegetable broth before being covered with mashed peas, shaved black truffles and parmesan.

Another chef drawing from his bucolic upbringing in France is Alexis Gauthier, chef and owner of his eponymous new restaurant in Soho, London. "I come from Avignon, and most of my food intake was vegetables," says Mr. Gauthier. "There was always the expectation of the different seasons and what fruit and vegetables [each] would bring." Like a number of these chefs, Mr. Gauthier isn't offering a purely vegetarian tasting menu (although he will on request), but a menu designed to show off vegetables in the best possible way, even if it means cooking them in meat or chicken stock. This can include salsify cooked in a rich beef jus and delicate Cappelletti pasta made with confit of tomatoes, in which tomatoes are marinated overnight in olive oil and thyme until the tomatoes take on an intense, sweet flavor. A heady, al dente truffle risotto is accompanied by treacly brown butter and shavings of aged parmesan. Mr. Gauthier's velvety, chilled light green pea velouté is poured over a piece of smooth soya-marinated tofu, to create a summer dish bursting with freshness.

"I love vegetables but I am not a vegetarian," says Mr. Gauthier. "I thought it was such a pity to leave vegetables only for vegetarians. I wanted to develop a side that makes vegetables the star. If they have the right texture you can play with vegetables like meat or fish," he says.

Read the rest of the story here.

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