Give peas a chance: Chefs put vegetables centre stage... even in the desserts

Forget meat or fish, the most interesting part of the menu is increasingly the greens - and not just served up with the mains

There's the beginning of a new order in creating menus. It’s a small yet hugely significant restaurant revolution and a most welcome antidote to the absurd transatlantic burger mania. A number of chefs, most notably two-Michelin star chefs Simon Rogan, of Cumbria’s gastronomic arcadia L’Enclume, and Claude Bosi, of Hibiscus, plus Bruno Loubet, of the newly opened Grain Store, are giving vegetables the lead on their menus and on the plate, with meat or fish very much the supporting act. It’s certainly the future I’d like to predict and fits with Socrates’ sage advice some 2,500 years ago: “Everything in moderation, nothing in excess.”

In gastronomic terms, it’s what contemporary New York food guru Michael Pollan, whose recent lecture at the LSE was standing-room only, has pronounced pithily: “Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.” Not only would this positively impact on the environment but on personal and global health, too. In a nutshell, vegetables are the richest sources of vitamins, minerals, fibres and vital phytochemicals with disease-fighting properties.

Rogan is unequivocal: “Vegetables are far more interesting and versatile, I believe, and cooking vegetables creatively to be integral to a dish shows far more skill and imagination than turning out meat and two veg.”

We’re standing in the middle of the 12-acre organic farm Rogan has created from scratch that now supplies all the vegetables, herbs and culinary flowers for L’Enclume and much of the produce for The French, his restaurant within Manchester’s Midland Hotel, too. I can’t help marvelling at the sheer variety, from an amazing bulbous, curvy yellow “summer crookneck” squash and “Aztec” broccoli with edible leaves and flower shoots to striped “Wautoma” cucumber and South American herbs such as quillquina with a citrus, spicy scent and flavour.

Rogan, who together with his former Roux scholar development chef, Daniel Cox, describes himself as a farmer-chef, explains: “We are at the farm every day looking at what is growing and deciding what to put on the menu that day, based on this. The farm is designed by and run by chefs and we’re responsible for everything that grows, which makes us unique and is so incredibly fulfilling.

“We begin by looking through books and catalogues to see what to grow, looking at heritage seeds dating back to the 1900s and experimental breeding seeds developed at universities, too. We then look at all the different varieties of that single vegetable and decide which is best. This may involve growing a few varieties to decide which we like best and at which stage of their development we get the most interesting taste. Once we have the vegetables, we think about what to do next and experiment to see what flavours go with it.”

Back in the dining room – a sparing yet beautiful conversion of a former forge – I tuck into one of the most dazzling vegcentric tasting menus I’ve ever tasted, like a poetic rhapsody to the Cumbrian soil. In fact, it even features a mushroom malt soil besides heritage tomato doused in rosehip with smoked marrow and borage and “Tokyo” turnip (with a spicy, radish-like nuance), hen of the woods, truffle and nasturtiums.

Rogan continues: “We are always trying new things and pushing the boundaries with what we grow. We like to play with flavour, which creates excitement.”

In order to really push the limits, making the most of their vegetables, Rogan has revived the Victorian tradition of “clamping” or burrowing vegetables to force new leaves out of vegetables including beetroot, carrot and snow turnips. “Some of the root vegetables we serve are actually a year old and still taste incredibly sweet.”

Bosi may not grow his own vegetables yet, but his formative years were spent in the kitchen of mesmerising three-star Parisian chef Alain Passard of L’Arpège, who famously gave up serving any meat and veg for several years and today serves a decidedly vegcentric menu based around his own two vast vegetable plots.

“Vegetables are so underrated yet their flavour and texture can be incredible. I like them to play a pivotal role in my dishes,” enthuses Bosi. Hence his consummate creativity with vegetables extends to desserts, too. Hibiscus invariably offers a vegetable-based dessert. Right now it is a Piura Peruvian chocolate tart filled with an astonishing fresh pea and coconut confit served with coconut sorbet. Earlier in the spring, Bosi had an asparagus tart on the menu and, come autumn, he’ll revive his phenomenal cep and macadamia dessert.

Another trailblazing French chef, Bruno Loubet, goes further still in putting vegetables first on individual dish descriptions on the menu of his new London restaurant Grain Store, with any meat element very much the afternote – for example, grilled leeks, smoked crème fraiche, chilled lobster Bloody Mary.

“I’ve been dreaming of opening a restaurant like this for many years,” confides Loubet. “I’ve always been passionate about growing vegetables on a domestic scale and wanted to showcase just how versatile they can be, especially when combined with adventurous spicing.”

Modishly, Loubet has been experimenting with sprouting and pickling, too, besides serving many vegetables raw and using them in desserts, such as in tomato confit and horseradish ice cream.

The venerable Alain Ducasse has always been enamoured of vegetables and now insists that every restaurant in his global empire, whether Le Louis XV on the French Riveria or Ducasse at The Dorchester, always has a vegetable dish (currently asparagus, girolles, Comté Grand Cru) prepared and served in a crockpot that encapsulates local and seasonal elements.

It’s exactly the approach former chef and urban gardener Rachel de Thample advocates in her recent Less Meat, More Veg cookbook, which admirably shows how simpler dishes suitable for everyday meals can be adapted to major on leafy and seasonal vegetables rather than meat (De Thample recommends limiting higher-welfare, animal-derived protein to 50g).

At a recent talk at Petersham Nurseries, De Thample argued how this would lower our impact on the environment, too. She quoted Slow Food International’s “Too Much at Steak”: 15,414 litres is the amount of water needed to produce 1kg of beef; only 322 litres are used to produce 1kg of vegetables – vindication that to eat more greens is the urban barometer of both being cool and doing good.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee