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
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
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

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform