Food & Drink: Word of mouth

Feeding the 15,000: Leon Lewis sets out his festival stall
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Indy Lifestyle Online
If he didn't live and work from a detached modern house next to Kwik Fit in Brentwood, Essex, you could call Leon Lewis a cottage industry. Jars of preserved wild mushrooms abound in the functional kitchen and on his porch are sacks of onions and carrots and boxes of aubergines. His back bedroom is a store cupboard for wholefoods and behind his wardrobe are 5,000 copies of his More Vegetarian Dinner Parties (Free Range Publishing, pounds 9.99).

In summer, Leon Lewis is a kingpin of the veggie stalls at festivals such as Glastonbury and Womad, and he is unofficial caterer by appointment to folkie die-hards Fairport Convention, at whose annual Cropredy Festival his stall is also a fixture.

In spring and autumn, Lewis leads mushroom-gathering expeditions around the Green Belt near his home; the day I met him he'd collected a beautiful basket of aniseed toadstools, birch boletus, slippery Jack, coral fungus and amethyst deceiver. October is also the beginning of the buffet season, so there are demonstrations, and there is now the second volume of his collected recipes.

If ever there were a book that should not be judged by its cover it is More Vegetarian Dinner Parties. The flowery tablecloth and erect courgette in a bowl of feta, the snakepit of gherkins in the middle of a plate of dolmades and spanakopitta do not necessarily make it a book to which the hand and eye will be irresistibly drawn. The marketing campaign includes a book cover taped in the back windscreen of his hatchback, and a schedule of personal appearances at PTA evenings across East Anglia. Even so, his last book sold 40,000 copies.

Leon Lewis is not so much challenging preconceptions about wholefood vegetarian cooking, more pushing open the manila envelope as far as unrefined ingredients allow. He only uses brown flour, although the wholemeal pastry in his chanterelle tartlet is as light as it comes. "I don't think I know how to make white pastry," he muses, "but white basmati rice with curry is unsurpassable."

The production of his book is DIY and he picks bucketfuls of nettles and wild garlic from a pub car park. Is this one-man band waging a campaign against the Establishment? No, he is just anti junk food, as the 15,000 people who eat his food each year can testify. That may be small-fry compared with mainstream chefs and caterers, but who else can claim to have turned out so many wholemeal pies single-handed? Caroline Stacey

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