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Edinburgh’s Alasdair Friend writes about his appearances on BBC’s Masterchef and argues that vegetarian cookery deserves to be taken more seriously. To prove his point he suggests a couple of his own televised recipes.
For me. the initial urge to enter Masterchef, the BBC Grand Prix for amateur chefs, came not through some zealous desire to win a trophy or to cook in fifteen million living rooms, but as a gut-reaction to the first series of the competition. I was determined to be the first vegetarian contestant and to prove that for cooking to be called gourmet. it was I unnecessary to serve up small. stuffed baby birds or lumps of best steak in a pool of liquidised viscera. With effort and imagination meatless cookery has the potential to be stunningly successful and worthy to be judged alongside anything; vegetarians after all. enjoy good food just as much as meat-eaters. Some vegetarians though. do suffer from a form ofprotective diet paranoia, often due to the amount they have to justify themselves. This is changing. but not completely. Masterchef apparently approached the Vegetarian Society with a view to filling the gap that was so noticeable in the last series. Unfortunately. the organisation declined to advertise the competition to its members because it claimed they would never get a proper judging or hearing. Most other contestants I met entered almost as an afterthought and to have a bit of fun. unaware of the extent to which things conspire to make it anything but a piece of light entertainment. Such was the recording schedule that a winner might have to create three separate meals within a week, and cook them
all within the strict time limit of two-and-a-halfhours. Ifyou prefer solitude in your kitchen. then a round on Masterchefis not for you: begin something fiddly. and a crane and four cameras suddenly appear two inches from your face. swiftly followed by presenter Loyd Grossman, celebrity clTef. and attendant questions. That considered. if you are able to adopt a relaxed attitude to cooking on television, then becoming a galloping gourmet for 45 minutes has its attractions; it’s certainly the
largest dinner party you‘ll ever cook for.
In the thirteen odd years since I decided to remove. as Paul McCartney puts it. ‘everything with a face‘ from my diet. there has been the most extraordinary change in attitudes to the concept of meals without meat. Not often now are vegetarians derided or made to suffer the catalogue of double checks: ‘Wot no meat? Wot no chicken? Wot no fish? Wot no meat at all?‘
I‘d be the first to accept though that j
if you were to confine your meat- free diet to traditional British ingredients and cookery then you would very soon become painfully bored and your enlarged stomach would become an object of ridicule. International produce and cuisine are vital in keeping you passionate about what you throw into your belly. The simple economic fact that meat is often prohibitively expensive in many areas of the world means that the cuisine has had to adapt to meat-free meals or food in which flesh plays a very small part. In Egypt for instance. a country that has some spectacular vegetarian cooking. butchers are only allowed to be open for four days a week.
Rummaging around in ethnic shops will throw up ingredients and ideas that open up a whole range of new meals. Good Chinese supermarkets will stock a range of . foods produced in China for vegetarian monks, including mock abalone and duck meat in addition to hundreds of tofu by-products at a fraction of the cost of those in health food shops. My initial Masterchef menu. some ofwhich is printed below. attempted to exploit the availability of international ingredients. and the accumulated expertise ofother vegetarian cuisines. in this case. specifically that ofthe Middle East. and yet deferred to traditional Scottish recipes and produce.
A common cause for complaint among those who don‘t eat meat is the problem ofeating out. Annabel Whittet. editor ofthe Vegetarian Good Food Guide. is convinced that the standard and range ofvegetarian cooking has improved. iferratically. ‘Those who live in large cities have a great deal more choice than those in the country.” she concedes. ‘but Scotland is still sparsely catered for’. I I hope that now Masterchefwill play |
a role in proving that Scotland is far from devoid of interest in meatless
The Menu: Leeks with feta cheese
tour large leeks
two packets or equivalent at pull pastry zatar Middle-Eastern condiment made
of thyme, sesame seeds and lemon
iulce (avallable in specialist stores) 400g of ewe’s milk feta cheese (non-animal rennet)
vlrgln olive oil j one free range egg
The List 3— 16 May 199191