'_ I M eatl n g o ut I I I 0 rm 0 I s m 28,000 adults may be becoming vegetarians every week', as the Vegetarian Society claims, but, argues Catherine Fellows,

vegetarian cooking is still in its infancy.

Pierre Levicky was philosophical when his new vegetarian French restaurant was slated in The Independent recently. He had copies of the review made into table mats and created a recipe in honour of

Emily Green, the wielder of the poison pen. He was even magnanimous enough to admit that many of her criticisms were justified. Since then he has appointed a new chef, and together they battle onward in their quest for the perfect meat-free escalope.

From the amount of chicken she sank her teeth into elsewhere in her article, it is obvious that Green is not a vegetarian. Ifshe were, I doubt she would have been so dismissive of a place attempting to offer something desperately hard to come by: elegant, imaginative European food without meat or fish. She has, it would seem, never sat and watched a partner tucking into an aromatic game casserole, while fiddling with some indeterminate stir fry, the only vegetarian ‘choice’ on the menu. Nor has she leafed despondently through Elizabeth David. drooling over recipes for pommes dauphinoise, glazed carrots and leeks in red wine, but stuck for how to create a meal of these alone. I have, and I ended up either abandoning the whole idea in favour of Madhur Jaffrey, or

in Life With Artichoke by Hippoiyle Chalgnet, taken from The Heritage 0t French Cooking (Ehury Press £25)

copping out and buying a fish.

The fact is that to make French cuisine in all its glory accessible to vegetarians needs pretty radical work, and anyone brave enough to try should be encouraged, however solid his mushroom boulettes his ‘faux moules’ are initially. The thing that makes French cuisine so special and worth replicating for vegetarians is its subtlety, the specific, understated harmonies of flavours that have evolved through the efforts of generations of chefs. But this is also what makes it so difficult to adapt: just leaving out this or adding that will not work.

Not surprisingly, it is the main courses that have been the greatest challenge for Levicky and Nick Carnegie, his Scottish chef at Edinburgh’s Pierre Lapin. Between them they have raided Waterstone‘s cookery shelves, scoured Chinese supermarkets and wholefood shops, and spent hours in the kitchen experimenting with vegetables to get the most intense flavour from them. Levicky believes you need far more skill to cook vegetables, because they are so much more delicate than meat intuitive skill, because received techniques are often inappropriate: you wouldn’t think twice about adding a stick of celery to a beef casserole to add flavour, but the same quantity in a vegetable one and you taste nothing else.

The other important thing they are developing is ways of holding vegetables together in an attractive unit on the plate. For example, Carnegie developed a rich red

cabbage, plum and fennel ragout, but was stuck for how to present it until he hit on the idea of rolling it in dough and baking it to give it a bread crust. He has used omelette bases. baskets moulded from rice flour pancakes, brioches, pastry tartlets and filled them with everything from warm avocado to ratatouille and goats’ cheese to quails’ eggs and hollandaise sauce.

So far at Pierre Lapin it has been a matter of trying to achieve an intensity of flavour and coherence equal to that of meat dishes. The different components of the dishes have been assembled with deference to principles of balance, contrast and texture, rather than with a view to approximating specific classic recipes. However, Levicky’s enthusiasm for the boulettes, which he serves in Pernod and garlic butter as he does mussels in the Pierre Victoire restaurants, and for his grated, compressed sweet potato escalope which he fries as though it were veal, suggests that he would be interested in what Albert Smith is up to at Edinburgh’s Black Bo‘s restaurant which has recently become exclusively vegetarian.

Smith, unlike Levicky or Carnegie, is himself a vegetarian, but uses meat

Perhaps his greatest secret is alcohol -ior him, it isthe surest immediate injection of strong flavour.

recipes as a jumping-off point. He finds the existing vegetarian repertoire served up by cookery writers and restaurateurs very limited, except, that is, for Indian which he holds to be supreme vegetarian cooking. He believes through careful cooking you can achieve the richness and interest of a meat dish, and that much of the appeal of the original lies in the flavours that were added to the meat anyway. Few vegetarians actually like the taste of meat; what is important is to build up some vegetarian base as a medium for other flavours.

A good example of this is Smith’s mushroom pic that exploits the combination of alcohol, spice and fruit often used in game cookery. He

fries mushrooms quickly with madeira and coriander seed and a julienne of vegetables, and binds this together with a puree of potato, lentils and egg before baking it in a pastry case. He chills it to ease slicing, reheats it and serves it with a sauce of plums, honey and port. Like Levicky and Carnegie, he is learning as he goes along. Initially, he had used lentils alone as the binding agent, but finding their flavour too much, tried potato puree, and it was a success. Smith relies heavily on eggs - not for omelettes and quiches, but as binding and lightening agents. It is the egg in his deep fried spicey nut pakoras that lifts them above your average nut rissole: during cooking they expand and become light and crispy. Likewise the cashew nut kebabs, laced with coriander like lamb shish, and alternated with cubes of cucumber on the skewers. These are served with a hot pepper sauce, the pakoras with yoghurt and créme de menthe. Apart from these ‘meaty‘ dishes, Smith makes casseroles using reduced tomatoes, pulses or ground nuts to form a rich base and then adding the vegetables at the end to preserve their taste and texture. Perhaps his greatest secret is alcohol - he uses anything from wine and whisky to peach schnapps and plenty of it for him, it is the surest immediate injection of strong flavour, and the thing for which he is most endebted to the French tradition.

What these two quite different examples demonstrate, in their failures as well as in their successes, is that producing elegant vegetarian food takes an enormous amount of careful thought and preparation. It is a myth. held by many meat restaurants, that you can simply throw some wild mushrooms in a pan and your vegetarian customer will be satisfied. We have a long way to go before Britain’s three million vegetarians and four million demi-vegetarians are as well catered for as the meat eaters, but ifthe energy and enthusiasm of the pioneering chefs I have been talking to is anything to go by, we will get there.

Pierre Lapin, 32 West Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, 03] 668 4332. Black Bo’s, 57/61 Blackfriars Street, Edinburgh, 031 5576136.


I Spain event Cafe Tres. Centre for Contemporary Arts. 346—354 Sauchiehall Street. The CCA‘s resident cafe, run by the people from Restaurant Barcelona, comes into its own while the Centre’s Young Spain season runs from Wed 21—Sat 31 October. To keep you in the Iberian spirit ofthis festival of dance. performance. installation

and debate. Cafe Tres will be serving up its successful range of Catalan and

: Spanish food and drink.

I Irish ayes Tron Cafe-Bars. Tron Theatre. 63 Trongatc. Meanwhile the Tron‘s cafe-bars are capitalising on the extensive city-wide festival of New Irish Theatre by including an Irish dish on the menu every day. The festival runs Wed 14 Oct—Sat 14 Nov.

I Indian discounts

Glasgow's chain of Ashoka restaurants has teamed up with Tramway to offer ten percent discounts to audiences at the Katha Chethena Kathakali Troupe (Tue le—Wed 21) and the Chandralchka Group (Thurs 22—Sat 24 Oct). Show your ticket at any of the following restaurants and claim your discount: Ashoka West End (041 3390936). Ashoka South Side (041 637 801 l ), Ashoka Johnstonc (0505

22430), Ashoka Aston Lane (041 357 5904). Spice of Life (041 334 0678) and Ashoka Paisley (04] 887 0567).

I Beer Fest I Motherwell Music Festival rounds off with the annual Beer Festival in Motherwell Concert Hall on Fri 9 (5—1 1pm) and Sat 10

(l lam—l 1pm) with beers from Sweden. Denmark, Finland, Germany, Belgium and Britain available for tasting.

' Edinburgh

I Beer Fest ll Edinburgh Traditional Beer Festival. organised by the Campaign for Real Ale takes place at Meadowbank Sports Centre, Thurs 8—Sat 10 Oct, until 11pm each night. There‘s a wide range of real ales and a programme of music to keep you entertained. I Tall Fount Supporters The traditional Scottish

method of raising beer

from the cask by air pressure (as opposed to

i the English method of

drawing it by suction) is to be encouraged say the Scottish Tall Fount

i Supporters. lfyou agree, you can meet them in

Bennet's Bar, 1 Maxwell Street,Morningsidc on

Tue l30ctat7.30pm

where they‘ll be discussing, they promise. ‘everything under the sun except beer.‘

78 The List 9 - 22 October 1992