Monday, 8 April 2013

Book Review - Great Chefs Cook Vegan

I have left my camera behind on holiday, so will have no photos for this post. I will try to arrange an alternate so have some for the weeks ahead, but until then, sorry, the posts will be lacking visuals!

This book won all sorts of commendations and awards, and aims to show how fancy pants vegan food really can be. A range of top notch "name" chefs from well known restaurants all over the US (not vegan chefs just regular chefs) contributed recipes which they would make for vegan diners in their establishments, should they be given advance warning.

The book itself is a big one, and all the recipes are illustrated with a photo, which is great for this book, and the complexity of some of the recipes included. Even the most confident home vegan cook will find a visual aid helpful with some of the presentations. Each chef is introduced and a little of their background shared, along with a quote to outline their food philosophy. I like how this makes a connection between the reader and the chef, and therefore the recipes.

The recipes are, as you would expect, restaurant quality, many with multiple sub recipes. I feel a number of these are more suited to a restaurant environment where there are more folks to make all the parts, and is likely to be more folks to eat the results. If you're making a sauce that makes 4 cups and you need 2 tablespoons to drizzle on the plate you're left with lots of sauce! In a restaurant environment you can do that, and the sauce would get used up, not so much at home. Another "more suited to a restaurant environment" point I found is that some of the ingredients called for may be hard to source for the average vegan cook at home, at least in small quantities required.

The recipes I made were the more simple ones!
Page 47 Curried Cauliflower with Currants and Pine Nuts
I was a little concerned about all the raw red onion, but adding the cooked cauliflower to this while the cauli is still warm cooks the onion just enough to remove its sharpness but leaves a pleasant crunch. I did enjoy this one a lot.

Page 133 Butternut Squash Soup
Tasty. I did make the stock for it which was very nice by itself too. Really allows the squash to shine.

Page 169 Sauteed Cauliflower with Olives and Dried Fruits
I think there is a typo in the amount of cauliflower called for as 4 ounces for 4 people doesn't compute as a serving size for me, especially with the amount of olives and dates. I used the whole recipe as a side for me! I didn't add the fancy sherry called for, just added some stock so probably didn't get the full taste experience.

Page 214 Lemon Cheesecake with Mixed Berries
I made this using a different (GF) crust. The cheese part was OK, not too sweet, nice lemon touches coming through, but it did still taste quite a lot like plain silken tofu.

Page 230 Yellow Tomato Gazpacho
I made this with regular red tomatoes as the yellow weren't available. Lovely gazpacho really.

Page 262 Soy Milk Panna Cotta with Crushed Blackberries and Vanilla Muscat Sauce
Didn't make the sauce, didn't have the wine. Blackberries were very good! The panna cotta itself I found too firm, I expected a little more jiggle and this set up really really firm. Tasted OK, not too sweet, and lovely with the berries.

All in all this is a good book, more suited to occasion use than the everyday. Many of the dishes are super impressive and would wow anyone. So if you get a chance to check it out I would recommend it. However, I did find while reading through the book that overall the recipes didn't utilise "staple" vegan protein ingredients such as tempeh, seitan, or even beans and lentils, in a way which most vegans would expect. There are some recipes using tofu but these didn't appear to me to be overly creative, or to really embrace the ingredient.

To close, I would really like to see the opposite of this book created (maybe Linda Long would be the perfect person) where "Great Vegan Chefs Cook" - vegan chefs from the top notch vegan restaurants from all across North America donate recipes to showcase vegan food and ingredients as they do everyday in their establishments. I know many vegan restaurants do have companion cook books, and even if the recipes were taken from those already in the public sphere this would be an impressive insight into how great vegan chefs do it, and enable those cooking at home to re-create some awesome food!

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