Guest Post: Can Veggies Go Gourmet?
This guest post is from my new friend on Twitter, Meg, aka @YogaSavesTheDay. She brings up some interesting points! Being a professional chef, I often wonder how my sense of gourmet would hold up to an omnivore's take on gourmet.
The First Lesson is Simplicity
I used to think that vegetarians, and especially vegans, could never be true foodies. How could they really know good food, I’d scoff. After all, the scope of what they consider edible is significantly less than those of ultimate foodies like Brillat-Savarin, MFK Fisher, and now Mark Bittman. Omnivores have a wide-ranging diet from all nutritional sources, from quail to quinoa. But a veggie/vegan? Making vegan “cheese” out of walnuts is not yet a course listing at Le Cordon Bleu…
When I think of “foodie” food, I think of something that stands up to a glass of Chianti or Syrah. Something an Italian or French gastronome would devour. But must the definition of “foodie” encompass cruelly-sourced foie gras or an antibiotic-laden hunk of meat? Vegetarians and vegans alike CAN be foodies if they aspire to impeccable quality using available ingredients. In fact, veg/vegans may even be foodies by the purest definition: their appreciation of fresh produce supersedes omnivores’, because it must stand alone on a plate without the support of meat to round out a meal.
I grew up an omnivore with a gourmand mother. Early on, I learned the simplest lessons about what makes good food special. Only buy what’s fresh, local, and in-season; and above all, use just a few ingredients, only of the highest quality possible.
After going vegetarian three years ago, I had a craving for simplification in my diet. When I see a vegan recipe that starts, “Marinate the tempeh for 30 minutes, then turn and marinate another 30 minutes,” I just turn the page. What could be easy and simple yet mouthwatering and meat-free? I read classic gourmet tomes like The Silver Spoon from Italy and Larousse
Gastronomique from France. It made sense to me. The most irresistible “gourmet” food is inspired by simple food from the country; food perfected by nature and paired by the seasons. What could be more simple (and luscious!) than mashed potatoes with truffle oil, or a fried egg over roasted asparagus? Dishes like fettucine alla funghi, ratatouille, and bruschetta use what is abundant seasonally. Call it a populist aversion to fancy food, but great gourmet veg food balances bright and savory flavors against the backdrop of fresh produce. Simple as that.
When attempting traditional French gourmet technique, it’s easy for veg chefs to go overboard on flavors and spices to compensate for the lack of meat and dairy. Forcing endless new flavor profiles on bland protein sources can quickly become a new form of McFood!
When going gourmet, simple is best. Regular produce on my weekly shopping list includes mushrooms, arugula, lemons, and parsley. In my pantry, you’ll always find very good Italian olive oil and semolina pasta, nuts, olives, kosher salt, and pestle-ground black pepper. Remember: the fewer the ingredients, and the higher quality they are, the more gourmet your
What is your opinion on what makes something gourmet? Does it need to have a lot of ingredients and many steps, or can simple be gourmet?