There's more to life than vego risotto

KERRY MCBRIDE
Last updated 05:00 22/08/2012
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PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ

A vegetarian dessert from Dave Verheul from Matterhorn restaurant.

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PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ
Dave Verheul from Matterhorn restaurant.

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You ask a vegetarian what dish they would love to see taken off restaurant menus, it is quite likely they will say mushroom risotto.

Matterhorn head chef Dave Verheul knows all too well that vegetarians sometimes get the short end of the stick when it comes to dinner options, prompting him to put together a mammoth seven-course vegetarian degustation for Wellington on a Plate.

"It was something I've been interested in doing for a while. Vegetarians don't get catered to that well, even in Wellington."

The menu includes a baked potato consomme, beet tartare, and even a "risotto" made of thinly diced artichokes.

"So many restaurants will serve up a mushroom risotto and say they've done vegetarian. It's more than that," Mr Verheul says.

While New Zealand has traditionally had a "meat and three veges" kind of food culture, there is plenty of scope for exciting vegetarian food, he says.

"It's the same as cooking with meat. You just need to work on creating layers of flavour."

If you use fresh ingredients and explore new ideas with fruit and vegetables, there is no reason that vegetarian cooking can't be just as exciting as a piece of steak, he says.

"I'm not a vegetarian myself, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy good food." Mr Verheul first saw vegetarian food "taken seriously" by the head chef at a restaurant he worked at in Sydney.

It was the first time he had seen it treated with proper respect, instead of as an afterthought, he says.

"There was real thought and excitement in those dishes, and that was awesome to see."

While vegetarian meals are not usually the biggest sellers on the menu, it is important to offer variety beyond the usual mushroom risotto or vege stack options, he says. "You can do some cool stuff with it. It just takes a bit of imagination."

DAVE'S TIPS

Don’t freak out – cooking vegetarian food doesn’t need to be scary.

Steer clear of mushroom risottos. Most vegetarians have eaten plenty of them.

Don’t depend on cheese to add flavour. Well-treated vegetables will do that for you.

Approach it the way you would when cooking anything else – think about what different flavours and textures you can bring to the dish.

Think about side dishes and drink options too, to create a complete meal with a range of flavours and highlights.

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