Chefs go vegan for a month

IAN ALLEN
Last updated 11:30 19/09/2012
Ben James
EMMA ALLEN
Healthy: Ben James, the sous chef at Raupo Riverside Cafe, in Blenheim, is going vegan for a month to become more aware of cooking good vegetarian food.
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Just add couscous: Ben James’ recipe for a Moroccan-style roast vegetable salad

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Halfway through a 30-day vegan diet, Blenheim chef Ben James isn't missing meat in the slightest.

He is, however, craving dairy products such as butter, and is missing eggs.

Being married to a cheese-lover wasn't helping matters, he said.

"I open our fridge and it's cheese everywhere."

His first meal when September ends will be free-range eggs on eggy, buttery brioche, Mr James said.

A vegan diet takes vegetarianism to the next level, eliminating all animal products including dairy and honey.

Some practitioners extend the practice beyond food, and do not wear any animal products.

The Raupo Riverside Cafe sous chef was not surprised that he was managing life without meat, he said.

After all, human stomachs were built to be more like herbivores than carnivores, he said.

"That's why we go into a turkey coma after eating too much [turkey] and have to lie down."

Mr James' month-long vegan experiment, along with colleague Diana Kovacs and Hotel d'Urville chef de parte Thomas Cresswell, had already broadened his culinary horizons, he said.

They dared each other, over a few beers, to adopt a vegan diet for a month.

Shortly after his temporary conversion to veganism, Mr James googled "factory farming" and found some horrific images.

"I definitely won't be having battery chicken or caged pork again."

Mr James had also learnt that some famous people were vegans, too, including nine-time Olympic champion Carl Lewis.

And Pamela Anderson.

"Carl Lewis won all his gold medals while a vegan, so it obviously didn't affect his nutrition."

The sous chef had been eating lots of rice, chickpeas, lentils, potatoes and pulses.

Marlborough had plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to choose from, Mr James said.

Beetroot, broccoli and spinach were keeping his iron levels up.

"It takes a little creativity but I'm really enjoying the food and the nutritional aspect," he said.

"When you prepare a really tasty vegan dish you feel so good after it."

You can still make a lovely Thai red curry with coconut cream, Mr James said.

And soy milk in coffee tastes just as good, he said.

"It's been an educational experience. I couldn't understand why honey wasn't allowed but apparently bees actually make honey to store as food during winter. So when we gather that we are taking their food. I'm still going back to eating honey but it's interesting to learn these things."

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Moroccan style roast vegetable salad

1 cup roughly diced pumpkin

1 cup roughly diced peeled beetroot

1Tbsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 star anise

2 Tbsp oil

1/2 cup chopped almonds

1/2 cup chopped raisins

1 handful of fresh baby spinach

Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Toast the spices till fragrant (about five minutes), grind them in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar.

Add the ground spices with oil and diced vegetables, toss to evenly coat and cook till just soft.

Allow to cool slightly and toss through fresh spinach, almonds and raisins.

Serve with couscous and a glass of Seresins vegan-friendly chardonnay.

Mr James is writing a blog at: whatisavegan.blogspot.co.nz.

- The Marlborough Express

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