ACCORDING TO MANY meat eating types, vegans get to choose from a very limited selection of food, if they get to choose at all, because after all, they only eat carrots and lettuce and broccoli, right? I’m not sure which is sillier – the sheer ignorance or the burning irony.
As I’ve headed closer towards veganism, I’ve noticed that while my range of food might have contracted, I’m eating a more varied selection of meals. “How’s that possible if you’re going to cut out eggs and dairy?” I hear you ask. While it’s true that certain foods have to be given a miss, I’ve become more creative and started to experiment with ingredients and recipes that I’d normally never bother with. So I’m making more home-made soups, getting stuck into the most amazing fresh fruit salads, combining interesting bits and pieces in salads and stir fries and introducing things like quinoa, wild rice and barley to my diet.
When I went vegetarian back in the ’90s I soon noticed that the meat-free foods I was eating tasted better and better. Even plain veggies were just lovely, and a simple snack like an olive ciabatta roll with good mozzarella and fresh tomato drizzled with olive oil was a slice of heaven. This seems to be happening all over again, just more intensely, especially with raw foods.
So while I’m no gourmet chef (not even vaguely close), I’m getting out of my comfort zone, learning a lot and enjoying myself a great deal. On the other hand, someone who is a serious vegan chef is Jinu Abraham from Hector’s Restaurant at The Heritage in Auckland. He won the NZ Vegetarian Dish Challenge 2012 earlier this year, so he’s obviously got the ability to cook up a storm, and I was thrilled to be able to attend the special three-course dinner event earlier in October that was held to celebrate World Vegetarian Day (1 October) and World Vegan Day (1 November).
I had some superb and like-minded company in the form of fellow Doctor Feelgooder Gary Steel and his lovely wife Yoko. We were all starving so we tucked into the slices of artisan bread that were on the table, served with Paul Holmes Frantoio olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette, while we perused the menu and chatted about all things vegetarian.
All three of us were anxiously awaiting the entree, which was a local parsnip and bean curd mousse stack with almond olive oil, onion crumble, avocado and mandarin puree. Never in a million years could I have come up with that list of ingredients and it would take more time than that to get it to come together quite this well. Each of the subtle flavours tied together really well, without any being overwhelmed. This course ended up becoming quite a challenge – to try each of the various combinations before the small portion ran out.
The main course was even more intricate – a kumara and macadamia ricotta gratin with beet gel, wild rice, seasonal baby vegetables and grilled artichoke. This course was also delicious and although the gratin was a touch dry, I understand that this is what happens in an environment where the kitchen has to prepare a large number of meals to be served simultaneously on a somewhat indeterminate timeline – on a normal day, I suspect that this wouldn’t be an issue. It was still tasty though, and the baby veggies were done to perfection, complementing the beet gel very nicely. Again the portion was quite small as can be seen from the photo, but that is the fashion: when I want a gigantic meal, I know to head for other venues. This is haute cuisine, after all.
Desert was “A Taste of the East” according to the menu, being made up of a number of items: spiced jaggery custard and coconut sago pudding with licorice crumbs, sweet melon, chocolate sorbet, ginger froth and lychee puree. This selection was scrumptious, with every element working together really well. The sorbet in particular was excellent.
As a showcase as to just how intricate vegan food can be, this meal served to broaden my horizons somewhat and to encourage the creation of some of my own interesting ingredient combinations. This type of food is a far cry from a bowl of Pau Bhaji but no less enjoyable. I’ll be returning to Hector’s in the near future to sample the standard menu, and then I’ll write up a formal review. ASHLEY KRAMER
For more information about Hector’s and The Heritage, click here.