Quest Newspaper’s Journal Weekender interviewed the Sacred Chef about his Vegetarian Cooking Class as part of the Real Food Festival on 10 & 11 Sept 2011
When did you fall in love with food and cooking?
I remember being drawn to restaurants and exotic menu items as a child, trying things like snails and steak tartare when I travelled to Paris with my mother on a trip away. I had this desire to experience great food and was very aware of just how bad Australian food was in the nineteen seventies. I started cooking in high school, doing home economics – which was also a great way to meet girls at the time. I started in restaurants when I was seventeen and was soon the sous chef at Zorba the Buddha vegetarian restaurant in Sydney’s Taylor Square, in the early nineteen eighties.
What’s the first dish you can remember making?
I think something out of a Margaret Fulton cookbook – probably a spinach pie or a quiche. I know that I made so much butternut pumpkin soup in my early years, cooking in restaurants and cafes, that I stopped making it for about 20 years.
What is your background in vegetarian food?
I started at the Rajneesh Meditation Centre as the commune chef, moved to their restaurant in Taylor Square, managed their cafe in Oxford St Paddington, before moving to start Doc Dinkum’s Natural Cafe in Willoughby, Laurie’s Vegetarian Restaurants in Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, Randwick & Bondi before starting my own vegetarian restaurant in King St, Newtown called Rude Rumbles.
What is your favourite vegetarian dish?
I am currently doing a lot of tapas – goat’s cheese and tapenade grilled crostini; roasted red capsicum salsa, buffalo mozzarella and rocket pesto pizzettes; leek and tomato Spanish omelettes.
I also love Thai salads with crunchy raw veg, glass noodles, mint, chilli, fresh lime and toasted seeds and nuts.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegetarian food?
That it is an either, or, situation, when in actual fact 95% of all cuisines are about preparing vegetables, with the cooking of meat and flesh generally being for special occasions. Traditionally most people could not afford to eat meat every night, and whether it be French, Italian, Lebanese, Japanese and so on, these cuisines are rich in recipes for the preparation of grains and vegetables. Now we know, that it is far healthier to eat a diet with a wide array of vegetables, legumes and grains, so it is in everyone’s interest to learn how to prepare these ingredients.
Our diet, unfortunately, reflects the industrial approach to food manufacturing we have taken in the west and we eat too much fast food because we are inundated by its advertising. We need to understand that market forces will not, and do not, take into account our required optimal levels of nutritional health, and we are paying dearly for it, in health costs in our hospitals; when it is too late. Heart disease and bowel cancer, are our top two killers, and they are a direct result of our poor diets, in conjunction with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
What’s the one thing you hope people take away from your Real Food Festival cooking class?
That preparing meals with vegetables is both easy and very tasty – that you don’t have to miss out on meat – rather you can add in lots of delicious dishes made with sensational vegetable produce. It is a mind set thing, more than anything else, we all get stuck in doing the same old things in the kitchen, that maybe mum used to do, and we need to realise that the world has changed. There are now hundreds of fresh ingredients available, that were not previously available in our parent’s generation, so we need to source good quality vegetables and try new ways of preparing them beyond meat and three veg. Cooking classes are a chance to tap into some information and inspiration, get enthused about being alive, eating, drinking and creating something beautiful.