Chantelle Nicholson, Tredwells: Four ways with cauliflower and other delicious stories

Chantelle has discovered a number of innovative techniques to make plant-based dishes sing, some of which she explains here

Whilst not being a vegan per se, I have always loved fruit and vegetables. Growing up in New Zealand, meat was a big feature of most meals. Reading about the effect of meat on the planet, in books such as Dan Barber’s ‘The Third Plate’, have impacted how I think about food.

When we opened Tredwells, I wanted to have a good proportion of plant-based options on the menu. I think it makes the dining experience much more enjoyable when you can cater to most diets, without the guests having to mention their needs.

In creating any dish for the menu at Tredwells I have a number of a criteria, which is the same for plant-based or meat and fish dishes:

  • It has to have balanced flavours
  • It has got to be seasoned well
  • It must have texture
  • It can’t be too rich, nor too bland

Chefs sometimes don’t realise that technology can be their friend when working with vegetables. So while a lot of people use sous vide cooking for meat and fish, it’s also a brilliant way of guaranteeing consistency and amazing flavour with vegetables too.

The plant-based dishes we’ve got on the menu at the moment demonstrate some of the cooking techniques that really help to make the very most of the raw materials — the fabulous vegetables. They also illustrate the level of work that can go into making really delicious vegetable dishes.

There is definitely more to be done to change people’s perceptions about value when it comes to vegetables. Yes, meat does tend to be more expensive, but time is the most expensive thing and while you can just put a steak on a plate, you can’t do that with an aubergine for example.

At the moment we have a courgette soup that we make with a roasted vegetable stock — so you get the same caramelised flavours you would with a veal stock. For the creaminess, we add some coconut milk, but not too much as we’re not looking for that flavour. The courgettes are grilled to add a slight smokiness to the soup too. It is served with courgette fritters on the side, to provide a different kind of texture.

Our main course plant-based dish is one of my favourites and it uses one of my best ever discoveries which I only came across recently. The dish is a roasted wedge of cauliflower, with a caramelised cauliflower purée. It’s served with a saffron aioli and for some crunch, pickled cauliflower stems and deep fried cauliflower leaves, cornichons and baked lemon purée. The aioli is the magic bit, as it’s made using aquafaba — chickpea water. Whoever discovered that it had exactly the same properties as egg white is a genius — it is phenomenal!

There is another discovery I’ve made recently in my quest to explore plant-based food further. I now make soy ricotta every couple of days and we use that on the menu regularly. Making your own soy milk is dead easy, it tastes much better and is cheaper than the stuff you buy in the shops. Then you just split it out with a bit of lemon juice and you have your ricotta. You can’t tell the amount of work that goes into that dish but it is delicious, looks fabulous and I’d like to think it would satisfy any meat eater too.

We do label dishes as vegan because I think it’s important for people when they are eating out to do so in comfort, not fear, and I think that this is only the beginning of the movement; whether that’s people who’ll only eat plant-based, or those who want to reduce the amount of meat they eat. I certainly don’t think we’re ready to get rid of meat yet, but demand for more delicious plant-based offerings is only going to grow.

I have a vegan cookbook coming out next April. I’ve worked with Marcus (Wareing) on all of his books and decided it was time for one of my own. I didn’t feel as though there were any vegan books out there written by chefs, and I know that some really do struggle with these skills — particularly when it comes to baking without eggs, butter and cream. I really hope it well test some boundaries and help people create delicious food, that just happens to not contain any animal products.

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