Friday, May 12, 2006

Cordon Vert Cookery School

Cordon Vert Cookery School
Vegetarian Society

Last weekend I attended the Far Eastern cookery course at the Vegetarian Society's Cordon Vert cookery school near Manchester. This course marks the halfway point of the diploma course that I'm doing.

It's a two and a bit day course. The first evening the tutor, Chico - who runs a couple of cookery schools of his own and is also chef to the ex-royal family of Germany - gave us a brief introduction followed by a meal that highlighted the kind of dishes that we would be cooking over the next couple of days. During the meal I got to know the other nine students that were taking the course.

The next morning, we all gathered in the kitchen for a demo of what we would be cooking and Chico regailed us with various hints and tips gleaned from his travels. The course is based around the 'real' food of the far east (Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailad etc) rather than around fancy restaurant quality dishes.

After the intro talk we began cooking for our lunch, which included a spicy soup with peppers, lime leaves and coconut, stir fry salad and a dessert made with sweet potato. We also made sushi and a dipping sauce from vinegar, sugar and chilli.

After lunch it was back into the kitchen for more demos. My job this afternoon was to make chinese leaves stuffed with tempeh, ginger, garlic, shoyu, beansprouts and beanshoots. The other groups made various spicy dishes including curries and stirfries and the table was bowing under the weight of the food when we sat down for dinner. After eating everyone sat around chatting until almost midnight.

Sunday morning started with a chat about different oils and vinegars and then continued with a demonstration of different presentation techniques. After a quick demo of some of the dishes we were to cook everyone was split into teams again to cook lunch. I cooked some vegetable fritters and did the melon balls for dessert. Lunch consisted of the fritters, tofu sesame toasts, black bean and yellow rice, kebabs and wonton soup.

The course was great fun, the people that were on the course were nice, and easy to get along with and I can't wait for my next one in a few weeks time.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Melbourne, Australia

As a vegetarian, you are never going to go hungry in Melbourne. As I strolled along I checked the menus of many of the restaurants in the city to see if they had a choice that would be suitable for vegetarians. With the exception of one pie shop, everywhere had at least one meat free option on the menu.

Breakfast is never a problem as most places do a pick and mix and most are happy if you want to substitute one item with another, but some do specific veggie breakfasts. For lunch or dinner you are literally spoiled for choice from the many cafes and restaurants that inhabit the city or the specialised areas, such as Lygon Street that offers a whole host of Italian restaurants.

One place we ate at was a restaurant called O'Connells in South Melbourne ( at which I had a fabulous linguini with fennel and goats cheese. There wasn't a huge choice for veggies on their menu, but it does go to show that even places that are away from the centre of the city can still produce some really tasty dishes.

Further afield, on the Mornington Peninsula, the Portsea Hotel ( served a rather tasty Asparagus and Rocket Risotto with truffle oil and they had two or three other meat free dishes on there menu.

The markets are fantastic. I don't think I've seen so many fresh vegetable, fruits and spices in one place before. Queen Victoria Market's ( food hall is magnificent. There are stalls selling a myriad of different versions of cheese, anti pasti and more different versions of tofu that you can shake a stick at! They also do specialised food nights which are well worth a visit. South Melbourne Market ( is smaller, but still has a huge selection of fresh produce. Organic and gluten free produce seems to be quite big over there at the moment so these add to the already large choice.

I also popped into one of the many Asian supermarkets that are in the city and was pleasantly surprised to find that they stocked most of the mock-meat products that you can get here plus many other kinds of tufu and sauces suitable for vegetarians.

The only things that I could not find in my travels were vegetable suet (which no-one seemed to have heard of), vegetable haggis and Quorn. I contacted Quorn and they told me that they have no plans at present to market their product in Australia which is a real shame, but with all of the other ingredients and produce that are available, I daresay one could live without it.

Soul Mama, Melbourne, Australia

Soul Mama Global Vegetarian Cafe
St Kilda Baths

Soul Mama is set on the beachfront in St Kilda. The restaurant has large tables and offers great views over the bay. On the way in there is an area with a lovely log fire that has cushions strewn around it that would make for a very interesting eating experience I imagine. However, we went for the standard option and sat around a table.

The concept of ordering the food at Soul Mama is very simple. You pay for the size of bowl you would like and then fill it with rice and either four or five other dishes from their buffet depending on the size of the bowl you order.

I decided to start with a courgette, leek and tomato soup which was very nice - not too tomatoey, which (for me) is good. It was actually quite filling and I was wondering how much of the buffet I would actually be able to eat. No matter - I would give it a good try anyway.

The buffet was fairly extensive with a range of hot dishes and cold salads. However, a lot of it was fairly standard veggie fare and tended towards the curry side of world cuisine. Aside from the curries, there were a couple of other veggie staples - pasta and tomato sauce and moussaka.

Now, don't get me wrong, just because I think the menu was fairly standard doesn't mean that it wasn't good. For my part I had saffron rice, vegetable satay, spicy lentils, noodle salad, potato and rice balls and pepper and tomato chutney. With the exception of the lentils, which I found were a bit floury and dry the rest was pretty good. The potato balls were very nice as was the satay - which was quite spicy. The noodle salad didn't have a huge amount of taste, but provided a good antidote to the spicyness of the satay, so I was glad it was there. The portions were ample and you had the choice of having it all served in a single bowl or in a prison/school dinner--style compartmentalised tray.

I didn't have room for a pudding, but they all looked rather tempting.

The staff were very good and had no problem with us waiting for a good half hour or so for another of our number to turn up, despite the fact that we were taking up one of their large tables. The prices are reasonable too. There are plenty of restaurants serving veggie food in St Kilda and Soul Mama is the only purely vegetarian restaurant I tried during my time there so I can't recommend it over anything else, but its definitely worth a go.