RUSHING around a professional kitchen, making dishes from scratch and being told that the end result is ‘restaurant standard’ is not something I will forget in a hurry.
That was what happened when I spent the day at the Vegetarian Society’s Cordon Vert cookery school.
As a big fan of Italian cuisine, I could not resist the chance to try my hand at the Flavours of Italy course just down the road in Altrincham.
My wife has also been a vegetarian for around 20 years so that has opened my eyes to a lifestyle choice that three million people have made in the UK.
But what immediately struck me on the course was that out of five of us – including a husband and wife and a mum and son – only one was vegetarian.
It gave an indication how accessible meat-free dining is.
“We get a lot of people on the course who aren’t vegetarian,” said Alex Connell, principal tutor.
“They have a passion for food. That’s the thing that drives people.”
The great thing about the course is that it eases you in gently. You are not just left to your own devices and expected to cook up a storm.
Alex showed us a few tricks of the trade like how to chop an onion quickly, neatly and efficiently and how to make garlic puree using just a knife.
But things soon progressed as we prepared pizza dough and learnt the tricky process of rolling out fresh pasta sheets.
Alex also gave various demonstrations including how to make gnocchi from scratch as well as an irresistible tiramisu.
We then grouped together to decide what we would be cooking as our main dish.
This was when the heat was really on as we were expected to cook with a deadline and minimal supervision.
But there was real sense of camaraderie.
I chose the cannelloni with a zesty lemon and cheese filling and was a little embarassed when Alex had to come to the rescue to help me roll out the pasta sheets.
But mercifully everything else went to plan.
You have to be on your game because one minute I was putting pasta squares in boiling water and the next in an ice bath.
When the cannelloni was in the oven I then quickly prepared some ravioli using freshly made pesto and pasta sheets and rolled out my pizza dough from earlier, adding my own toppings.
We completely blew our deadline but the important thing was we had done it.
And one of the most rewarding parts of the experience is that we all dined on each other’s dishes at the end.
An array of pizzas, aubergine rolls, wild mushroom risotto, biscotti, lemon polenta cake...we had made it ourselves and it was all superb.
And you know what – I did not miss meat at all.
- Alex’s verdict: “The dishes David prepared were really good. Absolutely spot-on. The cannelloni that he made was absolutely delicious and restaurant standard.”
- Flavours of Italy was one of many beginners’ courses at Cordon Vert. But a variety of classes are offered including professional courses.
CORDON Vert’s principal tutor Alex Connell started cooking for his mum Felicity when he was just five.
The first dish he made was jam tarts and he has never stopped.
“Ever since I was a little boy I found it fascinating,” said Alex.
“I remember looking at my mum’s old black and white cook books.”
Alex became a vegetarian when he was 23-year-old when his philosophy degree changed the way he thought about animals.
He added: “We give rights to each other as human beings. Is the difference between a human and an animal so great that we shouldn’t extend some of the basic rights we give to one another to animals?”
The first vegetarian dish Alex created was a lentil bake for his university mates and he has been experimenting with meat-free dishes since.
One of the most common misconceptions he is fighting against is that vegetarian food is ‘boring’ and ‘salad based’.
The 45-year-old said: “Vegetarian food is healthy, delicious, varied and accessible. There’s no rabbit food here.
“Being a vegetarian hasn’t made my job harder but more interesting because I’ve learned more about food and combinations and all those sorts of things.”
Alex, who once convinced a butcher shop worker to become a vegetarian, added: “I think attitudes have changed too because it’s easier now to be a vegetarian than it ever was.
“So it’s not like you’ve got to do all this weird shopping. Everything’s clearly labelled.
“It’s so much easier and more and more people are trying vegetarian food.”