Firstly, some people have asked me, “Matt, what does it look like behind the scenes at MattChefInTraining? How do you write your glorious prose and, occasionally, poetry?” My adoring fans, I grant you a rare photo. Here is my typical blog-writing set up.
Now the main event. People: I went vegetarian for a week. I’ve eaten as a vegetarian before, though for different reasons. I’ve been an I-don’t-want-to-clean-up-the-chicken-juice vegetarian, a maybe-I’ll-wait-until-payday-before-I-buy-a-big-piece-of-meat vegetarian, and a my-housemates-are-all-vegetarians-and-let’s-just-see-how-this-goes vegetarian.
This time around, I became a vegetarian for one reason: to get a mark on my blog assignment. “But what kind of vegetarian should I strive to be?” I asked myself. “WELL, SELF?! GIVE US AN ANSWER.”
Here it is: I will be a vegetarian whose refusal to eat a) the flesh of animals and b) any product whose production requires the death of an animal. By “animal” I mean any organism belonging to the kingdom Animalia. There are some caveats, here, as you would expect with many moral positions. Eating wheat that has been harvested in the Prairies probably led to the deaths of many insects. The wheat was transported along rail lines that displaced natural habitats during construction. Maybe there was road kill along the way as a delivery truck brought bread to the city centre. But, like… what do you want from me? We have to draw a line somewhere. (This, coincidentally, is the basic retort to many challenges to moral positions: “What do you want from me? Come on! I’m trying…”)
Breakfast: eggs and toast. I visited the hen that laid that egg, and it’s doing ok. Thus have I started my journey into vegetarianism. I should buy some anti-meat pamphlets.
Lunch: tri-citrus shallot dressing over arugula with goat cheese and roasted pecans. More animal products, here, though not requiring anything to be killed.
Dinner: I went to a vegetarian restaurant. I didn’t cook, but I ate a veggie burger at F**** (no free advertising on MattChefInTraining). Here’s the thing: this is a delicious vegetable burger partially because it doesn’t try to look like or otherwise imitate meat. It is a proud assemblage of spices and grains and vegetables and flours. It was topped with a peanut Thai sauce, thinly sliced green onion, and bean sprouts. Good work, F****.
Breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. I didn’t have it.
Actually, I didn’t even eat much today. If you don’t eat any food you’re also not eating meat, so it counts as vegetarian!
I procured some anti-meat pamphlets. They’re pretty convincing. So, in the real world, I’m not a vegetarian. I recall a conversation I had with a committed vegan. I said that I thought abstaining from meat was morally virtuous but was not a moral duty. She thought a vegan lifestyle was an imperative. Thus did we disagree.
I received a gift. I clutched the wrapped gift to my bosom and felt its exterior. Hmm… a book… sharp corners. But the book cover is soft… like a cushy leather bible. “It’s not a bible, Matthew.” What was it? A vegetarian cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi.
Let me share with you an example recipe: take some carrots, cut them up into big pieces, toss in olive oil and honey, salt, pepper, crushed coriander seed, and toasted whole cumin seed. Then roast the carrots until done. It was tasty. I promise.
But that is not the recipe that I will share with you for the purposes of getting a grade. Please proceed to tomorrow (below, “Friday”).
Check this sick recipe out:
3 c. leeks, rough chop
4 c. cremini mushrooms, rough chop
4 c. vegetable stock, fortified
3 Tbsp. butter
1 c. milk
pinch Herbes de Provence
4 sprigs fresh thyme
kosher and ground black pepper (to taste)
My dear mother gave me this recipe, and I altered it slightly.
HERE IS HOW YOU MAKE THE RECIPE IN CASE YOU WANT TO MAKE THE RECIPE.
Sweat the vegetables in butter.
Add Herbes de Provence.
Add fortified vegetable stock (which I made by adding mirepoix to some store bought veg. stock and simmering for half an hour) an simmer for five minutes.
Blend well in food processor.
Add milk and thyme and heat it right good!
Season with salt and pepper.
Eat as you wish.
Clean up your freaking mess (this step is left out of many recipes).
Here is what I thought when I ate it: “This is really good but it would’ve been slightly better with chicken stock instead.” Sigh…
I ate some food, which included: chocolate chip banana bread, buttermilk scones and homemade strawberry jam, pain au lait with tahini and garlic yogurt spread, roasted pecan, roasted almond, raw cashew because I didn’t bother to roast it, pasta in tomato sauce, garlic bread, RED WINE, and some raw vegetable that bored me.
I really wanted to eat some smoked meat though. I didn’t eat it, but I reaaaaaally wanted to. Oh, yeah, I also had a tri-citrus dressing over arugula with goat cheese and maple syrup infused salt.
And in the end, I come to the day before my vegetarian diet’s expiry. You know, during the week I told one Chef that I was a one-week-vegetarian. He laughed at me. But, you know, you gotta take as good as you give.
I think the easiest way to maintain this diet while being a chef is to simply remove meat from the diet and not worry about approximating the flavour or taste of meat using vegetables. I think it’s a big hassle to try to make vegetables seem like meat. As Ottolenghi says in his most recent cookbook, ‘Vegetables deserve to have a starring role at the table; they shouldn’t always be a side dish.’ Chef Ottolenghi does eat meat however. He likes it, he eats it, but he thinks that vegetables are more versatile than often thought.
I will not be continuing with this diet. I enjoy eating meat. I like the flavour and I like the texture. This is a selfish reason to eat an animal that has been killed for your pleasure, so perhaps I will undergo an existential crisis in the next few months. In the end, however, I think I will eat meat with more awareness.