Cordon Vert Cookery School vegetarian cook-off final won

And so we approach the end of Vegetarian Week, which has been a huge success, by all accounts. And none would have felt success more than Gary Ashley, the winner of this year’s Chef of the Future award, announced by Cordon Vert, the Vegetarian Society’s cookery school earlier this month.

The criteria for the finalists was twofold. First and foremost, the competition entrants had to produce a three course menu that would be both appetising and palatable for vegetarians and/or vegans. Once the shortlist was drawn up for the final, the three savvy chefs chosen would then have to prepare those meals in a live cook-off event on the 9th May at The Vegetarian Society in Altrincham.

As Gary was from Southampton, he had to make sure that the trip up to Cheshire was worth while, especially having made the same journey to the cookery school last year, only to finish runner up on that occasion. Therefore, he knew the level of talent he’d be cooking against and that the ingredients he used would have to be wide ranging, complementary and enough to get even a hearty meat-eaters taste buds tingling.

The starter alone would have taken the layman a term of cookery courses to put together; it infused a mixture of tapas that you would be hard-pushed to find anything like, strolling along the coastline of Torviscas Playa, and was a galaxy of tastes, including wild mushroom and sweet potato beefed up with a sprinkle of cumin to name just two of the servings on offer. Certainly not your Spanish locale tapas, for sure.

The main course, however, did incorporate a taste of The Med. Vegetables from the region were combined with cous cous, spinach and roast pepper and even a coriander fritter alongside fruit and nuts to contrast the bitter tasting veg. Then he prepared not just one but three desserts, again combining tastes yet varying texture to wow the judges and cement his first prize.

After the event, Ashley said the award was “the most prestigious accolade of [his] career”, an award that was given based upon, according to Cordon Vert Cookery School’s principle tutor, Alex Connell, everything that the judges were looking for. Not only were the tastes and textures impressive, but also the “care, skill and attention to detail” Ashley put in only went to prove how exciting vegetarian meals can be and also how presentable they are, when imagination and experience come together to create such a winning dish.

For his pains, Ashley is now entitled to a cookery course at Cordon Vert to the tune of £1,500, which is taught up to the nationally recognised Professional Diploma standard. He also takes away his own set of Cordon Vert embroidered whites, the Chef of the Future 2012 title and a bottle of champagne to toast his success.

For the runners-up, Olivia West and Natasha Koncewicz, they now have the experience to go one better for the 2013 event. As Gary proved, knowledge is king and the girls now have an insight into just what it takes to win this coveted vegetarian cookery course award.

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Vegetarian meals out – it’s all a matter of scale

Vegetarian Week was always likely to throw up a few contentious issues. Eating out is just one of the many that those who have chosen the vegetarian or vegan are hoping to highlight and change as we approach the halfway point of the week.

Last year a survey was conducted across the whole vegetarian nation (well, those who took part, at least) called The Big Veggie Survey – within its many questions was a section that looked at dining out, given that the popular belief is that, if there is one vegetarian in a group the options open to the party diminish rapidly. And the survey did little to disprove this theory, putting a price tag on what the catering industry, particularly the pub and restaurant sector, are missing out on in the way of vegetarian dining: £1.8bn.

All in all, vegetarians total spend on eating out is estimated at £2.5bn – the figure of £1.8bn comes from the fact that almost three quarters of all of those surveyed are completely dissatisfied with the menu options available to them when they dine out. This really needn’t be the case – with most renowned cookery schools, they run cookery courses designed by vegetarians for vegetarians. But something is getting lost in translation.

The hang up on fish is the key issue

The survey found that, within menus that highlight a vegetarian option, 85% of those offerings promote fish as being the main choice aside from your red or white meat dishes. The problem herein lies in the fact that only 3% of people who have chosen the veggie way of life actually eat our finned friends.

And this is not just a case of pubs and restaurants getting it wrong, either. Cafés and workplace canteens were likewise included in the survey and Liz O’Neill of the Vegetarian Society is worried that the people creating the menus and tagging them as an option for herbivores are so out of touch with the market they purport to serve that “vegetarian customers are right to be concerned.” You have to see her point – there is a big, no, huge marketplace out there for anyone who is interested in testing the water and can take the time out to really understand what the niche needs and can learn to cook vegetarian, irrespective of their own dietary tendencies.

At any given time, this website has five different cookery schools to choose from. Why not see if any of these here cookery courses we have on offer could kick-start your venture into this needy market place? If you don’t, someone else surely will.