I’ve been in the hospitality trade for 11 years now, and over the time I’ve been fortunate enough to try many unique and unusual meat, fish and cheese dishes and picked out a fair few favourites. It was with great excitement, when on Wednesday 11th July, I joined our brigade of Chefs on a vegan education day with Mildreds at Westminster College in London.
Having been curious about Veganism for a few years and toying with some recipes myself, I was keen to see how the 3 million people in the UK who identify as Vegan get through their day without bacon. To me, it seemed tough and, being in the marketing team, it’s not often you get a chance to see where our Chefs get their inspiration to create such delicious specials.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the college, with our Chefs all dressed in their whites. This wasn’t the first time some of the team had spent the day with Mildreds, so unlike me, they had some idea of what to expect. We began with an introduction from Sarah and Dan about how they have seen a big shift in their own restaurant, with the dessert ratio at Mildreds now being 6:1, Vegan vs. Dairy. This led nicely into a tasting session (no complaints here), starting with delicious raspberry meringues using Aquafaba – essentially chickpea brine. I couldn’t believe how the chickpea water magically whipped up into meringue, and not only that tasted delicious too! I was amazed at how versatile a vegan- diet can be. After a few more tastings, with chocolate truffles being my favourite, the tasks of the day were outlined; three cooking demos and three practical sessions.
I was surprised to find out I too would be taking part in the practical sessions as I was handed an apron and given a group. We were given a recipe sheet, a section to work in, our ingredients and we began cooking. It was just like Masterchef, I was in my element! First up, we had to prep our components of the passionfruit mousse cake, as it would need a few hours to set. Frazer and I were put to work on the passionfruit syrup for the top of the cake, whilst the professionals set about making the cake and the mousse. Mimicking a true kitchen service, we had more than one task in hand, as we were also to make and bake a butternut squash and pistachio borek – AKA a filled pastry. It was all stations go (and as you can imagine) the chaos that shortly ensued, as five teams fought it out for ingredients. Once the time was up and our dishes were made, the judging followed, it really was like Masterchef, and whilst my team didn’t win this round, it was fair to say we put in a good effort!
Next up, seitan, a wheat gluten used as a meat substitute, full of protein and resembling the texture of meat. My eyes were really beginning to be opened to the variety of Veganism. Following a tasting session of that, followed by a Mildreds vegan parmesan, we set about making our very own seitan. Alongside we also made Memphis Bourbon Skewers using Tofu, which tasted so delightful, I couldn’t stop eating them! My vegan education was definitely having an effect and by the third round of cooking, I couldn’t wait to see what we’d be making next. The final was the Seitan balls, to be served with pasta dish of choice, and of course to finish off the Passionfruit mousse cake from the first round. I think at this point our Chefs had maybe had enough of my ‘cooking’, so I mostly observed, leaving them to it. True to form, this was followed by a tasting and a debrief from Mildreds. It was clear that the majority favoured a tomato base for a pasta. And, while my cake may not have looked the best I thoroughly enjoyed eating every bite.
The day was an eye-opener, not only on vegan substitutes, but for our team. I am sure you will see more vegan options making it onto our specials boards and future menus soon. But, alas, before we knew it, the day was over and having been suitably fed, we headed off to the nearest bar, ahead of England’s semi-final defeat. But, that’s a story for another day…