As I was nearing the end of my first week of volunteering, I was treated to a food-filled sunny weekend along the Garden Route in Western Cape, SA. The farm and accommodation provider I work at promotes veganism, with many guests interested in trying this seemingly restrictive diet. With my recent conversion to pescetarianism, and ongoing dairy-free lifestyle, I welcomed the idea of helping facilitate a number of three-course vegan meals for customers.
Little did I know that I was going to turn into a vegan chef overnight.
On Saturday, a trip to Wild Oats Farmer’s Market was on the agenda. Some notes were written before the trip regarding the courses to be served; however, due to the varieties of fruit and veg on offer (along with our hungry eyes) it was decided that any of the produce could serve as an option, and the menus were to be devised later, a la MasterChef. Soon after a trip to the visually-pleasing Fruit and Veg City, the ingredients were gathered and the menus were created.
The starters were soups of sorts (spiced butternut squash | potato + leek soup) served with some lovely seeded bread from the farmer’s market. The main courses were a variation, with many of the produce coming from the vegetable patch in the farm (pea + leek lemon risotto | coconut, chilli + ginger stir-fried vegetables w/ flat rice noodles | mushroom + spinach filo pie | some were served with some roasted vegetables), and desserts were some humble crumbles and tasty chocolate treats (gooseberry + strawberry crumble | apple, raisin + cranberry crumble | chocolate brownies) with sides of either a coconut cream custard or cocoa cream.
It was advertised that a vegan home-cooked three-course meal was on offer. Cooking for paying guests within a niche market opened a different chapter; slightly burnt onions and over-cooked risotto would be no longer acceptable, and after being promoted to Head Chef status, the whole operation reminded me of my undergraduate laboratory days. The precision and organisation required, with a time limit to adhere to, was challenging, as well as continuously delivering creative ideas to the menu.
Cooking vegan meals was tough, and I was well-equipped during the weekend, aided by the many Google searches of plausible alternatives. On the first evening of my culinary debut, a guest with nut allergy was dining, and I had a slight panic as she was eating the crumble I made with coconut oil. Thankfully, she remained alive and well. We were informed that she was highly allergic to nuts, with peanuts being her biggest trigger food; its scent is enough to activate her allergy.
Apart from that initial bump, the next couple of days went quite swimmingly. The last evening, I decided to leave the preparation and cooking to my own devices, and that’s when I turned into a one woman vegan restaurant over the course of a couple of days. I’m not sure if I am able to host more than the size of your typical supper club, but vegan recipes will certainly feature more often into my everyday cooking.