'There are so many 'easy vegetarian' cookbooks out there - that's not what I want to do'

The Staff Canteen

Cooking a twelve-course tasting menu alone is no easy feat.

Eddie Shepherd has had to find ways of preparing a number of dishes to a high standard without being rushed off his feet. 

The chef, whose singular brand of vegetarian molecular cooking has earned him widespread recognition, has finally released a physical memoir to summarise it. 

Not your average home cook's book, The Walled Gardens is a window into Eddie's mind, detailing his cooky experiments - with, for instance, an entire section on how to vaccum distill aromatics. 

And this is what distinguishes it from the all-too-common easy-ways-to-cook-veggie recipe collection. Yes it is vegetarian, but no, it is not just capturing the zeitgest. 

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Cooking with goggles on 

"I considered removing things like the vaccum distillation because realistically, very few people are going to have the setup to do that and there is a bit of a temptation with cookbooks to think - certainly in the cookbook publishing industry the tendency overall would be to say: 'simplify things, pitch it at people, here's how you make it at home sort of thing' and I was very keen not to do that." 

"I think even if it makes it a bit less accessible, certainly to home cooks, I would rather have everything down with people able to understand everything that you're doing and really get the full sense of why you're doing something, what the flavour profile is and what the technique is." 

Though the chef obviously would like to turn a profit, he is glad his self-published book is absolved of the commercial constraints of working with one of the big houses.  

Why Eddie chooses to break the mould 

One of the recipes that stands out and truly showcases Eddie Shepherd's 'brand,' so to speak, is a scotch-bonnet flavoured chocolate. 

Alone in his kitchen, dishes like this allow him to execute complex techniques and achieve elaborate flavours but not to suffer from the time pressure other dishes may incur.

And while distilling the scotch-bonnet chillies, making the chocolate, fermenting the pineapples all take days to do, he can prepare them ahead of time in batches. 

His inventiveness knows little bounds - other recipes call for a pink pepper distillation, used amongst other things in a sorbet with dandelion cordial. 

He came up with the elderflower masa (made using dried corn, cooked in an alkaline solution to break it down, make its nutritional value more available and its flavour more prominent) dandelion and macadamia recipe included in the book by combining a technique picked up in Mexico City with British ingredients. 

Making Angel Delight gourmet

The chef loves dialling into techniques and flavours which - despite living in an increasingly global food world - don't tend to make it onto our plates. 

However, despite clues to the contrary, the chef isn't out to put incongruous ingredients in dishes just for the sake of it.

Another of his dishes - caramelised white chocolate mousse with Sichuan pepper -  is inspired by a British (albeit unrefined) dessert the chef enjoyed as a child: Butterscotch Angel Delight. 

"Angel Delight is properly cheap comfort," he laughed, explaining that although he doesn't tell guests that he made the dish with it in mind, "every now and again, someone picks up on it and goes 'Oh, butterscotch angel delight' and it reminds you that you're on the same wavelength." 

"As a chef working at a certain level you want to use the best ingredients that you can, you want to make everything as delicious as you can, but you want it to be - if possible - a little bit comforting." 

The combination with pepper came from a recent trip to Chengdu in China, and, capturing the flavour of the spice through distillation, he casts it in a different light. "Often the flavour is knocked to one side by the effect, that numbing effect of eating it." 

The dessert is served with an osmanthus iced tea - an aromatic Chinese flower with tropical notes of peach, which resembles elderflower and carries a unique aromatic flavour in the same way. 

Eddie's pantry staples

And this is what makes Eddie's food so truly unique: by stocking his pantry with unusual concoctions, his one man-band can push on and thrive.  

"I know I'll always have osmanthus syrup, fermented pineapple liquid, things that I feel many people aren't using in the UK. It's a nice way to make the food taste fairly unique to here." 

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th January 2020

'There are so many 'easy vegetarian' cookbooks out there - that's not what I want to do'