Eddie Shepherd, freelance vegetarian chef

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th March 2015
From developing products, writing books, starting his own supper club and teaching in Athens this is one veggie chef that certainly has a lot on his plate. Having previously worked for Simon Rimmer, Eddie Shepherd is a vegetarian chef that gets more of a buzz developing new dishes than a busy service in a kitchen. Citing Grant Achatz’s Alinea book as one of his biggest influences early on Eddie’s ultimate aim is to make people happy serving vegetarian food his way.Candyfloss, Raspberry, Thyme, Rosehip So starting from the beginning was being a chef always something you wanted to do? I started first in kitchens when I was studying for a philosophy degree, starting as pot wash and then doing a bit of cooking. By the time I finished my degree I found that I really liked the kitchen and that this was what I wanted to do; so straight after uni I went full time. Over the last 10 years I’ve been working through kitchens up until the last couple of years where I’ve done more freelance work.
Signature dish: Halloumi – Cooked sous vide, which at the time I hadn’t seen anyone else doing. But I cook it for a long time which you can’t get with another cooking method The light whipped meringues – again distinctive to me as I’ve done a lot of flavours. Top 5 ingredients: Tofu – huge amount of potential there with it Halloumi – versatile in a dish Caramelised white chocolate – I came up with a way of caramelising that sous vide, since then I’ve don’t a mousse with it. Black sesame – it’s got a great nutty flavour with a strong dramatic colour. Elderflower – strong childhood memories with this and feels very British.
When was it that you worked at Greens? I left about three and a half years ago and I was there for two years from 2010. They structure the kitchen a bit different there so went in as chef de partie and then left as junior sous chef. It was one of the first times working with a chef who was nationally known, with Simon (Rimmer) having a great presence in the media. It was a great learning experience and probably the two years were I learnt the most. When did you become a vegetarian and why did you make that decision? It was not long before I started working in kitchens so around 12 years ago. I think studying for my degree had raised concerns, I hadn’t been terribly comfortable with some of the issues with meat for a while and it made me think about it more in depth. It wasn’t a huge decision for me and it was a case of trying it and it stuck but I don’t try and persuade anyone to go vegetarian, it’s just what suits me. So when did you start to experiment with ingredients? Whilst at Greens I went to Madrid Fusion, one of the big gastronomy festivals in Spain, and I saw Ferran Adrià and René Redzepi there and saw them talking and realised there was a world of exciting food going on but no one seemed to be joining in on that from vegetarian cuisine. I was so fascinated with that and thought I’m going to have to do it and research this myself, it made me realise how much more there was to learn, that and then looking through the elBulli books was hugely inspiring. Was there a lot of experimentation in the beginning?Cucumber Cracker Yes, much less so now but I think when I was first introduced some of the modern techniques I had to get a grip on that so there was an element of. So now I have more of an idea of what works and techniques I work with that are less showy and more practical. So you’ve been called the Heston of the vegetarian world, is that a fair comment? No, you know what these things are like, someone puts it in a press release and it’s followed me round since. It was from a demo I did a few years ago and I did a sorbet with dry ice and the organisers put out all these pictures with me with dry ice and calling me the Heston of the veggie world; it’s a lovely comparison though. What do you think of chefs taking meat off the menu like Bruno Loubet did at Grain Store? I don't think people should feel pressured to alter their menus any particular way. But there is a trend towards people using less meat or making it the less central component in their dish, certainly having more vegetarian options is great.Tofu, Sour Cucumber & Herbs Given the position we’re in globally it seems to make sense, places like noma have hugely lead the way on things like that. If you had to choose one only ingredient to cook with what would you choose? I’d say tofu at the minute as I feel like it’s underused in British cuisine. It’s an incredibly versatile ingredient and it can take on flavours with some simple tricks, you can cook it in different ways and there aren’t many people working with it outside of Japanese cuisine. What was the decision to go into freelance work and product development? I was initially asked to do some recipe development and product testing and from there it developed on its own accord. I found I was reasonably naturally good at doing that kind of thing, I found that I could sit down and research and work the methodical way they needed. Is that why you moved away from restaurants, as there were these opportunities opening for you? It opens up other doors to things like my supper club and teaching, avenues outside of a restaurant that you can put your own stamp of creativity on. Creatively I wanted to be really focused on developing new dishes and for me that creative side is what I got a buzz out of than doing a busy service. It’s still important to serve food to people, as that’s ultimately its point, so doing events, teaching and the supper club is a way to do that without the constraints of a restaurant. Battered Halloumi, Potato and DillSo what was the idea behind the new supper club, The Walled Gardens? It’s an outlet to be creative but I wanted to do it in a way that put as little constraint on what I could do as possible. If I do eight people in a night I know that I can cook for them without needing another chef, I can build in multiple courses and serve the food myself, I hope. What Marc Wilkinson is doing at Fraiche is he has 12 customers a night and is more or less just him in the kitchen, which was a big inspiration for me so I would like to do something like that but out of my own home. I want to do food at a level that no other vegetarian is doing in the UK. It’s the one I’m most excited about as it’s the most personal, no one else has any input on it so I can more or less do whatever I want with it so long as people are happy. Moving onto seminars that you’re doing in Athens….how did this come about, did Gastronomy Essentials contact you? They contacted me, the guy I’m working with who runs Alain Ducasse’s educational centre out there got in touch more of less out of the blue asking if I wanted to do this few days teaching in Athens. It seemed a too good of an opportunity to turn down. It’s really exciting to do something in a different country, I also don’t know much about the culinary scene there so hopefully it’s going to be a real learning opportunity for me and a chance to show off a lot of what I’ve been working on. How easy was it selecting those 22 dishes that you’re planning on creating for the event?Tofu, Dandelion, Pickled Apple Selecting was reasonably easy, I basically picked my favourite stuff that will allow people to see something new but the actual preparing them for teaching has been a huge amount of work. It’s going to be ambitious to demonstrate and present that many dishes over the two days but that’s part of the fun of it. Do you think teaching people about different cuisines is important and would you do them again? I think I would, it’s a really nice way of learning, to actually see someone making a dish and demonstrating a technique rather than just reading about it in a cook book. It gives people that chance to ask questions and really get into the detail of what you are doing but to also understand the inspiration behind a dish which you can’t always get from a book. Who would you say has been your biggest inspiration? Aesthetically, one of the biggest early on was Grant Achatz’s Alinea book, it was like nothing I’d seen at all before. That made me think about just how much impact the visual side of food can have, the detail that he would go into in the recipes and the amount of time and effort he’d take on one small element really made me think about the level of detail needed. How do you set about creating your dishes, where do you get your ideas from? It tends to start with a flavour combination or an ingredient and then I try and make sure I’ve got time set aside each week to be creative, testing out ideas. IMG_0970It’s a little nugget of an idea, then I give myself time to play with that. I’ll then go into work mode and make myself develop and refine that and hopefully I end up with a dish that I can use. Often I don’t but when it works it’s a good system. Where did Easywhip come from? Special Ingredients approached me, I first off looked at techniques that I was using that I thought would be good to simplify. One of the things I was doing a lot of was whipping all different kinds of liquids up into light foams and then dehydrating them to make meringues, for example black sesame. We thought about a way to make that a more accessible technique for other chefs; it led me to this product where people don’t have to go through the processes that I do in order to get the end result. They just add a powder to a liquid, blend it and then it will whip up. What are you plans for the future? Definitely more product development but what I want to focus on is the supper club and more pop-ups. Just getting all that I’ve been working on the past year out there as much as possible but at the same time working on new dishes and techniques. Look our for Eddie's book coming out in the Spring titled 'Modern Vegetarian Chef' containing his work he's created over the last 18 months. Also check out his website to find out more here.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th March 2015

Eddie Shepherd, freelance vegetarian chef