Pure Vegetarian: Modern and Stylish Vegetarian Cooking

by Paul Gayler

Photography by Gus Filgate

Published by Kyle Cathie Ltd.

192 pages, 2006






Much (Much!) More than Dirt Burgers

Reviewed by Adrian Marks


When I was a kid, a pretty specific picture was conjured when you put the words "vegetarian" and "cooking" into the same sentence. You got an instant image of Birkenstocks, perhaps combined with another image of something atrocious, fairly inedible and vaguely burger-shaped, intended to be slapped between a couple of slices of bread or inside a bun and enjoyed with relish. A lot of relish and whatever other condiments you could find, because you just knew that that thing wasn't about to taste anything like good.

That was a long time ago (think VW buses and fingers extended in a manner hoping to bring peace) and vegetarian cooking has come a long way. A long, long way. Though dirt burgers still exist in certain quarters (and, for the record, I don't think they were ever actually made of dirt, just other brown material not really intended for human consumption) and the progression from practically unpalatable to nearly indistinguishable from "real" food has been gradual. But on reading and cooking from Paul Gayler's latest entry, Pure Vegetarian: Modern and Stylish Vegetarian Cooking, you realize -- very suddenly -- that we're there.

Some would argue that we've been "there" for a while. Hundreds -- if not thousands -- of years, actually. Indian cooking, for example, has always been traditionally long on meatless foods, as have some other eastern cuisines. And, arguably, real Italian cuisine features many meatless dishes, as do other Mediterranean cultures. All of that is true. However, in all of those instances, in those cultures all the stops get pulled when the meat shows up. And the meatless things? Those aren't for feast days and their lack of specialness ultimately shows.

Though Gayler has not been alone in revolutionizing vegetarian cuisine of a truly haute nature, In Pure Vegetarian Gayler pulls out all those stops, bringing us a beautiful -- even sometimes glamorous -- book filled with absolutely mouthwatering dishes in the truest of western senses... yet not a hint of anything meatlike is anywhere in evidence. What we have, then, is cuisine conceived and developed by a classically trained chef -- a really top one, at that -- yet boldly and artfully meatless. And you don't miss the stuff here, not one bit. Chef Gayler explains his rationale:

When I became head chef at one of London's most expensive restaurants, I was happy to cater for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. Other chefs often asked me why I bothered. After all, vegetarians didn't want to eat at such grand establishments, did they? They were just a fanatical lot who didn't have enough to worry about! I saw it differently, however. Why should vegetarian dishes be interesting and imaginative?

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. And in the Three Grain Risotto; the Puy Lentil Bouillabaisse; the Beetroot Caponata; the Stuffed Riesling-Braised Artichokes; the Potato and Leek Flamiche;... I could go on, but I'll stop before I make myself hungry. You get the idea in any case: this is no one's idea of the vegetarian food of the bad old days. And it gives more than a nod to the idea of modern vegetarianism, it embraces the very latest thoughts and trends, including more than a smattering or recipes featuring raw foods.

It should be noted that, while Gayler's instructions are clear and concise, Pure Vegetarian is probably not the ideal book for the neophyte chef, though the moderately experienced home chef should get by quite nicely and even beginners will be able to find recipes they can tackle and expect good results.

Whatever your level of experience, expect to be delighted. A decade after the publication of his first cookbook, Virtually Vegetarian, and with several vegetarian and non-vegetarian books in between, Pure Vegetarian duplicates nothing that this talented chef has given us in the past. Rather it leads the way to a whole new path of vegetarian thinking. "The movement towards a greener cuisine," writes Gayler, "has been long coming, and I'd like to feel I've been a little instrumental in its progress." After reading and enjoying Pure Vegetarian, it's impossible to see how this can not be the case. | February 2006


Adrian Marks is a January Magazine contributing editor.