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Can you be a vegetarian and a gourmet?


wgallois
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'Can you be a vegetarian and a gourmet?'... snatch of conversation overheard at The Merchant House in Ludlow. They thought not, though I was trying to be both. Who was right?

Neither... it is not something one could answer as as yes or no. Many would want to, but that is mere human need to put others down in a fragile need for self-affirmation. Unfortunately we have been trapped into defining people under broad labels. For we have little time for any meaningful insight into the world of another.

I have known Gourmets in India that cooked foods (meats and vegetables) without ever tasting and could tell you by smelling a sauce and touching it what ingredients had gone into it and also duplicate the recipe with great success. What does one call them? Avid foodies.. gourmets... or simply people that love food.

Their own eating habits are a very small part of who they are. In fact, if they were not the consummate gourmets they really are, the world would have been robbed of enough good food for those that consider themselves gourmet to enjoy and savor.

I think it takes passion, interest, inquisitive personality, sense of adventure, a love for what is new, a deep rooted respect for what is classic and time tested and also a certain maturity of thought and deed to be called one that is under any label an authority in any art or craft or hobby. Why would it be different for food?

Being vegetarian or non-vegetarian cannot define ones ability to become a gourmet. But certainly ones frail sense of adventure and fanatic attachment to beliefs that can limit ones horizons can be more damaging than ones not eating flesh.

But yes, there are plenty out there, that will argue to death how being vegetarian is not giving oneself the ability to transcend from being a mere "eat to live" person to becoming a person that "lives to eat".

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I find a lot of contentions are valid, at least in the context they are made. For some people the term gourmet must be applied only to someone who would eat and appreciate all manner of food. That would I assume, necessarily include tofu, insects, snakes, worms, the odd sour and fermented beverages around the world, as well as maggot infested cheese so beloved in Spain. Shoud one's definition of "gourmet" allow one to exclude any of those items, I don't see why everyone else doesn't get the same privilege of excluding some food, even if as broad a category as flesh. If not, I'd have to say that those who don't drink alcohol might also be excluded as well as those who don't drink caffeine and so on. On the other hand, it might prove difficult for me to carry on a conversation about food with a vegetarian. :biggrin: Actually not, my wife and I, both confirmed carnivores, had a lovely dinner recently where we shared all the food with a couple who were vegetarians. As they sometimes eat seafood, we included a bean cured dish with a little crab meat, but it could easily have been eliminated in favor of one of several all vegetable dishes on the menu and still have been a gourmet dinner. Gourmet vegetarians exist, at least in theory. :biggrin:

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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'Can you be a vegetarian and a gourmet?'... snatch of conversation overheard at The Merchant House in Ludlow. They thought not, though I was trying to be both. Who was right?

I would guess that whoever asked the question isn't either of those things...but then again...neither am I. :)

-Jason

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When I was a vegetarian, I often referred to myself as a "decadent vegetarian." I did this to differentiate myself from the majority of vegetarians, whose dietary choices are driven by politics and personal beliefs more than by what tastes good. My own vegetarianism was initiated by the same set of political and personal beliefs, but I always approached food with an interest in what's yummy rather than regarding food as an enemy.

I have never identified as a "gourmet," but I assume this is a semantic issue in the larger context of your question. It is quite possible to be serious and passionate about food without eating meat, fowl, and fish. It is even possible for those who eschew dairy and egg. Are gourmet vegetarians common? Depends on your definition, but by my own definitions, not really.

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I would assume that someone who ate only carrots could show discernment in his, or her, choice of carrots. Of course full entitlement would only arrive when itty bitty pickled carrots showed up the shelves of the "gourmet" section of his, or her, supermarket.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Of course!  Check out the Vegetable menu at

http://www.charlietrotters.com/cuisine/menuoptions.asp

and checkout his book Charlie Trotter's Vegetables

If I recall, the Vegetable Menu is not vegetarian. It can contain traces of meat or items cooked with meat. I believe this menu was designed to highlight the vegetables...but this may have changed.

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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I just checked out that link to trotter's vegetable menu and they had this to say.

"This multi-course tasting menu is a celebration of modern vegetable cuisine. Chef Trotter’s approach to vegetable cuisine is not that of a staunch vegetarian, but rather of a chef passionate about vegetables. Their complex textures, artistic shapes, vibrant colors and full flavors fuel his love for transforming them into unforgettable dishes. "

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm afraid I am entirely in agreement with the people quoted at Merchant House (where is that??) as regards the differential between vegetarians and others. I think eateries should be more bold, and willing to say: 'hey, we're not going to cater to people's food fads. We're into serious cooking here, and you should go to health-food places to get vegetarian stuff'. This might be unpopular, but I'm afraid it's what I believe, sorry!

The fact is, good food and vegetarianism are greatly incompatible, and it's time we stopped beating around the bush about it. The best things are meat and meat-related (where would we be without GOOD hamburgers, for example? Or roast meat? What do vegetarians do for Thanksgiving?), and no gourmet can really call himself vegetarian: they don't eat the best things, so they're not a gourmet. I have some vegetarian friends, so I have nothing against them personally, but we having them round to dinner is always difficult. There are only so many times you can give them a nut-roast from the freezer or an omelette to eat whilst you carve the chicken. I mean they won't even eat fish, so we're totally stuck basically. Once we offered to take the meat out of a casserole for them (hassle time!) but they asked for some cheese instead. Phew! It's nice to get this off my chest... When we go round to their place, they often cook something that any true gourmet would recognise to be ridiculous like curry with no meat, or a pasta sauce without beef mince: I mean no one would call that the best food, would they?

I like to cook sometimes, and I think I know a fair bit about food, so I guess I'd call myself a gourmet (reluctantly), but vegetarians... I don't really think so.

Cheers,

Doug

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Doug: you're wrong. :biggrin:

Just because one limits oneself to only certain ingredients, that doesn't mean that the outcome will be boring. A good cook will take those limitations and turn them to advantage. Unimaginative cooks make unimaginative food.

However, I've always found it nearly impossible to make anything good out of a gourmet. Usually too fatty, and it takes a VERY long braise to loosen up that stiffness.

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Doug: you're wrong.  :biggrin:

Just because one limits oneself to only certain ingredients, that doesn't mean that the outcome will be boring.  A good cook will take those limitations and turn them to advantage.  Unimaginative cooks make unimaginative food.

However, I've always found it nearly impossible to make anything good out of a gourmet.  Usually too fatty, and it takes a VERY long braise to loosen up that stiffness.

my my..... :shock::rolleyes::biggrin:

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A verse, the Gokan-no-ke ( the Five Rememberances), recited in Zen Buddhist monasteries before meals says:

This meal arises from the labour of all beings,

may we remember their offering.

Delusions are many, attention wanders,

may we justify this offering.

Greed arises from self-cherishing,

may we be free in moderation.

This offering sustains us, gives us strength,

may we be grateful.

We use this strength and attain the Way.

Prajnaparamita!

No life is a half-life. Is the plate half-empty, half-full, or a #### measly serving? But some ways of living can be fuller and richer than others.

Vegetarian cooking can tend to default (amongst westerners) to broccoli with cheese sauce, ratatouille with cheese, or the dreaded Brown Gunk Chickpea Stew. Having been vegetarian for many years, now an omnivore, but cooking and presenting vegetarian meals to around twenty people several times a week I say this:

The profundity and depth of a pot au feu or any braised meat dish will never be available in vegetarian cooking. The sublime and transcendent heights of sashimi are nowhere touched. Even the richness of a few ladles of chicken broth brought to deglazing a pan of caramelised onions are a loss.

But vegetarian cuisines, when explored deeply, can open avenues that some or perhaps most meat eating people would never consider.

I am thrilled, moved, weep openly over the beauty of roasted fennel and celery dressed with a few drops of balsamico. Or agedashi tofu. But I am continuously amazed by the range of flavours, textures, tastes, colours that come and nourish me by the complexity of a pig's flesh.

I think the best of all bests is to appreciate how life eats life and use it with veneration and joyful care.

But that's just my opinion aqnd I even like Marmite.

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A recent meal at Roxanne's would argue for the affirmative. I posted a few sentences about it on the California board recently. I have the entire menu. If I can find the time, I'll post it, or maybe it's online. The nonalcoholic cocktails also go to her strength, and were fun and delicious besides.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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This is a post Jinmyo made on the thread Cabrales has posted a link to.  It is beautiful and will certainly be appropriate for a long time to come.

Thanks for your clarity of though, Jinmyo. :smile:

Oh, Suvir, imagine my surprise on first reading this thread to find this. :blink:

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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A recent meal at Roxanne's would argue for the affirmative. I posted a few sentences about it on the California board recently. I have the entire menu. If I can find the time, I'll post it, or maybe it's online. The nonalcoholic cocktails also go to her strength, and were fun and delicious besides.

Robert's post is here.

I would like to hear more about it from you, Robert. If you have the time and are comfortable in doing so. :wink:

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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This is a post Jinmyo made on the thread Cabrales has posted a link to.  It is beautiful and will certainly be appropriate for a long time to come.

Thanks for your clarity of though, Jinmyo. :smile:

Oh, Suvir, imagine my surprise on first reading this thread to find this. :blink:

Oops... I forgot... that was me posting as Jinmyo then.... cannot keep any secrets... :unsure:

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Hello again Everyone,

I sure was interested to hear from you all about what you think about vegetarian food. Why would I need more smiles than anyone else? I'm as happy as all of you out there, I hope anyway! : - ))

I liked your message, Suvir Saran. I haven't heard of some of the things which you talk about Suvir, but they sound kinda funny (what is fennel, I asked my wife but EVEN SHE hasn't heard of THAT one!!) you sure do know some stuff our there. Perhaps even I could learn something from you! But you're right: brocoli and cheese sauce is a delicious vegetarian dish, though I'd prefer to eat it on the side of a nice piece of roast meat rather than on its own. And like you say, Suvir, you just can't beat a good bit of meat: vegetables just don't compare!

I'm still not sure that if you don't eat meat, you can REALLY be a gourmet, but I'm enjoying the views you all have, even if I don't, in my humble opinion, agree with you all. All the imagination I need is to think of coming home to my wife's roast chicken, little sausages and bacon, and a nice dish of boiled carrots ON THE SIDE (!) never mind anything else... enjoying that is gourmet, the carrots alone would be boring and UNimaginative!

Speak to you later,

Doug

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