Cambridge Food Tours founder, Gerla de Boer, tells us more about the humble veg
More than 1,000 and many have been forgotten! Indeed, one of my favourite ingredients is disappearing off the map. Although this humble ingredient is now becoming the main feature on our plates, only 7 per cent of the almost 1,100 world species of vegetables are used in our daily diets.
In many countries, vegetables are a side dish, unlike the Mediterranean where it always has been served as a separate course.
Many people think it is due to the recent plant-based movement that vegetables are being celebrated, but I was given the book ‘A Passion for Vegetables’ by Paul Gayler 20 years ago, the year he published it! So the focus has been there, but not widely embraced.
Vegetables are incredibly versatile and once you start experimenting with different preparations, the sky is the limit. Cauliflower used to be a boring vegetable but it has now become “really sexy”; think rice, buffalo wing style, pizza base, steak and whole tandoori. These are only a few cauliflower recipe ideas.
Many well-known chefs such as Simon Rogan and Raymond Blanc have their own kitchen garden or farm. The movement farm to plate has become very popular, and as not all restaurants have the space to grow their own, they have resorted to specialist producers.
We should be very proud, that two of them are right on our doorstep, Flourish and Produce in Hildersham and Seed to Feed Micro-Farm in Bedfordshire. Jake from Seed to Feed used to be a chef himself so he knows what chefs want. He not only farms vegetables and edible flowers but forages too.
Seasonality is important these days in restaurants. Both Flourish and Produce and Seed to Farm specialise in unusual vegetables and not only supply to restaurants close to home but further afield such as London too! The products of Flourish and Produce are not just limited to chefs, you can also buy their crop in Linton and Newham.
Keen to grow your own? Don’t have space? An allotment is the answer! Although many people think that there are huge waiting lists in Cambridge, this is not quite true. I have had an allotment for over four years and at the time of joining, there were many available. Every year people have to give up their plot due to personal reasons so it is good to check with the council or the allotment site directly. Some of them have their own Facebook page. It is a lot of fun and I have experimented with unusual produce such as Shiso. A great find and something I will now grow every year as it is perfect in salads, stir-fries, pesto or as a substitute for mint or basil.
What do you do with your leftovers? Do you compost it or use it in food preparation as the Cambridge Cookery School does? They use all their leftovers to produce meals for Jimmy’s Homeless Shelter, Cambridge. Tristan Welch from Parkers Tavern is going to support them too with ‘Rubbish Cooks’ a monthly supper club using the leftovers from their kitchen and suppliers.
The best restaurants for vegetable dishes in Cambridge
VanderLyle; 38 Mill Rd, Cambridge CB1 2AD
Restaurant 22; 22 Chesterton Rd, Cambridge CB4 3AX
68 Market Street; 68 Market St, Ely CB7 4LS
Stem+Glory; 13 King St, Cambridge CB1 1LH
The Green Man; 59 High St, Grantchester, Cambridge CB3 9NF
Places to buy Flourish and Produce veg:
How to hire an allotment plot in Cambridge
Contact Gerla at Cambridge Food Tour