Sunday, 10 June 2018

My Vegan Dining Adventures Part One Heathcotes

I have always loved food and Domestic Science at school, as it was known back in the day, was my best subject.   I was rubbish at anything else, except English Language, but once I put my school apron on, with its wonky green edging (keep me away from a sewing machine) and got cooking I was in my element.   Food is a huge part of my life.

My Vegan Dining Adventures is an overview of my experiences over the years, some that will remain with me for ever and some I would like to forget.   I also hope it inspires people that you can dine out anywhere and that veganism does not have to hold you back.   I hope my persistence years ago, made it easier for the next vegan walking through the door, of the restaurants I visited.  Who knows but with the explosion of all things vegan going on, its a great time for us all.

In 1986 dining out was a rarity or for special occasions and options were usually salad, followed by salad, or a jacket potato and beans if I was lucky.   As time went on dining out became more of a social affair, meeting with friends and chilling, so not wanting to be left out, I started writing to chefs asking what they could make me.

I visited a wine shop near where we lived at the time, where I flicked through a local magazine and read an article about Heathcotes, a Michelin Star restaurant in Longridge, so I wrote to chef Paul Heathcote, not really expecting a reply.   I received a phone call from the Restaurant Manager to say it would no problem and so I booked to go with Steven to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

I was blown away by the experience, the Restaurant Manager assured me whatever menu combinations Steven chose, a vegan version could be prepared for me, hence I experienced my first tasting menu and it was amazing.   The dish that stays in my mind on that first visit, was a delicate courgette flower filled with ratatouille, it was such an elegant dish and a far cry from anything I had ever eaten.

I became a regular customer at Heathcotes, which must have been a pain for the chefs, but fair play they never made me the same thing twice, even when I had the ten course Signature menu.   I remember one visit someone had hot footed it down to the local health food shop, so they could offer me a vegan cheese board.   As anyone reading this will know, we have fabulous vegan cheeses these days, back then they were pretty dire, so not one for being rude, I managed to wrap most of it in a tissue in my handbag.   I was quick to point out that I preferred desserts to cheese and was never offered it again, mainly because the chefs had tried them and thought the cheeses were gruesome.

My visits to Heathcotes culminated in me offering to make dessert, at a monthly supper club they hosted, for their regular customers.   Steven thought I was crazy, but I wanted to show that vegans could eat more than just fruit salad.   You can imagine how nerve wracking it was, however fourteen chocolate cakes layered with vanilla and chocolate buttercream, black cherry compote, served with black cherry coulis went down a treat and proved my point.

Heathcotes is sadly no more, but it whetted my appetite for Michelin dining and hence my mission to improve the stigma around vegan food and dining out and it became a challenge to write to more high profile chefs.   Boy have I had fun and many disasters.... All will be revealed.....To be continued.

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