Jo Pratt is a TV chef, writer, food stylist and presenter who has authored many successful cookbooks. She is also the executive chef of The Gorgeous Kitchen restaurant in London.
Jo is a guest chef at the Ginger Whisk cooking school in West London, where she shares inspiring vegetarian dishes from her latest book, ‘The Flexible Vegetarian’ (you can read our write up of this class here). Here she shares with us what we can expect from her new book, what she’ll be demonstrating in her cooking class and she gives advice on cooking vegetarian dishes.
What are you most likely to order when you eat out in a restaurant?
That very much depends on what I’m in the mood for eating really. It could be something rich and indulgent, healthy, meaty, vegetarian etc. I’m definitely more of a savoury than sweet person though and will usually try to pick starters and mains that work well together so as not to have too many contradicting flavours going on. I’ll also try and opt for a dish the restaurant or chef might be known for (signature dish), or a special on the menu that is using some seasonal ingredients. If I’m eating with others, I always like to have a try of what they are having too. It’s all great research for making up recipes of my own (but most people think I’m just being greedy!).
What inspired you to write your upcoming book ‘The Flexible Vegetarian’?
I’ve been writing cookbooks for a few years now and always like to follow a theme that is close to my lifestyle and that of others. It was becoming apparent that I was cooking vegetarian meals more frequently at home for myself, my family and friends. So I decided to write a book offering the flexibility of tasty dishes that are suitable for occasional meat-eaters, vegetarians who need to cook for meat eaters, and dedicated vegetarians alike.
All recipes in the book can be served as complete vegetarian meals, or with the addition of a simple meat, chicken or fish recipe, making them suitable for meat-free days and meat eaters alike. The book is broken down into chapters covering breakfast/brunch, soups/broths, small plates (starters/lunches/light meals or sharing food), big plates (main courses), dips/bits (sauces, dressings, nibbles) and there is also a chapter with recipes on how to perfectly cook the various cuts of meat or fish. Pretty handy for when you need to be really flexible with your cooking.
What is your favourite vegetarian meal to cook?
Now we are heading into Autumn and the days are becoming a little chillier, a current favourite is creamy mushroom, leek and chestnut pie. The rich creamy sauce is created by blending silken tofu into the mushroom stock and Madeira wine. The results look and taste like cream but the nutritional benefits from tofu are far greater. For those wanting some meat in their pie, I’ll make individual pies and add some cooked chicken, turkey or ham in the sauce.
I also like to keep up with current food trends so and I’m really into making some bowl food recipes such as Buddah breakfast bowls or spiced tofu poke, both of which are featured in my book.
Tell us about the dishes you’ll be preparing at your upcoming cookery class at the Ginger Whisk.
I am going to be cooking dishes from the new book and these are all Asian themed. There will always be a mix of abilities at cookery classes so I try to chose dishes that will push everyone’s abilities, teach them a skill they may not know or be particularly confident at and also make dishes that are suitable for recreating at home without requiring ridiculous pieces of equipment or hard to find ingredients.
The class on Friday will be making Chinese Pot-stickers. They are a bit fiddly but once you get the hang of then they are really fun to do and you can change the fillings to suit your preferences another time at home. I’ll be explaining how to perfectly cook basmati rice and also make a delicious Laksa using a homemade spice paste. There will be plenty of tips along the way too.
What advice would you give anyone who is cooking for a vegetarian?
It can become hard work, expensive and stressful having to cook separate meals for people with different culinary needs. If you are required to cook for a vegetarian, the best solution is to be able to cook one vegetarian dish for everyone, with just a few alterations along the way to suit all, such as the addition of meat or fish towards the end, or on the side.
I’ll often have dinner parties when guests have different requirements, for example one will eat fish but no meat, another is a strict vegetarian and another ‘has to have’ meat to feel like it’s a ‘proper’ meal! Times like this I’ll make big vegetarian dish such as my Roasted Fennel and Aubergine Paella. Just before serving I’ll pan-fry some prawns in garlic and separately roast some chorizo in a little red wine. They can be served along side the paella by my guests if they fancy it. Having culinary differences can be a challenge for many, but it should be a time when creativity and flexibility comes in, which is where I hope people will find my new book very useful.
What trends have you noted in the restaurant scene over recent years?
There is such a huge choice of restaurant styles around for the consumer. Pop-up restaurants and street food vans are becoming more and more popular which is great for people trying to get known in a very competitive industry without having to invest in a property.
You write a lot about entertaining, what are your three top tips to entertaining?
- Don’t take on too much if you are going to be pushed for time. You’re far better sticking to a dish you know and doing it well rather than trying something new and getting stressed. Plan your menu ahead and try to prepare as much as you can before people arrive. That way you can enjoy everyone’s company rather than being stuck in the kitchen half the night.
- Enlist the help of your partner/friend/guest to keep an eye on keeping everyone’s glasses topped up so you can concentrate on the food.
- Enhance the mood of your dinner party by setting/decorating the table to suit your meal, setting lighting to low, lighting some candles and put on a suitable playlist.
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