The Vegetarian Chance

Lisa Casali opens her new column with the first Festival dedicated to vegetarian culture and cuisine


With this report on the The Vegetarian Chance festival, I open a new "Green" column, with the objective of researching and narrating what is happening in the restaurant scene with regards to sustainability, environmental safeguarding and waste reduction, on top of the theme of the EXPO, that is getting closer and closer: “Feeding the planet, energy for life”. With regards to these topics, the day spent at Joia on the occasion of the International Festival of Vegetarian Culture and Cuisine is certainly a good start.

The festival was born out of an idea by Pietro Leemann and Gabriele Eschenazi and you can find a report in this article by Paolo Marchi. If we retrace the history of humanity, we can see that the greatest discoveries were led by necessity. It is the very necessity that leads those who are interested in a healthy diet, to favour healthy ingredients and techniques that can give value to them and:
- make it easer to digest food and to absorb their nutrients and beneficial characteristics;
- preserve their nutrients in a product and pair it with ingredients that can make it easier to absorb (for instance, pairing turmeric and pepper as suggested by Daniela Cicioni).

Turning these principles into practice is exactly what I noticed when tasting some of the dishes at The Vegetarian Chance, where research for health and wellbeing was parallel with aesthetics and taste. The environmental component is not always explicitly sought. However it is nonetheless present in the low impact of the ingredients used, almost all of which were local and seasonal vegetable produce.

The fermentation of vegetal ingredients (oily seeds, vegetables, legumes) is certainly one of the techniques that best meets the multiple requirement of serving dishes that are tasty, healthy and easy to digest. It is thanks to the very fermentation that a food changes its composition, besides changing its flavour, and is enriched with elements that protect the body, are easy to absorb and have pleasant, acid notes.

Another ancient yet avantgarde technique is drying, which is becoming more and more popular, even outside the restaurant scene as it allows to work and transform ingredients at low temperatures while preserving their vitamins and other nutrients, concentrating their flavour and highlighting their crispiness. The ideal temperature is 40°C because above this temperature a gradual degradation and vitamin loss occurs.

Daniela Cicioni and Femke Van Den Heuvel’s skill in dominating these techniques was praised also by the judges who awarded them with the first and second place respectively. Cicioni, in particular, for her fermented oily seeds that finely recall cheese, but are at the same time easier to digest, excellent in taste and 100% vegetal. The Dutch chef, instead, conquered everyone with her Homemade tempeh made with a local pea variety.

Tempeh is obtained by fermenting a legume, usually soy, with a starter (Rhizopus Oligosporus) at controlled temperature. This niche product is particularly healthy, easy to digest and high in proteins. A special mention, finally, goes to Antonia Klugmann for her impalpable dishes (“Smoked zucchini flower and our mustard”), an apparent and totally vegetal simplicity, that is to say the “Vegetarian cuisine of the future”.

What stands out after the day at Joia is that vegetarian cuisine should not be relegated to a niche phenomenon for “health fanatics”. Instead, it should become part of the DNA of every chef, as well as of the menus of all restaurants, so that clients can be truly free to chose what to eat without making any dramatic choice with regards to their diet. Offering 100% vegetal, balanced and healthy dishes doesn’t mean removing something from a recipe, but requires an open mind, a lack of prejudgement and a will to get back to studying, with humility and the desire to learn a new way of cooking.



Tecniche, ingredienti e iniziative della ristorazione attenta all'ambiente e agli ideali di Expo 2015, viste da Lisa Casali