Have you ever wondered how chefs know to combine certain ingredients to make meals taste just so.darn.good? C’mon – banana and peanut butter, salt and caramel, chilli and chocolate – genius combinations, really.
It's not every day that you get the tips and tricks of a celebrity-chef and plant-based recipe extraordinaire to make your own kitchen performance better, so we’re going to let you in on a few of the secrets that Flave’s chef Scotty has used over the years to develop his repertoire of recipes.
Scotty has developed his skills by meeting people from different walks of life with impressive recipes and techniques and by experiencing plenty of unique cultures. Working with musicians while on tour for over 10 years and travelling the globe, Scotty and his team had some of the world’s best food markets at their fingertips – and they made full use of the produce on offer. Like a kid in a candy store – these markets are a chef’s mecca for creating and trialling new recipes.
But before being able to roam free in said mecca, a chef must earn their stripes and for a budding chef-in-training, the fundamentals are flavour, texture, flavour, don’t burn anything unless it’s meant to be burnt, and we mention flavour’s a big one?
Learning to balance sour, salty and sweet is crucial and it’s only once one’s nailed this balance that a little bit of heat can be added. Scotty’s key tip here is to make sure you’re tasting the dish as you go to ensure the balance is right before even thinking of turning up the heat (literally and metaphorically).
For an extra 10 points, once you’ve brought heat into the mix, if you’re able to experience the sour, salty and sweet flavours in their entirety before the chilli grabs your taste buds, you can just go ahead and submit your application to MasterChef because you’ve made it in the kitchen. Joking, young grasshopper, read on – there is still much to learn.
When it comes to texture and aesthetics, Scotty’s years in Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen set him up for success. Caramelisation is caffeine on a Monday morning–levels of importance for both flavour and colour and when manning the garnish station of Ramsay’s restaurant where he was taught how elements come together on the plate before the protein and sauce, Scotty was shown how to perfectly braise and caramelise veggies to achieve colour, flavour and texture using the pan’s heat. Take, for example, heating fennel and carrots, adding some stock then thyme, rosemary, bay leaves and a big knob of vegan butter to finish off the caramelisation process and infuse the flavours.
Since those first few years in the kitchen, Scotty’s developed his skills through testing, tasting, adjusting and tasting some more. Sometimes it worked, other times it didn’t but after time his pallet learnt what went well together. But then creating plant-based dishes for celebrities with BIG expectations were thrown in the pan and that was a whole new playground.
Learning how to cook (and even how to not cook) vegetables so they portray the same texture and ‘heartiness’ as meat was a big task, but it’s amazing what you can do with mushrooms, the right amount of heat and patience with the pan.
Creating plant-based magic in the kitchen relied heavily on finding alternative ingredients that worked well together to create similar textures and flavours to that of the traditional ingredients or dish. Scotty got comfortable with writing up alternative shopping lists and swapping dairy cheeses for cashews and nutritional yeast and fish sauce for a dried seaweed, garlic and secret soy mix.
What might be the most impressive plant-based feat of all was making ‘tuna’ for Sir Paul McCartney while on his 2011 Russian music tour. After being tasked with making a plant-based sushi platter for 300 people, Scotty experimented with tomato, tofu, soy and seaweed to dish up plant-based tuna that tastes like the real thing and it’s this recipe (with some alterations over time) that our meal subscribers have tasted in the past and that we’ll be soon serving in our restaurants – watch this space!
After almost 17 years cooking with plant-based chefs and now as head chef of Flave, Scotty has his favourite ingredients and flavours down pat. From wild mushrooms, nutritional yeast, good-quality and low-sodium ‘mince’, miso paste and dried sea vegetables-think nori, kelp and seaweed-most of which you’ll find in the meals of Flave’s future restaurant menu, you’re never short on flavour when playing with plant-based foods.
Now for some tips and tricks from the chef himself to up your kitchen game, especially when it comes to spicin’ up your own plant-based dishes.
- Watch over the heat like you’re binging the latest Netflix must-see, aka–keep an eye on the pan or oven when trialling recipes so you don’t overcook or undercook.
- We all have our go-to list of beverages, so why not have the same with your dressings and marinades? If you develop a good base of mixes, it will bring typically plain dishes to life. Whether you love Thai, Mexican or Indian flavours, trial and taste different flavour combinations to see what works best with your taste buds.
- Don’t skimp on the seasoning. The list is endless when it comes to how you can change the flavour of a dish even just slightly. Think sesame oil, coconut cream, lime juice - little dashes here and there to spruce up a dish.
- The final act. Save adding herbs until the very end so they remain as green and fresh as the So Fresh hits of 2009.