Jay Rayner

Jay Rayner explains why the meat-free community just might have a problem with him.

on Aug 18, 2009

Here in Britain I am not one of the vegan community’s favourite people. I’m sure quite a lot of them would like to do me physical harm were it not, ironically, that their ideology forbids them from damaging those of us with a pulse. Why do they hate me? Ooh, it might be this review of a vegan cafe not far from my London home. It could be this write-up of a hipster vegan place in London’s hipster East End. Mostly, I think, it’s because of this account of my attempt to live as a vegan, a cruel commission by my editor who must seriously bloody hate me.

Certainly, when I was told that the Elimination Challenge was to cook vegan for Zooey Deschanel and her friends — and we generally only found out about these things on the day of the shoot — my response was not one of hoopla and oh happy dawn. It was more along the lines of: damn it, haven’t I suffered enough? Let’s be clear. I am not and never have been against meatless cookery. Or dairy-free cookery. Or anything free cookery for that matter. I am, however, suspicious of any eating regime defined by ideology rather than gastronomy. This is because a) I am suspicious of ideology in general and b) I am a greedy man. I simply ask that a dish by good because it is meat-free, not inspite of the fact.

All that said I thought the challenge was a fabulous one, a true test of the suppleness of these cooks. Going in I assumed Anita would have it easy, the Asian repertoire lending itself most comfortably to this sort of thing. There are whole slabs of the Japanese culinary tradition which happen to be vegan. I guessed Hubert would struggle. The man’s French which, outside of the gaucho culture of Argentina, is probably one of the least meat-free culinary traditions in the world. Even that great classic onion soup, starts with a beef stock.

I was wrong there of course. It wasn’t Hubert’s greatest moment in this competition but he acquitted himself solidly. Rick and Michael did likewise, finding ways to make their love of robust flavours push through. But it was never likely to be a good day for Art Smith. The man’s a Southern cook. In that part of the world, if it hasn’t got a pulse or can’t be slathered in cream and butter they simply don’t know what to do with it. Which is how the controversy of the bought-in ice cream came to pass. It was a shame, and his exit from the show removed a huge character, but in terms of the cookery I think it was the right choice.

As to me, I survived the vegan challenge too. I even found some nice things to eat. Wonders, as they say, will never cease. Now, will somebody please cook me something involving a bit of dead pig?

Jay Rayner is the author of The Man Who Ate The World, published now in paperback by Henry Holt.