Reviewed by John D. Borders, Jr., J.D.
Many restaurants across the country are trying to serve more meatless fare these days because of an increasing consumer demand. But often they strike out because the quality of their vegetarian food doesn’t match that of their meat-and-dairy-laden counterparts. With the release of Professional Vegetarian Cooking, chefs everywhere will find it easy to put spectacular plant-based options on their menus.
As one of only three professional vegan cooks with Certified Executive Chef status in the American Culinary Federation, Chef Ken Bergeron is quite well known within the vegetarian community. His annual appearances at the North American Vegetarian Society (NAVS) Summerfest are always a highlight of the festival. Chef Bergeron has also presented for several EarthSave groups.
Professional Vegetarian Cooking is a great resource for chefs, not only because the recipes are spectacular, but also because it offers a clear explanation of why restaurants might want to serve vegetarian dishes and why restaurant patrons choose vegetarian diets in the first place.
The first Gold Medal winner for all-vegan savory foods presentations at the Culinary Olympics in Germany, Chef Bergeron presents an amazingly creative array of recipes in his first cookbook. From the simple “Carrot Hazelnut Spread” to the complex “Vegetable Walnut and Pecan Terrine,” the appetizer section is vast enough to cover any dinner party or seasonal menu. The “Winter Squash Hazelnut Bisque,” the “Mushroom Cashew Crème Soup” and the “Corn Chowder” prove that the use of nuts and nut butters can give vegan soups all of the richness and complexity of cream-based soups. Indeed, the corn chowder is positively the best chowder you will ever eat.
The “Salad” chapter showcases Chef Bergeron’s interest and skill in working with all varieties of mushrooms. And recipes such as “Sea Czar Salad with Blackened Tofu” and “Ruby Grapefruit, Pomegranate and Assorted Greens” exhibit his skill in juxtaposing ingredients in a way that makes you think that they were created in nature side-by-side with one another.
Professional Vegetarian Cooking divides entrees into categories of vegetable-based, pasta-based, bean- and grain-based and alternative protein-based main dishes. There are enough recipes here (all vegan) to keep any chef or home cook busy for a lifetime. There’s plenty of room for the creative cook to try variations too. For example, I substituted tempeh the tofu in the “Blackened Tofu with Tarragon Shallot Cashew Butter Sauce” and tried it out on a dinner party for 25. It was a big hit, especially with the omnivores in the crowd.
Chef Bergeron also offers more than 30 vegan desserts with simple, easy-to-follow directions. The “Chocolate Zucchini ‘Nanny’ Cake,” served with “Corn Crème Anglaze” is amazing; the “Garnet Yam Cake with Carmel Vegan Icing” is delicious; but the “Chocolate Almond Tart” (when served with the “Raspberry Dessert Sauce”) is the best (and easiest to make) chocolate dessert going. In fact, in Louisville, EarthSave and the Kentucky Humane Society have served this recipe with great results to more than 600 people. And the audience never knew they were eating a healthy dose of tofu!
This is a cookbook for any restaurant or home cook who wants recipes that will dazzle a crowd. And since the recipes are easy to scale down, and generally to prepare, they will also dazzle the whole family. Vegan cooking will never be the same.
Chocolate Almond Tart From Professional Vegetarian Cooking, by Ken Bergeron. Reprinted by permission. This recipe can be formed in an 8-inch or 9-inch spring form pan. The smaller pan will produce a taller dessert.
For the crust, reserve a few almonds for garnish, then put all the remaining crust ingredients into a food processor and process to a coarse mixture that sticks together. Turn out the crust mixture into the spring form pan and evenly coat the bottom, making it slightly higher at the edges.
For the filling, melt the chocolate chips over barely simmering water. As chocolate melts put all other filling ingredients into the food processor and process until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and process until completely incorporated. Taste the mixture and adjust if needed.
Reserve about 1 cup of the filling and chill. Turn the remaining mixture into the crust-lined spring form pan. Smooth the top, cover the pan and chill for 2 hours. Put the reserved chilled chocolate filling into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and pipe decorations around the top edge of the tart. Chop the reserved toasted almonds and sprinkle on top. Chill to firm up the piping work. Using a sharp pointed knife, wipe with a damp towel between each slice, and cut and serve. The point of the knife will help loosen the slices from the pan.
(Note: You can skip the piping step and include the extra cup of filling in the tarts.)
Serves 12-16. Serve with Raspberry Dessert Sauce, if desired.
Variation: The soy margarine could be omitted from the crust and replaced with a little more juice to bind it. It will, however, be a little more crumbly. Other juice flavors could be used. Use hazelnuts in place of the almonds. The filling can be used as a frosting.Raspberry Dessert Sauce
Blend all ingredients until smooth. Chill before serving. Strain to remove the seeds if desired. Makes 12 two-tablespoon servings.
Variation: Plain apple juice could be used in the recipe. Frozen raspberries (measured frozen) work well. A grind or two of black pepper from a pepper grinder and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar can be used to enhance flavor.