I have wanted to create my own underground kitchen for years now. We have had long, involved conversations about the legal ramifications of such an activity as well as conversations relating to logistics and culinary talent. And in the end? We went out for supper.
Undertaking a project of the scale of an underground supper club, especially on a weekly basis is truly daunting. Doing it well? With innovative and interesting recipes? It seems all but impossible. But that's what Merida Anderson did. Well she did all that AND she wrote a cookbook about it.
Vegan Secret Supper is a beautiful book. The layout and full colour photos show plated meals that one would expect to see in fine dining restaurants. The vegan cookbook market has exploded in recent years but there are very few cookbooks that explore the fine dining style of cooking. While technically fine dining the recipes in the cookbook seem very approachable. This is because the recipes are separated by component but remain on the same page spread for ease of use. Additionally, plating instructions are given clearly and concisely. Anderson has a love of whole foods evident by the fact that she largely skips ingredients like vegan butter in favour of a homemade substitution. Vegans have come to rely too heavily on commercially made components.
While untrained as a chef, Merida Anderson is clearly a highly creative individual as Vegan Secret Supper is full of innovative and interesting recipes. I am interested in the Radicchio Marmalade (99), the Smoke Infused Olive Oil (206), the Coconut Melting Cheese (194) and the Hazelnut Rye Crisps (123). The first thing I plan on cooking is the Butternut Squash & Almond Gnocchi sauteed with Sage Garlic Butter. (87)
And thus brings me to my criticisms of this cookbook. Recipe titles are all as long as the one for the Gnocchi. The first time I flipped through this cookbook my eyes glossed over at the series of cumbersome restaurant style recipe names and I almost missed out on a lot of interesting recipes.
I was also expecting a lot more of Anderson's character to shine through. I expected a cookbook emerging from an underground supper club to be full of illicit tales and intersting stories. I have never seen shorter headnotes than those that appear in this book. The headnote for the warm beet salad (78) appears as follows
"I still can't believe I hated beets as a kid. Now I can practically eat beets at every meal. Roasting beets brings out the best of their flavor, keeping all the nutrients inside."
And that's it - there is no passion conveyed in that headnote! No interesting story. Nothing that compels me to make the dish. And this headnote is one of the longest ones in the cookbook!
This cookbook left me wanted more. I want to know what it's like to run an underground kitchen. I want action shots and battlefield stories - but instead we are left with 'I used to hate beets. Now I love them'.
I am left to dream about illicit underground adventures while cook and eat my own vegan secret supper.
Vegan Secret Supper available in April 2013 through Arsenal Pulp Press.
The Small Print: I received this cookbook as review product. I did not promise a positive review nor receive any additional compensation for this review.