Rachel Demuth is one of UK’s foremost vegetarian chefs who has popularised vegetarian cooking in the last three decades as a restaurateur, cookbook author, columnist and a teacher. She has travelled the world discovering and learning the art of vegetarian cooking which she now teaches to a growing number of enthusiasts By Sudipta Dev
For someone who went to the university and studied African history, Rachel Demuth found her calling as a chef and acquired an expertise in vegetarian cooking while working and travelling. “I got into catering as I loved food,” she says. The inspiration to cook vegetarian food came from her childhood days. “My mother was an excellent cook. We had a big vegetable garden. We learned how to cook as we would pick vegetables from the garden and help her prepare them. The bulk of our food was vegetables. From an early age I was cooking,” mentions Demuth.
Rachel Demuth started her career with a famous bakery in Covent Garden, London. The bakery was vegetarian – whole food breads, vegetarian savouries, pastries. “We used brown rice, brown flour, brown sugar. That was trendy in those days (the 1980s). Now vegetarian cooking has changed so much – it is high end, beautifully presented, very light dishes,” says Demuth. She opened a bakery and cafe in Bath, in 1984 because it is one of the most beautiful cities in England. For Demuth the year 2014 is the 30th anniversary of being in business in Bath. “We have lots of tourists in summers and I thought that will be good for business. The bakery and cafe were very successful. Then I opened a restaurant in the centre of town called Demuths Vegetarian Restaurant and I ran that for 26 years. I sold it last year to the head chef and the front house and they are doing very well. It is now called Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen,” she says.
In 2000, she opened the cookery school in Bath. “The reason why I opened the school is because when I sold the cookbooks that I wrote in the restaurant, people kept saying that they wanted to learn from me how to cook so I started the school. The cookery school is all vegetarian, we do a lot of vegan, egg- free, dairy-free cooking. We cater to all kinds of different dietary requirements,” states Demuth. She is currently writing a new book, which is a world cookbook with many Indian recipes.
Demuths Vegetarian Cookery School also teaches Indian cookery. “It is very popular. Our Southern Indian Thali Course is the most popular course we run. There is a tradition in Great Britain that people really enjoy the curry, every town will have an Indian restaurant. It is not thought of as foreign food. The Indian cooking we do here we make it hopefully as traditional as we can,” she says, adding that she also invites visiting chefs, for instance a Gujarati lady to teach dishes from the region.
Another popular course is called Fast & Delicious. It includes those dishes that are not difficult to make. Demuth points out that people do not have time and cooking a vegetable take slonger than putting a steak on a grill. “You have to chop every thing, flavour it, season it, which does take longer, as people want to learn how to cook convenient food, this course is popular,” she says. People can learn Italian, Middle Eastern, Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, Spanish, Moroccan vegetarian dishes, along with Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Malaysian cuisine. “Also, if some dish does not have any vegetarian option we will take out the meat or fish and adapt it. For instance, if is a Thai dish we will put tofu or if is Moroccan like Tagine, we will put chick peas and serve it with khus -khus,” informs Demuth.
The diploma course is for eight days, there are also day courses and weekend course. Students come from not only all over England but from across the world. “Bath is such a beautiful city and tourist mecca, people come for two-weeks holiday and do a day’s cookery as part of their holiday,” she says. Demuth reminds that the Indians who come to learn cooking are second and third generation Indians settled in the UK. She acknowledges that each successive generation cooks less and less, “We do get girls who come here who have not learned cooking from their mothers.” Sometimes even chefs attend her classes, for learning how to cook vegetarian dishes. “In restaurants in England you will get vegetarian main dish, but the problem is that the chefs tend to be meat chefs so they come and learn vegetarian starters and main dishes,” she informs. The school is promoted through word of mouth and the website.
Demuth also organises programmes for corporates, particularly team building cookery programmes. Sometimes corporate clients have meetings in the conference room followed by the class. “Alternately for some corporate clients we just cook them lunch, and perhaps do a demonstration of one of the dishes,” she says.
Demuth informs that there is also have a holiday section of the business that’s called Demuths Cookery Holidays, “Every year we take students from England to southern Italy and south of France. Next year we are thinking of going to Japan. It will be fantastic to come to India.” All these cookery holidays are vegetarian.
Talking about the evolution of vegetarian cooking in the UK, Demuth says, “When I started there was a very famous restaurant in London called Cranks, in those days it was associated with people who had long hair and wore sandals. It was very difficult to get a vegetarian choice in a restaurant. Now you can eat anywhere in England and get a good vegetarian choice. The vegetarian restaurants now have more exciting and imaginative cooking than they used to have.” She concedes that what has become more and more fashionable is vegan. Raw food is also getting popular. “To have a good balanced diet with raw food you have to work hard as you are not cooking anything, so pastes like cashew paste and nut paste are used. A lot of people also have problem digesting wheat so we have wheat-free and glutten-free food,” she states.
People also want to know where they can get the ingredients and what they can do with it – lemon grass, curry leaves, lime leaves, etc. “In Bath we have a whole food shop called Harvest. On Saturdays we have a Farmers’ Market where you can buy locally grown vegetables, cheeses, breads, natural apple juices and cakes. You can actually do your whole week’s shopping and all these are produced within 25 miles of Bath,” says Demuth, adding that Farmers’ Markets everywhere are becoming popular and most cities will have these markets once a week. She believes that though England is dominated by four big super markets, there is a move towards going to smaller, individual shops run by local people.