A little story came to our attention this week. A very well known food producer in Cork had the opportunity of visiting a European two Michelin starred restaurant this summer. Her partner is vegetarian and advance warning was given to the chef. However, his lunch comprised of eight tiny pieces of pumpkin marinated in miso for starters, and a skimpy beetroot risotto for main – both courses looked absolutely sensational, but he came out of the restaurant still hungry – after picking up on the fact that the restaurant was certainly not geared for vegetarians – and paying quite a large sum of money for the pleasure . During the successul Food On The Edge Symposium which took place this week, Davide Scabin, an Italian two Michelin starred chef, spoke on his ‘Food Cleanic’ philosophy. That is, catering for special dietary needs, from straightforward vegetarianism through to those with restricted diets and serious digestive medical conditions which totally dicate the foods they can and cannot eat. Amanda Cohen spoke on ‘Vegetables are Stupid’ – irony indeed considering she is the Chef/Owner of New York’s Michelin starred vegetable restaurant Dirt Candy. Note she uses the term ‘vegetable restaurant’, meaning that vegetables are king in this place and there for the enjoyment of everyone.

Both these approaches show how different chefs regard the subject of dietary requirements. Whilst most restaurant menus will have the ‘vegetarian option’ as standard – cooking with vegetables is adopted as a high end cuisine in only a few mixed dining establishments. Veggie diners and those with restricted diets are left with no choice but to seek out restaurants which cater purely for them,  if they want diversity. Cornucopia in Dublin is one of Ireland’s famous vegetarian and vegan restaurants, also now serving speciast dishes for certain dietary requirements and raw food diets. Cornucopia’s creativity and flair with vegetables would convert even the staunchest meat lover. There are many vegetable based dishes served in Italian restaurants like Pacino’s, Toscana and Tuscany Bistro – mainly because some parts of Italy excel at vegetable cooking and it has formed the backbone of their regional cuisine. But in normal restaurants, to be vegetarian, coeliac or diabetic proves generally difficult if you desire not just to feed yourself, but to do so with the same amount of pleasure deliverance that mixed diet diners get as standard.  It is a little more difficult to cook for a coeliac diet in a mixed kitchen, because the risk of gluten contamination from other foods is high unless there are separate working areas established. But simple things like not using flour in sauces and soups as a general rule, and having a good quality gluten free bread on offer are simple and basic tips everyone can incorporate into their menus. Taking it further to create dishes that entice not just the people who need to eat them, but those who choose to eat them, is where imagination comes into play.

Hopefully, talks like the ones given by Davide Scabin and Amanda Cohen at Food on the Edge will provide inspiration for the audience of chefs who were present. Some chefs already do the dietary requirements thing very well indeed  – but the challenge is in keeping these kinds of dishes alive, vibrant and diverse – and to get that pleasure factor onto the plate with equal love and passion. Good food is for all, no matter what your diet requires, and that came across very well in this gathering. Well done to Symposium Organiser Jp McMahon of Aniar and Eat and we look forward to some of the great ideas shared by all speakers being used in Irish restaurants in the future.

Check out our own array of Vegetarian Recipes from our Good Food Ireland chefs