In March 2000, when famous foodie Trish Deseine found herself confined with a vegan darling, her life changed. No more camemberts and roast chickens, make way for braised cabbage and sweet potato curries. From this experience, the beautiful Franco-Irish woman drew a recipe book without animal products, but not without flavours, I promise! His title ? “The (good) veggie and vegan cuisine of a reluctant (but loving) omnivore”. Story of a gourmet metamorphosis.
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SHE. The chocolate cake that made you famous is full of butter, and your creamy veal cutlets are legendary. What happened to you ?
Trish Deseine. Love! [Rires.] At the beginning of 2020, I met a Brit with whom things quickly got serious. We were together in my house in Sarthe when President Macron announced the confinement. Andrew, my lover, decided not to return to Great Britain, and I understood that my life was going to change… A little because, at the time, we were told of the health apocalypse (“We are at war !”), a lot because he is almost vegan… and I, resolutely omnivorous. Like everyone else, I didn’t yet know how many days, weeks, months, this three-way confinement (him, my dog and me!) was going to last.
SHE. And why did you choose his side? You could have each kept your eating habits, two plates for the peace of the household…
T.D. In fact, since childhood, the smell of meat and dairy products has deeply disgusted Andrew. It didn’t become anti-animal by philosophy, although that’s very respectable, but it always was, and I felt that I wouldn’t get away with hiding my Saint-Félicien in the back of the fridge. [Rires.] More seriously, in addition to wanting to please him, introducing myself to this cuisine that I knew rather poorly seemed to me to be a good way to occupy the confinement. And quite a challenge to the cook avid of umami and meat flavors that I am. Especially since it goes with the times: for a few years now, we’ve all been trying to eat less meat, but that’s often just wishful thinking. There, I had the opportunity – and the time – to experiment thoroughly. For the first time in my life, I found myself facing someone who didn’t like my cooking, I had to fix my wounded pride… [Rires.] And Andrew is all the more difficult to feed as he doesn’t like to eat cold, I couldn’t get by with salads, I really had to roll up my sleeves!
SHE. Did he teach you how to cook vegan?
T.D. Not really. He masters a few preparations, but a bit like those men who only cook at the weekend, and always the same four or five dishes that they redo identically. I had to document myself and make tests, again and again, to arrive at the 80 recipes of the book. On the other hand, I who ate very little spicy, I learned, thanks to Andrew, to cook and especially to appreciate the pepper, which he loves!
SHE. In this vegan cuisine, what did you miss the most?
T.D. Butter [cri du cœur] ! Living without butter, what’s the point? Especially for me who loves double buttered sandwiches (one layer that melts, one cold layer). But at the beginning of a love story, you want to be like the other, so I learned to do without it… Especially since Andrew is like a truffle dog, he sniffs it a hundred yards away, even when hidden. You would have seen my face when, during our rare outings to the bakery, he would ask for margarine croissants! Already, in my village of 250 inhabitants, we are not crazy about the English… In short, I tried to compensate with vegan butters, which work quite well with pasta, but it will never be worth the authentic one. In the book, by the way, I don’t use “fake” cheese, bacon, meat or anything else. To find pleasure, umami, I rather bet on spices and sauces that I ordered on the Internet [lire en page suivante]. Without this possibility of being delivered to my door, even in the depths of the countryside, neither my confinement nor these recipes would have had the same flavor! Thank you 21st century…
SHE. There are a lot of Asian influences in your book.
T.D. And that’s normal, because in countries like India, the tradition of vegetarianism goes back thousands of years and the recipes are fabulous. The Japanese are also super good at cooking vegetables almost as tasty as meat, and Mediterranean cuisine (Israel, Palestine, Lebanon) is fascinating. Early in my experience, I ordered a lot of books from colleagues for inspiration. Decarnate your diet is to open your mind, to travel. And I find that cooking with precise constraints is rather stimulating. A frame helps. In the book, I offer 100% vegan recipes but also vegetarian alternatives, because doing without eggs completely, I find it too hard, especially for desserts.
SHE. Did you lose weight during this experience?
T.D. At first, a lot. But I think it’s mainly because I was in love! I quickly took everything back… Seeing how Andrew ate, I understood that “vegan” is not necessarily synonymous with “healthy”; he eats a lot of fried things, rich seeds, chocolate, he drinks alcohol… His diet is not calorie-restrictive, that’s for sure!
SHE. And, after the confinements, did you stay on the same line?
T.D. Yes and no. Already, our love story, which will remain a marvelous parenthesis, has come to an end. And I reintroduced meat and dairy products on my plate. But I really took a liking to these new flavors, and if eating a rib of beef remains a celebration, I only do it exceptionally. On the other hand, rediscovering the taste of chicken, that was good! But something has changed in me: now, I build my menus around cereals or vegetables, I no longer think of animal proteins as stars of the plate. I cook differently: anzu sauce, soy, miso, peppers, I put them everywhere, and the result is stronger in taste!
SHE. Your signature dish has long been a demonic chocolate cake. Do you still do it today?
T.D. Yes, for my children, who ask me for it for Christmas or their birthdays! But my best of now is the tamarind tomato curry, the recipe of which I give in the book, made with caramelized cherry tomatoes and tamarind broth. I’m quite proud to have developed my palate so much at my age! With this book, I hope to show that another way of eating is possible, outside of any proselytism. I’m as little a fan of moralizing vegans as I am of mocking carnivores. Eating should remain a pleasure, and gluttony will always remain my driving force: the mushroom bourguignon, I promise, it’s anything but a punishment! Making gentle and gradual changes in your diet is not only good for the planet, but it’s the key to opening up to other joys.
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SHE. The lover left, the miso sauce remained, in short?
T.D. Here ! [Rires.] And I can’t thank Andrew enough for introducing me to another world of taste, no less interesting than the one I already knew!
To read: “The (good) veggie and vegan cuisine of a reluctant (but loving) omnivore”, by Trish Deseine (ed. Hachette).