Chef Eats Out: What happened at Turnips with chef Tomas Lidakevicius

24 February 2022 by
Chef Eats Out: What happened at Turnips with chef Tomas Lidakevicius

Diners at the first Chef Eats Out event of the year were treated to an innovative vegan menu created by Tomas Lidakevicius at Turnips in Borough Market

From the black garlic and ash vegan butter and fresh miso sourdough to the immaculately presented hispi cabbage, guests at the Chef Eats Out event, held at Turnips restaurant in Borough Market, were treated to a feast for all the senses.

The spectacular five-course lunch, prepared by chef-patron of Turnips Tomas Lidakevicius and his team on 2 February, was the first-ever vegan Chef Eats Out event, with chefs travelling from around the UK to attend in search of plant-based inspiration.

Chef Eats Out provides diners with an exclusive opportunity to experience the culinary excellence of outstanding restaurants and chefs, and in this case gave the 40 or so guests a masterclass on vegan, seasonal and sustainable excellence.

Customer demand continues to grow for plant-based, vegan and free-from options on menus to cater for a growing number of strict vegans as well as those flexing into the plant-based category, and also for consumers avoiding meat and dairy products due to sustainability and environmental concerns.

Welcoming guests to the lunch, The Caterer's managing editor Lisa Jenkins told diners that the event was all about celebrating quality produce in situ at the historic 1,000-year-old market.

Turnips has had a greengrocer's stall underneath the railway arches in the heart of the market for 30 years. It opened the restaurant as a pop-up adjoining the stall during the 2020 lockdown, before making it a permanent fixture in 2021.

Turnips was described in 2020 by Jay Rayner in The Guardian as "a brazen shameless display of what plants can do given the right encouragement", and Lidakevicius certainly gave the seasonal produce he was dealing with plenty of encouragement on the day.

The entirely vegan menu was a celebration of the highest-quality seasonal produce from Turnips' market stall. Dishes also featured dairy-free cream alternatives across the various courses, from supplier Rich Products, who sponsored the event.

Rich Products created the first dairy-free cream alternative more than 75 years ago and last year introduced two new variations to meet the rapidly growing dairy-free demands of UK consumers. John Want, sales, marketing and R&D director of Rich's UK division said the business has $4.5b in global sales, $1b of which is plant-based creams and dairy free blend creams.

The five-course menu was accompanied by four wines, selected by Lidakevicius and his team, which were biodynamic and vegan where possible.

From stall to plate

Lidakevicius, formerly the executive chef of Jason Atherton's City Social, said that he had created the Chef Eats Out menu from the seasonal vegetables on sale at the Turnips market stall: "We want to demonstrate the versatility of our ingredients and share our passion for all things fruit and vegetable. It's exciting to be working with these incredible products and to be in an environment that inspires mine and the team's creativity."

Diners at the event came from restaurant and hospitality businesses of all sizes and descriptions from around the UK, and sat down to swap notes about demand for vegan options, issues of sustainability and food miles as well as sharing their lockdown stories.

Dean Woodier and Edward Whittle of Whitby Seafoods were attending the lunch to find out more about what was going on at the cutting-edge of vegan food innovation. The company is itself engaged on a landmark project, with Woodier developing a vegan breadcrumbed scampi ready for a spring launch, which will be produced with minimal food miles to tie in with consumer environmental concerns.

"Plant-based is going to get bigger; we are focusing on the sustainability aspect of this scampi rather than its veganism," said Whittle, director of climate change at Whitby Seafoods.

Guest Rory Flood of Eats & Beats, a private at-home catering and DJ service based in Essex, said he was attending the lunch as he was interested in tasting the all-vegan menu. At the moment, his company offers vegan canapés, he explained, and he is looking at what other ideas are out there.

Also looking at best practice was James Buckley, culinary director at Levy UK, which caters for events such as the Brit Awards. He said that he routinely removes dairy from recipes that do not specifically need it in order to reduce the end-product's environmental impact. "By increasing the percentage of plant-based produce in our recipes and reducing meat in non-vegetarian dishes, we are creating lower-carbon menus. If you take dairy out, the carbon footprint improves."

Also on the guest list was Damon Corey, development chef at Bidfood UK, who was taking a look at meat-free ideas. Demand for meat-free food was constant in city centres such as London, Manchester and Birmingham, but not as much of a trend further north, he said, although this demand was increasing. Mark Taylor, director at Bloom Foodservice, which works with brands in hospitality, was also looking for vegan ideas and enjoying his first ever fully vegan menu. He said: "Red meat will always have a place, but the menu showed what plant-based and vegan food can be like. It was exceptional."

George Hartshorn of Hartshorn Hook Enterprises said the company was on a mission to make vegan food as satisfying as meat-based meals. Hartshorn himself had been vegetarian for six years but had started eating meat recently, although he tried to eat it only in "good establishments", he said. The menu at Turnips was enough to remind him of how great vegan food could be. "Vegan is a challenge and it can be forgotten about easily on menus by underperforming chefs."

Also at the lunch in search of inspiration was NHS adviser Andy Jones of AJ Associates. Jones said he would like to see more meat-free options on hospital menus: "There has been little innovation in the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic. We did a ‘20% less but better' campaign, aimed at bringing down the amount of meat on menus by 20% across schools, hospitals, universities and care homes, but I would like to see vegan food go more mainstream on NHS menus."

Giles Baab owner of the Blue Bell Inn in Emsworth in Hampshire, said that his traditional pub is looking at veganism from an environmental and seasonal angle. He said: "This was an excellent meal and I say that as a fully-fledged meat eater. It is good to try new menus and we have more vegan dishes planned for our menu – it is less than 10% vegan at the moment."

Tyler Brooks, head chef at the Blue Bell Inn explains: "The trouble is that we have very few vegans visiting us. We would love to put more on the menu but it would need to be freezable."

All in the sourcing

John Feeney, culinary and innovation director at product development business Griffith Foods, was also excited by the menu and the presentation of the food. Lidakevicius used a Japanese mandolin to prepare the celeriac to great visual effect, with the slices wrapped in a coil.

The Turnips menu also flagged up the sourcing of products, Feeney said: "From this menu you can see a shout out to the region where the produce is grown. We looked up the Sarthe celeriac, which is from the Sarthe region of France, and the Cévenne onion, also from France. It had a tender texture and a sweet taste."

The diners had nothing but praise for the menu, with elements such as the hispi cabbage exciting a particularly rapturous response. Buckley of Levy UK picked out the "stunning" black garlic and ash vegan butter for praise and for Damon Corey the creamy vegan curry sauce on the cabbage and the celeriac with roasted yeast was a highlight.

Chef Louise Wagstaff, founder of Delicious By Design, who attended the lunch looking for vegan ideas for her business, also commended the "amazing and well-balanced" menu.

Hannah Madden head chef at the Green & Fortune Rotunda bar and restaurant by Regent's Canal in London said she was impressed with the non-dairy cream, which had left no aftertaste. Chef Paul Shields, also of Green & Fortune, said the menu showed fantastic attention to detail and was an inspiration for chefs.

The meal was a delicious showcase of the very best Borough Market produce expertly prepared, featuring in season celeriac and brassicas, Simon Part managing director of Part & Co added. He spoke for all when he concluded that it had been a superb Chef Eats Out lunch in a quirky venue.

A message from our sponsor

We're delighted to have supported the first ever fully vegan Chef Eats Out event. Turnips was the perfect location for this unique dining experience, and chef Tomas Lidakevicius and his team were wonderful hosts. Using Rich's plant-based creams, Tomas created vegan cuisine bursting with flavour and flair – the Hispi Cabbage coconut curry was supremely creamy, and the Sicilian Blood Orange was absolutely delicious. We're thankful to Tomas for showcasing plant-based food and demonstrating the versatility of dairy alternatives, such as our plant-based crèmes.

The menu

Miso sourdough black garlic ‘butter'

Hispi cabbage, coconut curry

Sarthe celeriac, roasted yeast, black truffle

Cévenne onion, Savoy cabbage, Brittany beetroot

Guanaja, Sicilian blood orange

Chapel Down Brut NV English Sparkling

Sauvignon Blanc, Corralillo, Matetic 2020, Chile

Château Montaiguillon Montagne-Saint-Émilion 2016

Moscato Dindarello Maculan 2020 Italy

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