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Living on the Veg with Chantelle Nicholson

As we continue to celebrate Veganuary, we’ve reached out to multi-award winning Chef Patron at Tredwells, Chantelle Nicholson. Below, Nicholson shares her thoughts on veganism alongside some of her go-to plant-based recipes for you to recreate at home.

Who is Chantelle Nicholson?

Nicholson’s passion for food started at an early age in New Zealand, where she was born and raised. Growing up in a nature-lush environment, Nicholson learned early on about where food comes from, the seasonality of certain produce, and the garden ecosystem, thus setting her on the path that she is on today. Yet, pursuing a career in the culinary arts was not in her original plans. Trained as a lawyer, it wasn’t until 2004 that Chantelle decided to pursue her dream of becoming a chef and entered the Gordan Ramsay Scholarship competition, becoming one of the finalists.

Today, Nicholson is quickly rising the ranks to become one of the UK’s leading female chefs: she is a multi-award winning Chef Patron at Tredwells, as well as the Group Operations Director for Marcus Wareing Restaurants. 

What are your thoughts on veganism? 

To me, veganism encapsulates a lifestyle choice, which excludes using animals for food, clothing or any other purpose, be it a bee or an Iberico pig. However, plant-based eating is based on just that, a diet rich in all things that come from a plant, and not from any animal source. It does not seek to advocate anything more, or less. It is rather simple in its form. But in all of this, we cannot forget we are talking about food. To me, food is so much more than just the nutrients I put in my body. It is a source of enjoyment, of creativity, of fun, of friendship and of delicious tastes and flavours. This trumps all.

Where do you buy your food?

Whilst I do not eat an exclusively plant-based diet, I am mindful that the meat and fish I do it, is of good quality and from a sustainable source. Whether it is sustainable seafood, or pasture-fed, British meat I try and view it as something to be celebrated. We put a lot of time and effort into sourcing and cooking meat sometimes, yet we do not do the same for vegetables. When you approach a vegetable in the same way you approach a joint of meat and think about how to get the best flavour from it, it can be just as satisfying and delicious.

Whether you are partaking in a plant-based January, a dry January or just trying to reduce your meat consumption there is a lot of deliciousness to be found in plants! Think of that celeriac like a chicken; to roast and caramelise and enjoy as a meal. My cookbook, Planted, is a plant-based recipe book championing the humble vegetable, as well as pulses, grains and fruits. There are a few seasonal recipes below for you to try out and enjoy!

Below, Chantelle shares some of her favourite recipes for you to recreate at home.

Starter: Caramelised Celeriac Soup, Burnt Pear Purée, Hazelnut & Rosemary Pesto 

Caramelising celeriac imparts such a wonderful sweetness on it, whilst giving it a slightly smoky taste also. It is quite different to boiling it or lightly roasting it. It is the same scenario when you look at caramelising sugar whereby the raw ingredient can taste rather bland on its own, yet when heat is applied to the point of caramelisation, it takes on a very different flavour altogether. Serves 4

2 pears

1 tablespoon olive oil

sea salt

1 celeriac, peeled and diced into 2cm chunks

2 tablespoons sunflower spread

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon table salt

500ml plant-based milk

2 litres vegetable stock

For the pesto:

1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary leaves

1 tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley

30g toasted pine nuts

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes

50g extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 180℃. Line a roasting tin with foil.

1. Cut the pears in half, remove the core and place in the foil lined roasting tin and bake for 1 hour. Blend with the olive oil, and salt, until smooth.

2. For the soup, heat the sunflower spread in a large saucepan over a moderate heat. When melted, add the celeriac, bay leaves and salt. Cook until the celeriac is a deep golden colour, approximately 15-20 minutes. Add the plant based milk and vegetable stock and simmer for 5 minutes. Blend until smooth, adjust seasoning if necessary.

3. For the pesto, place all ingredients together and blend until a chunky paste is formed. Season. 

4. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls then top with a spoonful of the pesto and a good drizzle of the pear purée.

Main: Brussels Sprouts, Chestnut & Sage Risotto

I am firmly in the camp of liking Brussels sprouts immensely. When cooked right, they are nutty and moreish. Always use high heat to cook them, otherwise, they will stew and go rather soggy. For the chestnuts, I like to use both cooked, vacuum-packed ones as well as fresh ones, for texture. Serves 6

1.5 litres vegetable stock

2 bay leaves
270g cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped

200ml non-dairy milk

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 onion, peeled and finely diced

1 garlic clove, finely grated
500g Carnaroli or Vialone Nano risotto rice
125ml dry white wine

75g non-dairy Parmesan cheese, grated

sea salt and freshly milled black pepper 

300g Brussels sprouts, halved

2 tablespoons non-dairy butter

4 sprigs thyme, leaves picked

1/2 bunch sage, leaves picked and stalks reserved

8 fresh chestnuts, peeled and finely sliced

1. Put the stock in a large saucepan with bay leaves, and sage stalks, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and leave to gently simmer.

2. Place 180g of the cooked chestnuts into a saucepan with the milk. Season well and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Blend together until smooth to make a chestnut purée and set aside.

3. Heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, and season well. Cook for a few minutes until the onions have softened but not coloured.

4. Add the rice and stir around in the pan for a few minutes until it becomes shiny and translucent. Add the wine and cook until the alcohol has evaporated. 

5. Add a ladleful of the hot stock and continue stirring until the stock has been absorbed by the rice. Add the remaining stock a ladleful at a time, stirring continuously until each ladleful has been absorbed before adding the next, this should take about 15–20 minutes. Set aside 100ml of hot stock. The risotto is cooked when the rice grains are a little firm but don’t have any chalky crunch on the outside when bitten into.

6. Add the chestnut purée and Parmesan to the risotto and mix well. 

7. For the sprouts, heat the butter in a medium-sized frying pan, until very hot. Add the sprouts, cut side down, and thyme. Season well, and cook until a deep golden brown. Turn each sprout over and add 100ml of the hot stock to the pan. Cook for 3 more minutes then remove from heat.

8. To finish the risotto, add the remaining chopped, cooked chestnuts to the risotto with the finely chopped sage. 

9. Spoon onto warmed plates and top with the sprouts and fresh chestnuts.