[This exclusive new story was first published by The Herald (heraldscotland) on September 25, 2018. Sadly for me I can’t claim credit for ethe headline - it was a talented sub’s!]
Now that reputation looks set to change as the city becomes the first in Scotland to rise to the Veg Cities Chefs’ Challenge backed by celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Starting today [Tuesday], chefs from 16 cafes and restaurants will receive a ‘mystery’ box of vegetables grown in and around Glasgow to create a brand new plant-centred dish. A panel of judges will then compile a shortlist of eight finalists to take part in a live cook-off on October 10. The winner will be decided by a panel of experts headed by Gary Maclean, Masterchef: The Professionals winner and Scotland’s national chef.
Ox & Finch, The Gannet, Alchemilla, Cail Bruich, Porter & Rye in the West End, Project Café and Red Onion in the city centre, Café Tibo in the East End and Gnom and Balcony Café on the South Side are among the restaurants taking part in the challenge in a bid to promote the growing, cooking and eating of vegetables – and so improve the city's health.
Their head chefs will be using a variety of freshly harvested traditional and exotic vegetables grown in community and market gardens across the city, including Urban Catch at Barrowlands, Tenement Growers at Toryglen, Greenheart Growers at Parkhead, Cranhill Development Trust, Blackhill Growers, at Locavore at Queen’s Park and Neilston.
Aurelien Mourez, pictured below, head chef at Ox and Finch, was one of the first restaurants to receive delivery of a box of “weegie wasabi”, aretti, golden beetroot, Pak choi, lemon sorrel, courgettes, squash, carrots and beans from which his new dish will be created – and judged. (If he looks rather frazzled, it’s probably because I took this photo in the middle of a very busy lunch service!) Continues …
The Glasgow competition has been organised by the Glasgow Community Food Network (GCFN) in partnership with the UK-wide Sustainable Food Cities network, whose joint aim is to see all citizens across all sections of society get access to fresh local produce.
GCFN chair Abi Mordin told The Herald: “People may be surprised to see what can be grown in the city. At home and in restaurants and cafes vegetables tend to be side-lined and treated as second-class compared to meat, and as a result vegetable consumption across the city hasn’t changed since the 1970s. If people see more vegetables on the menu they’re more likely to emulate that when cooking at home. More demand will help develop a network of small-scale market and community gardens, which in turn helps us reconnect with the land and with where our food comes from.
“With the Veg Cities Chefs Challenge we want to make vegetables the star of the show and demonstrate that Glaswegians could eat more fruit and veg every day if we have enough land and resources to grow them.
“We believe there is potential for more small-scale urban farmers to supply local shops, restaurants and cafes.”
An increasing number of fine-dining chefs are sourcing their veg exclusively from private kitchen gardens, but for some city chefs, gaining access to local produce is a constant battle. Aurelien Mourez said: “Our customers love veg-based dishes and we’d love to do more, but it’s difficult for us to get a consistent supply of good quality locally grown vegetables at a good price every day. Through this competition I hope we can change this.”
A recent Scottish Government report found that in 2016 only a fifth of adults consumed the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables – a decrease of 23% in 2009 – and that children and teenagers in Scotland follow a diet that falls short of national five-a-day recommendations. It identified a lack of fruit and vegetables as a risk factor in a range of serious health problems such as heat disease, cancer, type II diabetes, hypertension and obesity.