With all the delicious and healthy alternatives now available, CARRIE STEELE wonders why chefs are still creating “decadent desserts”.
A new dessert has been created and it’s called the “Pavington”. A Melbourne chef spent two months figuring out how to make the ultimate food fusion during lockdown: a part-lamington, part-pavlova concoction.
Admittedly, the chef calls it “a bit of fun”, and in all fairness, that’s what it is. My first reaction to the photo was that it looked like a pavlova sitting on top of a lamington. I pondered how it might have taken two months, and whether I should create a dessert myself – perhaps pop my vegan Christmas cake under a topping of unbaked carrot cake topped off with cashew crème and smothered in dark chocolate swirls?
That was my initial reaction. Then I sunk deeper into thought.
Firstly, I wonder why it is that the more ‘creative’ chefs get, the more decadence they aim for, always results in something that we would all be far better off not eating? Would it not be more innovative to create dishes that were, in fact, healthy and life-affirming, rather than dishes that need to be justified by sentiments such as “a little bit won’t hurt”, or “I wouldn’t eat this every day”?
There are so many talented chefs out there. Oh how I wish they would think it might be novel to work on developing food that we can all feel really good about eating, rather than enjoy and feel somewhat guilty afterwards.
I know that I’m looking at this from somewhat of a minority perspective. It’s nine years this month since I committed to living a whole food plant-based lifestyle (vegan), and in that time I’ve come to accept that – as with everything in life – when it comes to food, and especially what restaurants serve up, the taste buds of the majority are those that dictate.
The food that comes out of restaurant kitchens, be it greasy spoon takeaways or high-end restaurants, is almost always aimed at those diners who still consume meat, dairy, refined sugar, refined grains and lots of oil. Although not many restaurants these days wouldn’t have at least one dish on the menu to satisfy vegetarians, they most often still contain dairy and/or eggs, and therefore are not suitable for plant-based diners.
It’s encouraging to see that slowly, there are some establishments who target people like me, and produce delicious meals with a focus on eating healthily. One of my favourite local cafés has a chalkboard that sums it up nicely, in the words of author Michael Pollan: “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much”.
Pollan is the author of a book called Food Rules, in which he explains the principles around eating “real food” rather than “creations of the food-industrial complex”. He talks about eating food that our great grandmother would recognise rather than foods out of packets with a long list of ingredients that no one has ever heard of, or even knows what they are. I’ve never actually read his book, and I don’t believe it tells everyone to go down the path of veganism entirely, but I’ve often heard him quoted and he talks some excellent sense.
You’ve probably gathered by now that in my eyes, the Pavington isn’t actually innovative or creative at all. In fact, to me the Pavington is symbolic of the way of life that I’ve left behind. It’s a dessert that neatly sums up the modern human perspective – “more is always better than enough”. Why have one dessert, when you can have two?
There was a day that I would have scoffed a piece of that Pavington and thoroughly enjoyed it, but not now. If I wanted to indulge in a decadent dessert, my local café could more than oblige with a cabinet full of delicious vegan treats lovingly made with wholefood non-refined ingredients that would rival and way outpace something like the Pavington.
I say that because I think it’s important to point out that my lifestyle does not mean that I have to miss out on some delicious treats now and again, just that I may have to go further and look longer to find the places that welcome me. I’m very lucky to have a couple of cafés in my neighbourhood that do just that.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my vegan journey of late, it being my ‘anniversary month’. It started with food and changing my diet, but has become so much more than that, and it has led me down pathways I would never have explored before.
You see, I could say I used to be a ‘Pavington girl’. I loved style and extravagance, big hair and leopard prints. I was the eyeliner queen. But it was all on the surface. Beneath that, I was heading down a perilous path. It’s hard to keep up appearances when it’s all on the outside, and you’re falling apart on the inside. I spent a lot of years like that, and maybe I’m still falling apart on the inside in some ways, but I’m way healthier than I was. I think more, I see more, I feel more. I won’t lie and say it’s been easy, and I’ll be honest and say that my newfound awareness of life, in general, is often uncomfortable. But it’s real. And reality often bites.
I’m actually really glad that I saw the Pavington article; it acted like a ceremonious reminder of my journey, and the reasons I live how I live now. The juxtaposition of ideas was all the more striking as I’d only just the same day done some baking myself – a simple ‘made-up recipe’ fruit loaf that I had turned out to my ever obliging and appreciative hubby, son and daughter in law for afternoon tea.
It’s a pretty basic offering, but because I don’t often bake, when the smell of cinnamon, apples and pears fills the kitchen of my apartment, it’s quite an occasion. And I’m so fortunate that the people who love me so enthusiastically partake of my simple offerings and there are always appreciative murmurs as we sit and enjoy little mouthfuls off our tiny silver cake forks, even if sometimes I leave it too long in the oven and the top is so crusty that you almost need a saw to get through it. It’s still delicious, and we still enjoy it, and sometimes I get it just right, which is even more cause for celebration!
To wrap it up, I’m sticking with the ‘plant-based thing’. It’s not a decision I’ve ever regretted. As for the ‘style queen thing’, I can still be a style queen, just a different style – because now I know that with everything in life, less can, in fact, be more.