The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of Vegetables, Grains & Other Good Stuff
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Planted in Exeter UK; seedling in Torquay, Devon, Cornwall; grafted to Adelaide SA; ripened in Melbourne Vic; now and established plant in Adelaide again.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
12: Taller and allowed to stay out after dark.
18: A mechanic (I was one from ages 16 to 20).
30: I had quit cooking briefly and was a push bike courier when that was a thing.
I have always believed it doesn’t matter what you do; do it well and it is precisely what you are meant to be doing at that time. Hence I never really pined for a life I wasn’t living – except when I was short and 12.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That compromise destroyed your soul. Now I believe in various shades of grey, negotiation and win win compromises. There is no point shouting for change if you have no positive alternatives to put in place. Inevitably the void will be filled with something else, possibly worse than before …
4. What were three big events – in the family circle/on the world stage/ in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?
Visiting dog farms & abattoirs / Moon Bear bile farms / tiger bone farms/ performance animal operations in China as a guest of Animals Asia about 10 years ago. There is absolutely no justification for a lack of empathy/ exploitation/cruelty for human profit or amusement in food medicine or any arena for that matter.
Reading Jean Baudrillard’s Simulations (fighting and struggling with it for months around 20 years ago and ever since actually). The concept of what is “needed” versus what is a manufactured need – to this day – still resonates with me. My aversion to media food trends, the social and economic constructs and language around food elitism, the disconnect between the world of plants and animals and how they end up on our plates, the marginalisation of agricultural processes, the alienation around losing something as simple as sharing food, all fascinate me. It’s hard to keep it real in your cooking when the lines of our reality have become so blurred.
Being lucky enough to have parents that put a meal – albeit simple but real and fresh – on the table every night despite how busy and tired they may have been. It has sown a seed that I am grateful for, that the table is far greater than the sum of its parts, that food is something to be grateful for and that basic social rituals really do matter.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?
Absolutely not – in big SHOUTY LETTERS. I may have never written this book if it weren’t for all the “noise” out there around food.
I love the idea of the lack of elitism that electronic media has created. However, I feel that this inherently means there may also be poorly edited recipes that may not work. And my personal pet dislike: an endless procession of manufactured food trends some of which come with fantastical health claims that are simply not founded.
Part of the reason I embarked on the latest book is because there seemed to be so much momentum around anti grain/pulse et al. diets. I personally don’t agree with the logic that the Paleo diet is founded on, but I do agree excess processing of food is a major issue in our diets.
I just feel that by eliminating grains and pulses we are ignoring the wisdom of culture. There is nothing wrong with these foods themselves: there is however something wrong with an excess consumption of a non-diverse and highly refined diet of them.
6. Please tell us about your latest book…
It’s simply what I eat, at home and what I have served my restaurant customers and friends for years. They are tried and tested recipes. Yes they are “sans meat (fish, poultry)” but I am not keen to label it as a vegetarian book. I am not anti meat (although I am anti intensively farmed animal protein and all the associated ethical, environmental and health issues surrounding it ).
At home I choose to eat tons of fruit and veg, grains, pulses (grasses etc) a little dairy and eggs. I’m not saying it’s the right way for everyone everyday but I simply can’t afford to eat bad food. It is the fuel that you need to get you through the day and you learn pretty young as a line chef that if you are not fuelling up as well as you can, you simply can’t get through the long hours and physical and mental stress of a high-end kitchen. It’s gruelling.
These are dishes that I enjoy eating, that you may find interesting if you don’t know where to start with grains, vegies and other good stuff or think that they are boring.
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
I really think we eat way too much meat in the developed west, with portions that are too large or the wrong type (cuts and farming methods). I would love to think that people could cook just one “minus meat” recipe a week (as a start) and still feel satisfied. I believe that there is a whole world of flavour in properly grown vegies, grains and other good stuff.
I reckon once people eat (for example) well grown local, new season, single origin lentils and cook a recipe that brings out the best in this ingredient, they will be amazed. It all starts with good produce, so I’d say Vegetables, Grains & Other Good Stuff is both sensible, informative and hopefully a little inspiring to people who thought they couldn’t make it a day without the usual dose of animal : )
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
I’ll throw this answer a little left field here and say dogs! They don’t have a filter: if they like you they lick, if they don’t they growl. I just find their honesty refreshing. They wear their heart on their sleeves – when they’re upset they break your heart and they don’t hold grudges. They are loyal beyond any reasonable obligation.
They eat with the gratitude and relish of tired soldiers, they run like maniacs because they can, they wag their tails over the simplest joys and they sleep like logs because their conscious is clear.
It’s a great template for how to conduct your life as a human. I will point out: licking strangers you simply like the look of will possibly end badly!
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I have a real desire to be able to never turn away if I see or hear something that I find distressing, unjust or wrong. I believe in the notion of bearing witness even if your hands are tied and you can’t intervene.
It’s not an easy goal as we find it easier to filter out the distasteful/ disgraceful and despicable or simply turn a blind eye if we feel powerless. I feel “seeing” fuels conviction and will eventually lead to positive and productive action and perhaps some injustices readdressed in the long term. I’m not there yet but I’m definitely getting better.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Get a real job ……jees, your grandma would simply not accept that you can make a crust scribbling words down unless you are landed gentry. And if you must write be nice to your editor, they make writers look way better than they really are, god bless these little unsung background geniuses.
Simon, thank you for playing.
Vegetables, Grains & Other Good Stuff
by Simon Bryant
Simon’s recipes are delicious proof that vegies (and co) are never boring. Here, he shares his original takes on everyday dishes – Smoky kale carbonara and Pumpkin, chickpea and tahini soup – as well as recipes for when you’re inspired to take things up a notch: Baked cauliflower fregola with hazelnuts and preserved lemon: Squash, taleggio and quinoa balls: and Salt-baked celeriac with apple remoulade …Read more.
About the Contributor
Anastasia Hadjidemetri is the former editor of The Booktopian and star of Booktopia's weekly YouTube show, Booked with Anastasia. A big reader and lover of books, Anastasia relishes the opportunity to bring you all the latest news from the world of books.