with Chef Jean-Christian Jury
As a Frenchman and a vegan, Jean-Christian Jury is a rare breed. With only 3% France following a plant-based diet, it’s hard to imagine a place for tofu among the comté and comfit du canard. The irony is not lost on the chef and he adds, with a grin, ‘when I turned vegan I lost all my friends and no-one would talk to me.’ For Jury, turning vegan came at the recommendation of his doctor and after a long hard look in the mirror. Lying in the Chelsea Westminster hospital following his second heart failure, the words of his physician echoed in his ear. ‘You know, everybody has 2 lives, and your second life starts the day you understand you have only one’.
Strung-out after years of sixteen-hour days, erratic eating habits and little rest, change was essential. Drawing on his decades of travel and a portfolio of South-East Asian and Indian flavours, Jean-Christian devoted himself to developing a new generation of vegan cooking and training up a new wave of chefs. Reaching back into history as far back as the Ming Dynasty for techniques and gleaning cooking wisdom from Hindu monks, his recipes are the hoardings of a true epicure.
The Taste Problem
Charles Dudley Warner
Lettuce is like conversation; it must be fresh and crisp, so sparkling that you scarcely notice the bitter in it.
Convincing yourself to begin eating vegan is one thing, but adapting your palate is an entirely different process. Although the term ‘vegan’ only entered the mainstream relatively recently, cultures have been thriving on plant-based diets since antiquity. Jury speaks about the ancient Chinese transportation ships of the 14th century, whose crew lived on the open seas for long stretches of time, growing soy beans in bottles down below. Speaking about his transition, Jean-Christian explains that, for him, veganism began with a change of attitude. By seeing it as a new chapter in his culinary career and a chance to reset his lifestyle, there was no room for the common narrative of ‘missing out’.
Our sense of taste is shaped by the foods we eat. Overwhelmed with hyper-sweet synthetics and flavouring agents, the modern Western diet has altered our palate. Confronted with a ripe homegrown tomato or peppery endive, it is often the case that we are unable to appreciate the subtle complexities of natural, whole foods. But, as soon as we alter our dining habits and start incorporating more market-fresh produce into our diet our tastebuds start to wake up, opening the door to a depth of flavour. This focus on pure, natural tastes makes tracing the provenance of raw ingredients to the root essential to vegan cuisine.
Chef Jean-Christian Jury
Pure is the essence of food’s flavour, this opened a window for me, and I started to create a lot of food based on that principal.
Jury explains, ‘I don’t think you miss out becoming a vegan. I think that we just have to take the time, to source the food’. It is a misconception that eating a plant-based diet is healthy by default. Jury explains that, like any living thing, every hour after produce is harvested, it begins to lose its vitality and nutrients. Referencing the recent public uproar about the fact that the apples on our supermarket stands are up to a year old, he adds ‘As soon as the apple falls from the tree it begins to lose quality. So we have to eat market fresh produce, this is the only way to really have a healthy diet.’
Around the table
Chef Chandra, Gracias Madre (Jury’s favourite LA restaurant)
Maya Angelou said ‘Eating is so intimate. It’s very sensual. When you invite someone to sit at your table and you want to cook for them, you’re inviting a person into your life.’ This captures the way I feel about family, food and dining.
Committed to tracing food back to it’s origins, Jury has navigated the globe sharing recipes and meals with native chefs. By venturing outside of the confines of classic European cuisine, his dishes stir a taste for exploration and a global approach to cooking. His authentic connection with people and their stories animates his cooking and welcomes people back to the table. For a generation living online, the dining table becomes as a place to rekindle human intimacy.
‘The thing that I like about Asia is that they put everything in the middle of the table and they share. By placing it all in the middle we can really play around. In Seoul, there are a lot of restaurants run by Buddhist monks and food is served on a platter with the main in the middle surrounded by countless sauces and spices. Every time you add a flavour it changes. Things like this will bring people around the same table so they can play around and say “look what I have created”.’
‘For me, veganism is not a religion. I like the fact that we can sit together at the same table with meat and vegan food. We are not learning to hate each other. All my friends today are at least trying to be better, which I like a lot.’
Inspired by the vegan monks in Seoul whose endless creativity allows them to create a new dish for each day of the year, Jury shares a simple avocado puree recipe that encourages a communal eating and conversation. ‘I puree them, put them in a bowl and then around the bowl I have garlic, salt, ginger, mint leaves, corns, green apple, pineapple, turmeric… and then you mix.’
The Modern Vegan
‘Vegan for me, is the wrong term, it scares people. So we talk about ‘plant-based food’ that’s much more friendly. Honestly I don’t mind cooking meat for other people, I’m not here to stop anyone doing what they are doing.’
Above all else, Jean-Christian Jury points out that the most important consideration of a vegan diet is to know what your body needs. Just like a healthy diet that includes meat and fish, you have to understand how to maintain a balanced diet. ‘Your body can eliminate any excess but it cannot produce or create what’s missing. If you choose a vegan diet, know what you’re doing. And if you can do that, you’re going to be very healthy.’ Whilst it might not be as simple as heading to nearest supermarket and raiding the vegetable aisle, Jean-Christian Jury has shown us that the route to plant-based living can be an exploration of cultures and awakening to a new world of of tastes.
Food for Thought
Soy Bean Pancake
A tofu dish inspired by the Ming Dynasty
A pancake mixed with fresh soy beans, whipped silken tofu, soy sauce and grated vegetables.
Combine and fry in oil and for a breakfast or lunch pancake.
Solid Salad Dressing
Fresh frozen dressings and spices
To avoid wilted salad leaves, use a coconut oil as a base to create frozen or refrigerated dressing and grate over the salad.
You can apply this technique to ginger, turmeric and fruits, and add to stews and curries. By extracting the essence and I freeze them, you maintain the vitamins, enzymes and minerals.
Salicornia, sea asparagus
Slightly salty and crunchy, sea beans are are perfect for a Thai-style salad.
Add fresh coconut meat, in thin slices, halved white grapes, coconut flakes (dried in the sun or the dehydrator), green mango or papaya to create a salad.
Add a dressing of coconut oil, lime, turmeric juice, lemongrass.
Jean-Christian Jury is a vegan and raw-food chef from Toulouse, France. In 2008, he opened La Mano Verde in Berlin, Germany, his first vegan restaurant, and received praise from Saveur and Rodale’s Organic Life, and many international publications. He now lives in Los Angeles, California, where he is developing La Mano Verde. Published by Phaidon, Vegan: The Cookbook, was inspired by cuisines around the world, bringing vegan home cooking to new levels. Featuring dishes from countries ranging from Albania to Zambia, it showcases the culinary diversity of vegan cuisine, highlighting regional fruits and vegetables, traditional cooking techniques, and universally delectable flavours. Jury will be curating the the inaugural Blue Lotus Master Class in the Evason Hua Hin Resort 6-10th November 2017.