Rachel Demuth has been impressing vegetarian diners since 1987 at her restaurant, Demuths, in the heart of Bath. The small restaurant is constantly bustling; just what you’d expect from what Gourmet Britain (www.gourmetbritain.com) called the Best Vegetarian Restaurant in 2010. Rachel herself, recently crowned “Bath Businesswoman of the Year”, is just as busy. But these days, she’s spending less time at the restaurant and more time around the corner at the Vegetarian Cookery School, where keen veggie lovers flock to courses like “Middle Eastern Mezze” and “Southern Indian Thali” to learn how to make delicious, satisfying meals with vegetables.
The cookery school is housed in a wonderful Georgian building with a superb kitchen and spectacular views of Bath Abbey. Rachel and her team of tutors teach what she calls the “Demuths style of delicious, uncomplicated and easy to make vegetarian food.”
Style is important in food, and when my own cooking is feeling a little stale, I know exactly where to turn. I’ve been on three courses at the cookery school, two in Bath and one abroad in France. The food never fails to impress – think pumpkin curry, potatoes dauphinoise, Moroccan tagine, slow roasted stuffed peppers, apple and saffron samosas…I could go on. Seasonality is paramount, and so every course is different. And Rachel generously ensures we have plenty of printed recipes to take home, and sometimes leftovers, too (when there are any).
The food and tutelage are equally impressive, but what keeps me and other veggie lovers coming back is the friendly and relaxed atmosphere above all. Rachel and her staff are truly passionate, and the courses seem to attract a diverse mix of food-lovers, young and old, and a surprising number of whom aren’t vegetarians themselves.
This open-mindedness is at the heart of the Vegetarian Cookery School. We all learn from each other, and walk away friends. This is especially true at Rachel’s cookery holiday venue in France, located at Chateau Ventenac on the Canal du Midi in Southern France. After a week spent amongst like-minded foodies, both in the kitchen, at the market, around the dinner table, and in the pool, camaraderie is a built-in part of the package. And what better way to explore the world than from the comfort of a beautiful, comfy chateau where delicious food and great conversation is literally baked into the holiday?
The Demuths Style
The first time I went to the cookery school was for the “No Time to Cook – Fast & Delicious” course, one of the most popular courses on how to cook truly wonderful meals in 30 minutes or less from start to finish. Now, some recipes say “quick and easy”, but all too often the “quick and easy” part comes after you’ve diced the vegetables and dirtied all your dishes. Not so with Rachel, who was kind enough to share some of her secrets, and a little more history on the cookery school.
Monica Shaw: You started as a chef in London. What brought you to the Vegetarian Cookery School?
Rachel Demuth: I wanted to move out of London and open a vegetarian bakery. I chose Bath because it’s a beautiful small city that has the bonus of a booming tourist trade. Uniquely too, the people of Bath have wide and varied interests and tastes that are clear in the in the exciting shops and architecture. I started Demuths Restaurant in 1987 with a shop in the front and a café selling quick and healthy meals. I put all my energy into it and now it’s 22 years on. In 2000, I needed a new challenge and started the Vegetarian Cookery School.
MS: What makes your Fast and Delicious cooking course so popular?
RD: Everyone seems not to have time to cook anymore, so a course offering fast, delicious, and seasonal food was always going to be very popular. We aim to make dishes that can be prepared in a hurry and focus on essential cupboard ingredients, how to achieve a balanced diet, and tips to increase confidence in the kitchen.
MS: What kind of “essential ingredients” do you always keep on hand?
RD: The basics should enable you to rustle up a risotto, tasty snack, or warming stew without having to go shopping for special items. For starters: olive oil, canned tomatoes, canned beans, quinoa, couscous, lentils, and a good spice rack.
MS: What are the most important tools that every kitchen should have?
RD: A sharp knife and a chopping board.
MS: What “shortcuts” do you use to making cooking easier?
RD: If I have a spare afternoon, I like to cook up to three times the quantity, eat one, and freeze two. It’s great when you want an evening off and all you need to do is take a homemade dish out of the freezer—it’s much cheaper than buying convenience meals, and you know what goodies went into it.
MS: What is your favourite “fast and delicious” meal?
RD: For a quick solo supper, I love couscous with stir-fried seasonal veggies, topped with haloumi or marinated tofu and a sprinkling of seeds.