06 May 2017

A Conversation with chef Jean-Christian Jury, author of Vegan: The Cookbook

Chef Jean-Christian Jury, a leader in the international vegan community, has traveled the globe researching ingredients and cooking techniques and developing a vast collection of plant-forward home cooking recipes. Inspired by his extensive travels, his new book Vegan: The Cookbook  (May 1, 2017; $49.95 US/$59.95 CAN) presents a world of rich and satisfying meat- and dairy-free dishes with global flavor. The 450 recipes in this collection from more than 150 countries represent the cuisines of France, Greece, Italy, Vietnam, China, and India and introduce the less familiar flavors of countries like Seychelles, Gabon, and Papua New Guinea.

In an interview, he shares his personal story and unique approach to vegan cuisine, offers tips for anyone who wants to introduce more plant-forward food into their own diet, and explains why the dishes in Vegan: The Cookbook will appeal to vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike.

When and why did you become a vegan? 

JCJ: In 2001, I moved to London, where I ran several restaurants and kitchens. In 2005, I was running a restaurant, a cocktail bar and lounge, and a private club there. My eating habits, like many chefs', were erratic. Often, the food was anything but healthy. After years of working sixteen-hour days, with no holidays, a poor diet, and very little sleep, I had my first heart failure, and just few months later, a second one.

After a couple months of recovery, I got a call to visit an innovative detox center that had plans to open in London, Munich, Dubai, Stockholm, and Paris. The concept was very new and the approach to healthy food, fresh smoothies and juices seduced me. I completely changed my diet and lifestyle and devoted much time to the study of raw and vegan food ideas and best practices. Since then, my own diet has consisted of a lot of smoothies, juices, and fresh vegan food.

What are the most common misconceptions about vegan cuisine?  

JCJ: You don't have to be 100% vegan from day one. The transition can be gradual and smooth. Also, many non-vegans have a preconception of plant-based cuisine as being bland and unsatisfying. There is no reason why vegan food can't be as delicious as non-plant-based cuisine! When food is fresh and brimming with flavor, it will leave you feeling sated.

How have you seen the vegan landscape change in the past ten years?

JCJ: I opened my first vegan concept, La Mano Verde (the Green Hand) in Berlin on World Vegan Day, November 1, 2007. I created a new generation of dishes cooked only with plants that appealed to a wide range of diners: three- and four-course menus, meticulously plated, with exceptional-quality ingredients, outstanding service, and a great wine list. It became a vegan destination that attracted people from all over the world. In 2007, mine was the only vegan restaurant in Berlin; in 2015 there were 43 vegan restaurants in the city, more than half of which were run by my former employees and cooks trained in my kitchen.

I found I missed traveling, and, even with the success of my restaurant, I decided to close it. Since 2015, I have been constantly on the road, visiting vegan chefs, traveling to study the evolution of vegan food around the world, and continuing to learn about exciting new ingredients and cooking techniques. I have discovered beautiful vegan restaurants and met very talented vegan cooks throughout my travels, and it's very clear that vegan cuisine is gaining in popularity, moving away from being alternative to entering the mainstream.  

The 450 recipes in your book represent cuisines from over 150 countries. You travel all over the world—do various countries share certain common ingredients, spices, or types of dishes?

JCJ: The spice road is 4,500 years old. It transported flavors to our door for centuries. Out of very unique and specialized ingredients cultivated by ancient civilization, we have created a global market and slowly share the unique flavors of most of our recipes with the rest of the planet. In today's market, almost all roots, nuts, fruits, and vegetables are available in modern countries.

For me, every good recipe needs a base made of one strong flavor, or a mix of spices to create a unique flavor, and I work around this strong flavor to add texture and nutrients. While traveling, I try to understand the differences in cooking the same base of spices and flavors in locations around the world. I work to optimize each recipe in order to make it possible to cook great vegan food anywhere in the world.     

Why is Vegan: The Cookbook a book for both vegans and non-vegans? 

JCJ: The most efficient way to get the enzymes, minerals, fibers, vitamins and calories that are essential for us to maintain a high level of energy is to eat the right food. Our bodies and immune systems require garden-fresh vegetables and fruits. Vegan food, when cooked with fresh ingredients, keeps us healthy and helps us to age gracefully and stave off many common diseases.

For years, my goal has been to surprise non-vegans with delicious vegan recipes, to show that meat isn't necessary for a flavorful and satisfying meal. Vegan: the Cookbook offers recipes to satisfy all tastes. At the root of it, vegan food is just food: vibrant, flavorful, fresh, varied.

What tips can you share with someone who wants to have a more plant-based diet or eliminate meat and dairy?  

JCJ: A healthy vegan diet is more than just eating non-animal products. Like every regimen, vegan cuisine has to be balanced. You can enjoy this healthy food as you slowly make the transition and move away from unhealthy processed food. Once you get used to the taste of fresh and raw food without flavoring agents and excessive salt and sugar, it becomes difficult to go back to processed food. One of the most important factors is to eat regional and ripe ingredients, picked at the right time without weeks of transportation or preservation agents.

What are the five ingredients you can't live without?

JCJ: Ginger, turmeric, chilli, pepper, and garlic.
About the author

Jean-Christian Jury is an internationally acclaimed chef from Toulouse, France. In 2007, he opened his first vegan restaurant, La Mano Verde, in Berlin, which received great critical acclaim. He is currently preparing for the Fall 2017 opening of Blue Lotus in Hua Hin, Thailand-the world's most advanced plant-based vegan academy. He will serve as Executive Chef and Guest Chefs Coordinator.
Title:               Vegan: The Cookbook
Author:           Jean-Christian Jury
Pub date:        May 1, 2017
Price:              $49.95 US / $59.95 CAN
Binding:          Hardback
Extent:             584 pages
Illustrations:   100 color
ISBN:               978 0 7148 7391 6
Size:                 7 1/8 x 10 5/8 inches
Pre-order:       phaidon.com/vegan