A meal sans meat can be a treat, says celeb chef Prue Leith
Aside from leaving her mark as a restaurateur, she is a successful businesswoman and author, penning sweeping sagas and cookbooks.
She was recently in the country, where she spoke about The Vegetarian Kitchen, co-written with her niece, Peta Leith, her cooking academy, and the launch of her glasses at selected retailers in South Africa.
On being back in the country, she says, “I haven’t been (here) as much as I would like to come. I have been really, really busy.”
Prue Leith Chefs Academy in Centurion continues to be a huge drawcard for aspiring cooks, more so as the school has trained many of South Africa’s finest.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am,” she says. “I met with about 150 students this morning and they love the course. About 40 of them are brand new students.”
As for the academy’s alumni, she shared, “It sounds a bit egotistical but I really think they’ve had a proper role to play in the last 20 years. If you think about how much food has changed in this country, how much better it has got. It’s more exciting, more varied, more inclusive, more informal and more delicious.
“People are caring more about ingredients and where they come from.
“I think the school has had a hand in that because we have produced some really passionate young chefs, who are now at the top of their game.
“They have their own restaurants. They are doing really well and they are influencing other people.
“I just spent a week in Cape Town and everywhere I went, all the restaurants would tell me, ‘Oh, can you send me more students, we can’t get enough Prue Leith students’, which is very flattering.”
That’s the great thing about Leith. She’s warm and approachable. Her colourful wardrobe, jewellery and glasses mirror her sprightly personality.
She then gets back to chatting about her new cookbook, where she encourages eating less meat.
Leith explains, “I’m not a vegetarian but I do appreciate that we should eat less meat and eat better meat.
“First of all, if you want to eat really good meat, it costs more. But it would taste so much better and it would make a great stock.
“You can save money by eating vegetarian, for three days a week, and you can spend that money (saved) on better quality meat, which will taste amazing.”
Bottom line, she discouraged eating meat if it has been cruelly raised.
“The book is written by me and my niece. She grew up vegetarian and has never eaten meat at all. She was a pastry chef at The Ivy, in London, UK.
“When I was looking around, thinking I want to do a vegetarian cookbook, I thought it would be nice to do it with someone.
“One of them would do the legwork and be the junior partner. And Peta was keen to do the testing and retesting.
“I thought it was great, she’s a vegetarian and pastry chef and she’s good on the computer. She did a lot of the boring stuff (laughs).”
Jokes aside, Leith enjoyed working with her niece.
“People think that writing a recipe book is about having wonderful ideas. There are a lot less glamorous parts to it. It has been enormous fun doing it and she has been wonderful.
“The publishers have done a good job. The pictures are real, there’s no cheating by spraying it with anything to make it shiny.”
When it comes to food, Leith is all about balance than crash diets.
“I would rather people eat what they like but not too much of the bad stuff. Be more informed about what you are eating.”
Travel has been a huge part of her life, too. On the places that tickled her taste buds, she reveals: “South India has the best food. John (her husband) and I went there for three weeks. I think Japan made a great impression on me because of the seriousness with which they take food.
“I love their noodles. And there’s this sort of bunny chow. It looks a bit like a doughnut, inside is a liquid egg and around that is a curry sauce. It is dipped in breadcrumbs and fried. It was just lovely.
“The first time I went to Thailand, I was amazed as they make the most beautiful salads. They never use oil. They use lime juice, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, coriander and maybe a bit of fish or soy sauce. I love the way they take such care with stock.
“They have a different attitude to food, which is all about freshness.”