20 May 2022 · Event
In this ckbk Livestream and Q&A, which took place on Wed 25th May 2022, Michael Daniel, author of The Gate Vegetarian Cookbook and its followup The Gate Easy Vegetarian Cookbook, was joined in the kitchen by Guardian columnist, food writer and cookbook guru Felicity Cloake.
Michael and Felicity cooked a dish from The Gate Vegetarian Cookbook and answered your questions on vegetarian cooking.
The featured recipe is Beetroot Cutta with Kubba - a traditional Indo-Iraqi soup served with kubba (semolina dumplings).
Michael Daniel is the founder and owner of The Gate restaurants, an award-winning Vegetarian/Vegan restaurant that is now in its fourth decade of trading. He is the co-author of two feted cookbooks: The Gate Vegetarian Cookbook and The Gate Easy Vegetarian. He opened his first restaurant with zero formal training but armed with a deep love of his grandmother's food which was a blend of Indo-Iraqi-Jewish cuisine.
Felicity Cloake is the award-winning author of the Guardian’s long-running How to Make the Perfect column as well as six books, the most recent of which, One More Croissant for the Road, was shortlisted for the Fortnum and Mason food book of the year award. Her next book, Red Sauce Brown Sauce: A British Breakfast Odyssey is out in June 2022, published by Mudlark.
1. How did you get interested in food?
I’m of Indo-Iraqi Jewish heritage and our childhood was filled with big family dinners and eating as a social occasion. Food was central to everything. The original inspiration for The Gate was about the intensity of the food we grew up with. Everything always had to be done just so. If it wasn’t made a certain way people had no qualms about commenting – the rice is this or that dish is that. Our family was obsessed with food.
2. Who is your biggest foodie inspiration?
It all started at my grandmother’s house where the smells would waft and linger from the kitchen (the oh-so-mysterious kitchen). It was like the house had a permanent aroma of spices and you’d get hungry just walking through the door, even if you had eaten very recently.
I remember going there once and being allowed to help clean rice, which was a great elevation in status for me. To be able to do something for the woman who was always so serious and so stern with us most of the time and of course revered by all.
It was as if some chemical neurological switch in my brain was activated just by walking through that door and all I would think about was what would be on the menu that day as my nose started twitching.
For me, the greatest of all in those days (mid-seventies) was when Hamin (a chicken & rice hot pot stew) was prepared for my bar mitzvah lunch. This involved the dish being cooked over night for about 12 hours to absolute perfection. I still smell the memories to this day.
3. What’s your favourite foodie destination?
Indian cooking is my soul food, it is the food I grew up eating and is my comfort food. When my brother and I turned vegetarian, my mum and grandma began to cook much more without meat, it was just as good. It taught me a valuable lesson and what would become the mantra of The Gate, you don’t need meat to have great food. A great part of our food desires came from our childhood food influences and experiences but the Gate evolved out of an interest in all cuisines and our ambition to recreate these dishes by taking out the non-veg parts.
4. What was your first job in the hospitality industry?
We first started cooking from home in the tiny kitchen with a 4-burner domestic oven and hob from our flat in Swiss Cottage - selling soups, pastries, pakoras and the like to local shops and delis in the Hampstead area - most of which have now long gone.
Then Adrian got the idea for us to start doing catering at festivals over the summer months. Before we knew it, we were serving food to Hot House Flowers, Meatloaf and Bonnie Tyler! We returned to London energised with a new confidence that we really had something to offer and The Gate was opened four months later.
5. What sparked your interest in vegetarian/vegan food?
I became a vegetarian at 17, after a summer as a five-star crew member at the Golden Arches restaurant, eating meat was becoming both a political and moral issue. I began to see the meat industry was a large economic gravy train, causing cruelty and suffering on a mass scale and in the process disconnecting people from their food. Being vegetarian was something I thought about often as a young teenager but never acted upon. My eureka moment finally came in the frozen section at Tesco in Hendon. Looking at long freezer full of chickens, I wondered how many of these I would consume over the course of a year – even a lifetime. I felt that by making a personal decision I could really make a difference.
6. What was the inspiration for starting The Gate?
My brother and I were having a really hard time finding something decent to eat outside the house. London was obviously a very different landscape then. So we decided to do it ourselves with zero experience, zero knowhow and zero cash. And here we are 33 years and four restaurants and one global pandemic later.
8. Having seen the vegetarian and vegan sector grow in the last 5 years, where do you see it in 5 years’ time?
It’s clear that the number of people cutting back on meat and dairy is growing rapidly and it’s encouraging to see the shifts, big and small. Now you can go to almost any restaurant and find 10 or 20 percent of the menu is vegan.
We are different from our competitors as we have only had a single mission in mind since we started – serving freshly prepared, delicious and beautifully presented vegetarian and vegan food. No production kitchens, nothing bought in.
We just focus on what we do and keep on doing. We can’t be distracted by fads or trends in the rest of the sector, we just focus on making great food.