Not many years have passed since I mocked vegetarianism in my restaurant reviews, resorting lazily to cliches about its followers and their sandals knitted out of muesli.
Veganism seemed then even more aberrant and cultish.
How times change for now, I guess, I cook and eat meat-free and fish-free meals four or five times a week.
Partly because it’s healthier. Partly because I’ve become aware of the negative impact that livestock farming and intensive fishing can have on the environment.
But also because I’ve learned, too, that with imagination, knowledge and skill even a home cook can rustle up some fabulous food based on vegetables, pulses and fruit.
Let’s not pretend that I’ll ever give up slow-cooked ox cheek, crisp-skinned pork shoulder, roast chicken or lambs liver.
Nevertheless, there are delights be had from ingredients that didn’t once moo, oink, cluck or baa.
Which was why I was thrilled and intrigued to be invited to a vegan cookery school at Michelin-starred Simpsons in Edgbaston.
My excitement was well-founded for this turned out to be an informative, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable day in the company of some great chefs.
And we ate some extraordinary food after watching it being prepared in the restaurant’s Eureka development and cookery school kitchen by young chef Adam Beaumont and a small team of colleagues.
They spoke with enthusiasm and passion about using plant-based ingredients and pushing the boundaries of vegan cookery, explaining how vegetables, once the garnish on a plate, could centre-stage.
They provided fascinating insights during a thoroughly relaxed day.
Our small group – including plenty of omnivores as well as veggies – gathered for coffee an introductions before heading to the Eureka Kitchen.
There we watched as Adam and his colleagues prepped ingredients and provided plenty of professional tips on general cookery and vegan cookery.
We learned about alternatives to mainstream cookery staples such as butter, cream, eggs and cheese.
There was hands-on experience of preparing our own apple tarts made with vegan puff pastry and served with blackberry sorbet and salted caramel sauce (using almond milk).
We also rolled out pasta that was made not with eggs but with aquafaba – the gloopy liquid from chick peas.
The skill, order and control with which the chefs worked was impressive, especially since they found time always to engage with us rookie onlookers.
We learned techniques to pickle and ferment carrots, create black garlic and make perfectly cook brassica.
But most thrilling for me was the creation of a concentrated sauce with a beautiful depth of colour and plenty of layers of flavour based on celeriac dry-roasted in the oven until almost black.
After the hard work was done and the chefs were finishing off, we headed downstairs for Champagne and canapés before returning to the Eureka Kitchen to eat the results of the morning’s labours, with plenty of good wine.
The menu was delightfully balanced and varied and delivered plenty of flavour and texture that was worthy of the restaurant’s Michelin status.
This was a day of discovery – and pleasure.
To find out more about the cookery schools at Simpsons
Go to https://www.simpsonsrestaurant.co.uk/