Jo Pratt, co-founder & organiser of the Cookbook Festival
Profile by Bridget Osborne
August 2018 (Updated August 2019)
Talking to Jo Pratt I realise her book is exactly what I need. The Flexible Vegetarian is for cooks who want to try out vegetarian recipes but may want to add a bit of meat or fish if they feel like it. In any family gathering you’re quite likely to have a teenager taking their first steps to becoming vegetarian and a diehard carnivore who doesn’t consider it’s a proper meal unless there’s meat involved. Jo’s book solves that problem.
Vegetarian dishes are no longer the preserve of wild-eyed zealots hell bent on saving the world. Now that there are interesting vegetarian recipes available, there are plenty of non-vegetarians who like good food, want to eat healthily and are as likely to choose a vegetable dish for a main course as they are a meat dish, and this is being recognised by mainstream cookery writers.
Jo is a TV chef who has worked with big name chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Gary Rhodes, Gordon Ramsay, and John Torode. She’s also the author of six successful cookery books before this one and has recently taken a step into the restaurant world by collaborating with three female chefs, Sophie Michell, Gee Charman and Caroline Artiss to launch The Gorgeous Kitchen, ‘a contemporary restaurant specialising in beautiful global cuisine made with British-grown produce’ at Heathrow’s Terminal 2: The Queens Terminal.
She has always been interested in making food. She went back to her primary school recently she told me and is fondly remembered by the school cook as a little girl always in and out of the kitchen asking for recipes. She didn’t want to work in a restaurant when she finished her Home Economics degree at John Moore’s University in Liverpool. It’s very male dominated she says and the hours are anti-social “you finish at midnight or one am and you don’t want to go straight home so you go out with your co-workers”. It also takes a long time to reach a position where you are able to be at all creative.
Top right – Jo with Melissa Hemsley, Cookbook festival 2018; Middle: Jo with Trine Hehnemann, Cookbook Festival 2019; Festival marquee 2019. Photographs by Charmaine Greiger – charmainegrieger.co.uk
She contacted the BBC’s Good Food Magazine, managed to get work experience there and to stay on. One thing led to another, working behind the scenes on food programmes until she was asked to be on camera. Now she has the experience and reputation to be as creative as she likes and finds that a lot of her ideas come from cooking at home for her husband Phil and two children , who at time of writing are 11 and 9. “The kids are getting more adventurous with their food. We can eat together without the adults having to compromise”. They eat at a restaurant like Wagamama’s and then come home and try and create their own versions of the dishes.
Jo lives locally and met co-organiser of the Cook Book Festival Lucy Cufflin when she wandered into Lucy’s cookery school Ginger Whisk off Turnham Green Terrace a couple of years ago. They became friends and collaborators and in 2018 the Cook Book Festival was born.
Read profile of Cookbook Festival co-founder and organiser Lucy Cufflin
The Flexible Vegetarian by Jo Pratt is available to buy in Waterstones or online here. Published by Frances Lincoln, an imprint of The Quarto Group.
Jo followed up a year later with The Flexible Pescatarian, available to buy in bookshops or online here.
Jo’s recipe for Creamy mushroom, leek and chestnut pie
The combination of mushrooms, leeks, chestnuts and thyme are bound together in a silky smooth sauce using fortified Madeira wine, porcini mushroom stock and Jo’s ‘wildcard’ – tofu. ‘Not only does the tofu keep the fat content lower than if you use cream, it also gives a big hit of protein too’. Food Photograph by Susan Bell.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
20g dried porcini mushrooms
300g silken tofu
2 tbsp olive oil
250g chestnut mushrooms, halved
250g portabella mushrooms, thickly sliced
2 large leeks, sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
200g ready to eat chestnuts, roughly chopped
approx. 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp cornflour
80ml / 1/3 cup Madeira wine
2 tsp sherry vinegar
375g all-butter puff pastry block
flour for dusting
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp milk (egg wash)
pinch poppy seeds (optional)
flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Time taken 1 hour 15 minutes + 30 minutes soaking. Serves 4
Heat the oven to 200 degrees C / 400 degrees F / Gas 6.
Place the porcini mushrooms in 400ml boiling water and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Drain and reserve the liquid.
Put the tofu and reserved porcini liquid into a blender or food processor and blitz until completely smooth and creamy. Set aside.
Melt half the butter with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large saucepan over a high heat and fry the chestnut mushrooms and portabella mushrooms until they have browned and softened. Remove from the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the remaining butter and sauté the leeks for a few minutes until softened and just starting to colour.
Stir in the porcini mushrooms, fried mushrooms, garlic, chestnuts and thyme. Cook for about one minute. Mix the cornflour into the Madeira wine to make a loose paste, then add to the pan along with the tofu and porcini ‘cream’. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 3-4 minutes for the sauce to thicken. Stir in the vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a pie dish or individual dishes and leave to cool slightly.
Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured surface until just a little bigger than the dish / dishes. Brush a little egg wash over the rim of the dish / dishes and sit the pastry on top, pressing the edges to seal. Brush the top with egg wash and scatter with poppy seeds (if using). Pierce a hole in the centre to allow steam to escape when cooking and sit on a baking tray.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the pastry is puffed up and nicely golden. Rest for 5 – 10 minutes before serving.