With the huge rise in plant-powered diets, Olivier Troalen, from Lymm’s La Boheme, shares his animal product-free cooking secrets

What is your favourite vegetable to cook with?

I’d have to say celeriac because it’s so versatile. It has a brilliant texture and taste, and can be used in so many different ways in the kitchen, ranging from roasting it to making a delicious purée. You can even eat it raw as part of a nice salad.

Who are your favourite chefs?

Staying true to my roots, my two favourite chefs are both French. The first is Mr Roche, who was my teacher at ‘Ferrandi’ catering college in Paris.

He was a true old-fashioned French chef, who inspired my love for cooking. I am also a huge fan of Raymond Blanc.

We’ve met a few times and he is passionate about good quality produce and showing the world just how good French food can be.

What is your signature vegetarian/vegan dish?

One of my most popular dishes at La Boheme is a vegetable roulade, which is from the south of France where I grew up.

It is packed full of potatoes, red onions, aubergine, asparagus, and roasted red pepper, all topped with a tomato dressing. It has a really wonderful rustic flavour and it looks great too.

Is there such a thing as vegan cooking when it comes to French cuisine?

It’s definitely becoming more prominent as the vegan diet grows in popularity and more products are available. At La Boheme, my aim is to create as wide a range of delicious vegan dishes as possible.

Historically, French cuisine hasn’t catered that well even for vegetarians – most French cheeses contain animal rennet for example.

That’s definitely changing though, and at La Boheme, we’re careful to offer a vegetarian cheeseboard and vegan wines.

What is the secret to vegan cooking?

Generally, the secret to cooking is the use of fresh, seasonal produce but with vegan dishes you have the added complexity of only being able to use certain ingredients.

In this case, education is key and you have to arm yourself with the knowledge of which products are suitable.

For example, I use vegan cream cheese for my Christmas log.

What’s your biggest culinary achievement?

Running La Boheme for the past 20 years has to be top of my list.

French food isn’t necessarily the go-to cuisine in the UK, so the fact we continue to be fully booked every week means a great deal to me.

I’m also extremely proud of my debut cookbook – A Taste of France in North West England – which was a sell-out back in 2012.

What’s your favourite part of Christmas?

5pm on Boxing Day when Christmas service is over...just joking! I love how busy we are over the festive period, both with our usual client base and new customers, and really enjoy providing them with the delicious food and buzzing atmosphere required to make it a lunch or dinner they will never forget.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Eric Cantona, Marilyn Monroe and my late, great father, Pierre Troalen.

What are you most looking forward to in 2020?

There are so many great things coming up but to name a few – La Boheme’s 20th anniversary party, the launch of my new cookbook – A Taste of Home – which aims to rekindle the UK’s love of French home cooking, a crowdfunding campaign to give people the chance to be a part of the new cookbook, developing vegan and vegetarian tasting menus and I’ll also be hosting a series of cookery demos at the restaurant, showcasing recipes from A Taste of Home.

How do you impress vegan guests at Christmas?

By infusing the flavour of Christmas into every dish. This is what I’ve done with the vegan log recipe, incorporating chestnuts and spices to give you that truly festive feeling. Here’s how…

La Boheme Christmas vegan log with cranberry Cumberland dressing 

With chestnuts and spices, my vegan log recipe is the perfect complement to seasonal vegetables from your Christmas table. 
It takes just 20 minutes to cook and most of the prep can be done the day before.
Winsford Guardian:

Ingredients: 
For the vegan log

400g fresh washed spinach leaves
Olive oil
150g shallots, peeled, roughly cut 
1 clove of garlic, crushed
400g vegan cream cheese (or vegan garlic and herb cream cheese)
500g chestnut mushrooms, cut into quarters
150g cooked chestnuts cut small
80g hazelnut, pistachio, almond, cashew or pecan nuts 
20g plain flour and 30 ml cold water, mixed to make a paste
1 packet of spring roll pastry (550g)
2 dessertspoons of balsamic vinegar, poured in a ramequin or saucer 
 

For the Cranberry Cumberland dressing
4 dessertspoons cranberry sauce
100ml Port
Zest and juice of one orange 
Zest and juice of one lemon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon English mustard powder
50g dried cranberries
4 Cos lettuce leaves
2 dessertspoons sesame/walnut oil 
Winsford Guardian:

Method 
For the Cumberland dressing 
1. Pour the orange and lemon zest in boiling water and leave 2 minutes to take away bitterness, then drain well. 
2. In a small saucepan, melt the cranberry sauce and the Port. 
3. Add the juice of the orange, lemon, ground ginger and mustard to the Port mix. Work thoroughly with a small whisk, bring to  boil for minute. 
4. Add the lemon and orange zest and the dried cranberry and simmer for about 3 minutes.
Sauce is ready, reserve until needed. 
For the filling 
5. Lightly toast the nuts in a frying pan for 2 minutes, just enough for them to turn a lightly brown colour.
6. Place into a food processor and whizz to crush into small pieces.
7. Place crushed nuts into bowl and add the vegan cream cheese and cooked chestnut and mix well.
8. Add the spinach leaves to a large saucepan and secure the lid. Cook the spinach slowly until it is completely cooked but remains a nice green colour, then drain any liquid out. 
9. Let the spinach cool down long enough for you to be able to handle, then press the spinach in the palm of your hand to squeeze out any excess water.  
10. Once free of water, place the spinach in the mixing bowl with the nut and cream cheese and mix well.  
11. Place the roughly chopped shallots into a food processor and whizz into small cubes. 
12. Place them in a large frying pan and add two dessertspoons of olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook the shallot purée on a medium low heat for approximately 5-7 minutes until the shallots turn a slightly dark gold colour
13. Place the quartered chestnut mushrooms into the food processor and whizz them into small cubes.
14. Add the mushroom and crushed garlic, salt and pepper to your golden shallot purée and cook slowly until all the water from the mushrooms has evaporated and you are left with a dry mushroom and shallot paste.
15. Add this to the spinach, cream cheese and nut mix. 
16. Once you have checked the seasoning, let the mix cool down completely and place it in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
All of this can be done on Christmas Eve, but I would recommend filling the spring roll pastry just a few hours before serving so the log stays nice and firm before cooking. 
Assembling the log 
17. Put two sheets of spring roll pastry over each other and place two tablespoons of mix onto the pastry leaves, starting about 5 cm from the edge and leaving about 2 cm clear at each side.
18. With the help of a pastry brush, brush around the edge of the pastry with some of the flour and water paste. 
19. Fold the left and right side of pastry over the cream cheese filling and roll it into a nice tight cylinder. 
20. Make individual logs for each plate so repeat this process four times or until your filling is used up.
21. Place the logs on a tray lined with greaseproof paper and cover with cling film. Keep it in the fridge until you are ready to cook.
Bake and serve 
22. Preheat your oven to 170 degrees. 
23. Pour three dessertspoons of olive oil in a light roasting tray and place it over a medium low heat on your hob until it is hot.  
24. Place the logs in the hot oil and cook for approximately two minutes until they start to colour slightly. 
25. Turn the logs over and place in the oven for 15 minutes, making sure to turn it every 5 minutes. 
26. Once the logs are ready, use a pastry brush to lightly paste balsamic vinegar over them to give it the log colour effect. 
27. Turn the oven off and leave the logs in there to keep warm until you are ready to serve.
28. Pour two tablespoons of sesame oil into a hot frying pan. Cut the Cos lettuce in half and fry for two minutes, until it begins to caramelise while retaining its al dente texture. 
29. You are now ready to complete and serve the dish. Place the Cos lettuce on a serving dish, place the hot Christmas log on top and drizzle some of your cranberry Cumberland sauce around the dish- alternatively, place the Cumberland sauce in a bowl for your guests to serve themselves.