The food journalist loves to experiment with all parts of the vegetable.
Esther believes carrot greens, radish leaves and melon skins are too good to go to waste. In her "leaf to root" project she focuses on the often disparaged parts of the vegetable and shows us how they can be used in cooking. The book of the same name, which she produced together with renowned photographer Sylvan Müller and top chef Pascal Haag, is considered one of the best vegetarian cookbooks in the world.
Esther has loved vegetables since she sowed her first radishes on her parents' farm as a child. And the fascination has remained to this day – she uses as much of the vegetable as she can, from the leaves to the roots. This culinary journalist and food critic is also an Internet pioneer. She established her cooking platform waskochen.ch back in 2002 – long before the first food blogs appeared.
How do your culinary creations start?
They begin in the garden. I dig up a vegetable here, a few leaves there, then a handful of herbs – and then I get started.
What inspires you?
For the "Leaf to Root" theme, which I've been working on and experimenting with for many years, I cast my research net in all directions. I speak with top chefs and take a look at what they're cooking. I meet with farmers out in the fields, trawl through historical books for old vegetable recipes and read current specialized publications. I acquire my knowledge in this way and then supplement it with my own experience.
What is your funniest / best cooking memory?
How do you eat curly kale roots? I tried with a knife and fork and failed as the roots contain a tough strand. Austrian top chef Johann Reisinger showed me how to cook and eat them. Namely by hand – gnawing on them like a chicken bone. Or "abzuzeln" as it's referred to in Austria.
How did you become a chef?
Having grown up on a farm, I have a strong affinity towards food. When I moved to the city at the age of 20, cooking always took me back to my rural roots.
Which fragrance evokes positive memories for you?
Elderflower captures my heart every spring. I've been making syrup from it for years.
Which dish do you most like cooking?
I'm constantly discovering new vegetable parts for my "Leaf to Root" project – I love it when I get the opportunity to try out a new leaf, root or flower. Most recently this was the salsify bud, which has a fantastic aroma.
And when it comes to everyday life, I like to put my own twist on Andreas Caminada's spiced lentil stew.
What's your most important meal of the day?
Dinner with friends or family as it's not just about eating but bringing people together through food.
What food makes your soul sing?
Spending a day in the kitchen with my husband making our own ravioli. The kitchen inevitably looks like a bomb's hit it, but we're happy with the result. We learned to make this ravioli when we were in Italy so we always feel like we're on holiday when we cook it.
For whom would you like to have the opportunity to cook?
I love to cook for my son because it's fascinating to see how his tastes change. Sometimes it frustrates me when he's barely reached the table before he says "I don't like that". But for the most part, he's happy to experiment.
I would consider it an honour to cook for the two German vegetable aficionados Andree Köthe and Yves Ollech from Nuremberg. I would love to introduce them to a part of a vegetable that they've never heard of before. I was able to shadow them for a day as part of my "Leaf to Root" project and I was impressed.
Do you have a secret ingredient that gives your dishes that special edge?
Yes, although it's not really a secret as many of the cooks I visited also work with it – soy sauce. The fermentation process gives dishes a savoury taste. It's definitely worth trying out. You can use it to replace salt in spaghetti sauce, for example.
What would we never find on your table?
Anything that's packaged in plastic and thrown in the oven. Even when I'm pushed for time, I still use fresh ingredients – even if it's just pasta with a handful of fresh herbs from the garden.
I love cooking with other people who are just as inquisitive as I am. We should make more of a habit of trying out new foods together.
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