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It’s All in the Seasoning: Vegan Delicacies That Make You Forget the Meat

Auckland, Aug 13, 2023 – Stuart Marsden, the executive chef at East Restaurant attached to Auckland’s Sudima Hotel, had his challenges when he began his journey in plant-based cuisine. “At first, I was puzzled about alternatives to fish sauce, oyster sauce, and shrimp paste,” he recalls.

But the culinary wizard soon cracked the code: it’s about tweaking the seasonings right. Now, he claims discerning between a vegetarian fish sauce and its regular counterpart is quite challenging.

The restaurant will showcase Marsden’s expertise during the Chef’s Table series for Restaurant Month throughout August. Guests can expect five courses infused with bold Asian flavors.

One standout dish will be a crispy tofu salad with cucumber, bean sprouts, peanuts, and sweet chili. The head chef at East, Vincent Yan, describes it as an impeccable blend of “freshness, crispiness, sourness, sweetness, and spiciness.”

Yan, a Guangzhou native, has been passionate about cooking since childhood, mastering the art of wok-hei or “breath of the wok.” His journey as a wok master led him from Hong Kong and Macau to Aotearoa in 2010.

While Yan has deep-rooted Asian culinary influences, Marsden, originally from Sydney, developed his love for Asian cuisine working in prominent restaurants across Australia and Southeast Asia. “Asian flavors are captivating because of their intensity,” Marsden says.

In the kitchen, Marsden’s vegan rendang with jackfruit, mushrooms, and cauliflower is a testimony to the power of Asian flavors. “You don’t miss the meat with each flavorful bite,” he says.

Despite being a meat-eater himself, Marsden believes that catering to the rising demand for vegan and vegetarian dishes is crucial. He emphasizes that a well-seasoned dish will make most diners overlook the absence of meat.

For Marsden, a quick dinner is fried rice brimming with mushrooms, spinach, spring onions, and a burst of seasonings like Chinese cooking wine and soy sauce. Yan prefers an “easy” noodle soup, loaded with mushrooms.

The Chef’s Table event, set for August 23, will feature treats like miang kham (leaf-wrapped bites), mushroom-truffle dumplings, and a mango pudding dessert with coconut sorbet and sago pearls.

“It’s entirely vegan,” says Yan, adding that a significant portion of the menu is also gluten-free.

For Marsden, Restaurant Month, an annual event by Heart of the City, revitalizes the city’s dining scene during the quieter winter months, introducing diners to novel dishes and experiences.

The Chef’s Table at East Restaurant promises an unforgettable culinary experience for $169 per person.

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