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For Four Seasons chef Ned Bell, food has to be good, and good for you, too

0043_Gray_Flavours Spring 2014_Ned Bell

These days, for chef Ned Bell, it’s all about health: Healthy food, healthy living and the health of the forests, fields and oceans where his ingredients originate.

By Joanne Sasvari

“I realized as I turned 40 that I don’t want to lose my passion for cooking, and not to lose your passion, you have to evolve,” says the executive chef at Yew Restaurant + Bar at the Four Seasons Vancouver. After all, he adds, “The heartbeat of Vancouver is the way that we live and the way that we support our farmers and fishers.”

This health-conscious approach to food and lifestyle is all part of the message Bell will be spreading when he appears at the EAT! Vancouver show May 30 to June 1 (eat-vancouver.com) along with other Canadian culinary luminaries such as Lynn Crawford, Rob Feenie and Chuck Hughes.

It’s also what he’s cooking up at the Four Seasons, and not just when it comes to his vegan menu or his energizing power cookies. When he joined the hotel in 2010, he decided to focus on seafood. He also decided that if he was going to serve seafood, it would be as sustainable as possible. Soon afterward, the Four Seasons Vancouver became the first luxury hotel in Canada to be fully Ocean Wise, no small feat for a property that serves food 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Nowadays, though, what really excite Bell are the vegetables he’s serving.

“We celebrate the vegetable throughout our menu,” he says. “I’m huge into nutrient-dense, plant-based cooking. If you eat a head of cauliflower, you fill your tummy with nutrients, but you don’t fill it with calories.”

Vegetables are incredibly versatile, Bell says. Take cauliflower. You can serve it roasted, raw, steamed, pureed, pickled, deep-fried, smothered in sauce, lightly spiced or made into soup. You can always top it with tender seafood, tangy cheese or crispy bacon. And who says it needs to be white? Nowadays, you can find purple, orange or yellow cauliflower, as well as green broccoflower at most markets across Western Canada.

Vegetables are also easy for the home cook to prepare. “It comes down to experimentation,” Bell says. “Don’t be afraid of the cauliflower.”

Recipe

FBz-Cauliflower-Four-Ways-with-BC-Spot-PrawnsCauliflower Four Ways with B.C. Spot Prawns

This colourful recipe comes from Ned Bell, executive chef at Yew Restaurant + Bar in the Four Seasons Vancouver. He says, “My food is always firmly rooted in the ingredients. Purity, freshness, authenticity and simple elegance.” He also notes that this recipe is easy to make vegetarian by serving it without the seafood and increasing the size of the cauliflower salad.

PREP TIME 1 hour

COOKING TIME About 5 minutes

SERVES 2

12 B.C. spot prawns

3 cups (750 mL) white cauliflower florets

¾ cup (180 mL) white or rice wine vinegar

1/4 cup (60 mL) water

1 tsp (5 mL) pickling salt

1 tsp (5 mL) sugar

Sea salt to taste

½ cup (125 mL) yellow or orange cauliflower florets

½ cup (125 mL) purple cauliflower florets

1 tbsp (15 mL) camelina oil (Three Farmers, if possible) or extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp (5 mL) fresh lime

1 tbsp (15 mL) crème fraiche or sour cream

Toasted and crumbled cashew nuts

1. About an hour before serving, poach the spot prawns: Place the spot prawns in a shallow baking dish, then pour boiling water over them. Let them sit for about 30 seconds, then plunge the prawns quickly into ice water until cool. Peel prawns and remove heads; cover and refrigerate tails until ready to use. 2. Lightly steam the white cauliflower florets for 2 to 3 minutes, then cool them in ice water. 3. Make the pickled cauliflower: Place 1 cup (250 mL) of the steamed cauliflower florets in a non-reactive bowl. Heat the vinegar, water, salt and sugar just to boiling, then pour over the cauliflower and allow to sit for about 10 minutes. Drain, and set aside. 4. Place the remaining 2 cups (500 mL) of steamed cauliflower florets in a blender, Vita Mix or food processor and puree. Season to taste with sea salt, and set aside. 5. Using a mandoline, shave the raw yellow, orange or purple cauliflower into paper-thin slices. Toss with camelina or olive oil, lime juice and sea salt. Set aside. 6. Assemble the dish: Mound the cauliflower puree on a plate or in the bottom of a bowl. Attractively arrange the pickled and shaved cauliflower on top. Add a dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream, sprinkle with toasted cashews, then top with the spot prawns.

Wine pairing

To go with chef Ned Bell’s recipe for Cauliflower 4 Ways with B.C. Spot Prawns, Four Seasons Vancouver sommelier Emily Walker recommends the 2010 Citra Palio Pecorino Terre di Chieti from Abruzzi, Italy. (In this case, she points out, “pecorino” does not refer to the cheese, but to the name of a grape from the Abruzzo region.)

“The Citra Palio Pecorino has an inviting nose showing aromas of juicy ripe pears, green apple and cashew butter,” she says. “On the palate the wine is medium bodied with brilliant acidity and flavours of bright green apple, lemon peel and more of those ripe, juicy pear notes with a chalky minerality on the finish.” She adds that the wine’s crisp acidity and balance of fruity and savoury notes pair particularly well with this dish.