Vegan cookbook proves a tasty winner
Ilona Perry still can't wrap her head around the unexpected honour she received at the beginning of the year.
Gourmand International placed her cookbook at the top of its list of vegan offerings in 2020.
The Bermudian, whose sole claim to cooking was that she could, wrote Veganize It! only to document how she had transformed typical Bermudian dishes to suit a diet that was vegan, off and on, for about ten years.
The book took about 12 months to put together and has been available for sale since last autumn. In January, Ms Perry was notified of her win.
“Somebody nominated me for it. I've no idea who. I went online and found out that for cooking, the award is the same as the Oscars are for films. I think they have an awards ceremony at a food fair in Paris in June. I don't know who did it for me but I am really excited that they did.”
The idea for Veganize It! came from a neighbourhood friend in Los Angeles where she and her husband, Bayard Outerbridge, moved a decade ago, so he could pursue a film career. With a potluck dinner to attend, the Bermudian couple was eager to introduce Americans to a local tradition, cassava pie, the friend encouraged her to veganise it.
“At first I thought it was going to be impossible. I had already changed many other recipes, but this one was so egg and dairy-heavy.
“I had waxed poetic about cassava pie so much that he told me that if anyone could do it, I could. So I decided to give it a shot.”
After “many experiments and strange results” she ended up with something she was pleased with; her husband agreed it was close to the real deal.
“It was really hard. I tried so many versions that either came out like caramel or really brown.
“The one I finally decided on is not as yellow [as the traditional dish] because it lacks egg yolk, but it tastes the same.”
Baked macaroni and cheese, Hoppin' John and “fishless” chowder are some of the other Bermudian favourites she transformed. She also threw in dishes that were representative of her Cuban and Portuguese heritage — all without ever having a formal cooking lesson.
“My family had a restaurant in Palm Beach, Florida and they pretty much taught me how to cook, but I am not a professional by any means,” she said. “A lot of it was trial and error, I also stole a page from how other people were veganising their traditional foods.
“I tried to make it as simple as possible.
“No one wants to spend two hours to make a meal, not when you've got other things to do with your time.”
Aquafaba, the liquid left over from cooked chickpeas, has become a kitchen staple.
“It becomes like an egg white; you can actually eat it. I have eaten flans made with that and they were just incredible.”
A vegetarian for many years, she is now 100 per cent vegan when at home and does her best to maintain the diet when elsewhere.
“For me, it's always been about compassion and health,” Ms Perry said. “My father passed away with a heart attack; pretty much everyone in my family has suffered from cancer or heart disease — you look for other ways of living, so that doesn't happen to you. Plus, I love animals. I would never pay someone else to hurt them just so I could eat them.”
Her decision to not eat meat wasn't always accepted in her early days.
“I got a lot of pushback. I think people feel they're being judged by you, people are used to a certain way of doing things. In the past, vegan food has been pretty boring, all beans and rice, so I can understand why not many people were attracted to it.
“When I moved to LA, it all changed. Basically, I live in the vegan mecca; one of the biggest markets for vegan food in the world. Here the big trend is to take traditional food and create a vegan version. So we have vegan taxos, vegan creme brûlées, vegan schnitzels ... and it's great cuisine.”
• Veganize It! is available on Amazon and eBooks and at the Bermuda Book Store