PLANT-BASED FOOD & WHISKY PAIRING
Making an elephant dance
The days when being vegan meant blank stares or raised eyebrows are long gone. But how would a plant-based dinner menu work alongside a pairing of Society whiskies? We asked Shiruna, Adrian and Gauri Boelle, the family team behind My Elephant Kitchen, to combine their expertise in vegan cuisine with Adrian’s Society whisky knowledge to conjure up a three-course meal paired with suitable SMWS flavour profiles. Pull up your chair, raise your glass and prepare for a feast sumptuous enough to make an elephant do a joyful jig
“Namaste! We’re thrilled to have you! Take a seat and unwind. Everything is ready.”
The first scents of spices and the promise of an exotic dinner welcome us, as our hosts Shiruna, Adrian and Gauri bid us to come in.
A beautiful old Indian teak table catches the eye, while candles burn and block-printed textiles decorate the dining room. There’s a feeling of home and festivity in the air.
A Society bottle sparkles in the light as our glasses are being filled. Bright and golden, the inaugural dram swirls in the glass. The first whiff is enough to know a beautiful, vibrant peated malt awaits. There are notes of peppery spices, burnt herbs, and incense, peat fires, with a distinct fresh citric fruitiness – all enticing the senses.
While we contemplate the complex nose, the first course is being served.
A beautiful handmade plate laden with an explosion of colours appears in front of us.
Shiruna tells us: “We’re starting off with a salad of black beluga lentils and red kidney beans with slices of fresh Greek summer oranges, lemon zest, and pomegranate seeds, with a sprinkle of fresh coriander and Indian chillies rounded off with our tamarind chutney.”
Taking the first bite, a burst of flavours explodes across our palates. The earthy, nutty taste of the lentils give the dish substance, the fresh juiciness of the orange and pomegranate, and the rich sweet-sour tamarind chutney excite, but it is when we finally take the first sip of our dram, that it all becomes a match made in heaven.
Whisky aficionado Adrian, the spirits expert of My Elephant Kitchen, explains the pairing. “When looking to pair malts and food, there are a million options,” he says. “You don’t want the spirit to overwhelm the flavour of the food, but to enhance it. With a strong peaty whisky, you shouldn’t always go for a dish that already has a smoky character, as otherwise smoke is all you get. I feel the whisky works perfectly with this dish, adding herbal and spicy notes and underlining the fresh citrus fruit and coriander, while being strong enough to take the tamarind chutney for a waltz. Also, the peatiness goes wonderfully with the different lentils, which have a light smoky flavour.”
“With a strong peaty whisky, you shouldn’t always go for a dish that already has a smoky character, as otherwise smoke is all you get”
A LIFELONG PASSION
Adrian is no stranger to the Society, having worked as a barman at The Vaults for a year during his student time at the University of Edinburgh. “It was at The Vaults where I truly received my whisky education,” he says.
“Being trained by some of the finest noses, chatting with the members, but more than anything by tasting my way through the most exciting whiskies in the world, laid the foundation for a lifelong passion.
“It is so fascinating to discover the myriad of flavours a great malt reveals. Closing my eyes and breathing in, the grey Edinburgh mist would disappear and worlds would open up.
“A busy spice market, a bonfire on a beach, or a lavish feast of the ripest tropical fruits, the possibilities are endless for the open-minded whisky enthusiast.”
Adrian’s passion for malts led him on a rewarding path of brand ambassadorial work for some of the big names in the industry, before choosing to focus on the plant-based food start-up he set up with his daughter Shiruna and wife Gauri, both passionate chefs, food innovators, and photographers. “It felt like the perfect opportunity to bring together our talents and multiply our potential,” he says. “We all care about great food, joyfully spreading the word about a plant-based lifestyle and bringing people together across the world for a better future.”
“We all care about great food, joyfully spreading the word about a plant-based lifestyle and bringing people together across the world for a better future.”
WARMING THE HEART AND SOUL
While chatting and enjoying we don’t even notice how our plates disappeared and the door opens up to Shiruna and Gauri bringing in the main course. A big steaming bowl of golden saffron-infused basmati rice with green peas, peppered with whole cloves, star anise, and sultanas, finished with a sprinkle of coriander leaves. Next comes a tray with a cauliflower roasted whole, covered in a rich red masala. Chef Gauri explains that this is a lavish Himalayan mountain feast, warming the heart and soul.
“The slow-roasting of the cauliflower in the masala really transforms the vegetable,” she says.
“It is sweet and nutty, tender yet firm enough, with a hint of smoke, enhanced by the rich spices of the masala. Complemented by the saffron rice, this is truly a dish worthy of a maharaja, letting us savour the best that mother nature provides for us.”
The dram chosen to ennoble the feast is a wonderful opulent malt from the Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits flavour profile. The whisky from a second fill toasted butt evokes dreams of Indian spices, dried dates, sultanas, chocolatey flavours and intense molasses. Tasting the amber liquid with the food is a reverie.
“This bliss of a whisky is the ideal accompaniment for such a rich dish,” explains Adrian. “Imagine a magnificent orchestra uplifted by an ingenious conductor, who brings out new levels from each player, creating angelic harmony.”
“Imagine a magnificent orchestra uplifted by an ingenious conductor, who brings out new levels from each player, creating angelic harmony.”
AN ODE TO LIFE
Our evening is rounded off with a sublime vegan Kesar mango-raspberry cheesecake on a base of cacao oats and flax seeds. The freshness and youthfulness of the light fruit filling is perfectly tender, lush and creamy with the nutty, chocolatey base, divine. It transports us to a magnificent sunset on the shores of Goa.
Complemented by a first fill ex-bourbon barrel malt from the Sweet, Fruity & Mellow flavour profile, it is an ode to life. The dram echoes with notes of tropical fruits and citrus, vanilla fudge and spices. It has a wonderful silky texture, coating the mouth and making us crave more.
Talking about her passion, Shiruna explains: “I love to create vegan dishes that give people a chance to see the possibilities without being too complicated to prepare at home. Going plant-based should mean having more joy, taste, and happiness in your life.
“We chose to name our venture My Elephant Kitchen as the elephant is such a wonderful example of a large and strong animal, who loves fiercely, protects, and is royal while being plant-powered.
"It has a huge foot but in comparison to us leaves such a small footprint. A world in which we look more for connection and cherish what gives life over taking life, makes the elephant happy and I feel on an evening like this, it dances joyfully.”
An evening spent with Shiruna, Gauri and Adrian celebrating life through colourful plant-based soul food – with the perfect pairing of Society whiskies – it feels like nothing makes more sense than that.
With the powerful image of the happily dancing elephant, swirling a fine Society malt in his hand, we bid our farewells, leaving inspired and ready for more.
Shiruna, Gauri and Adrian Boelle are based in Switzerland, where they write about plant-based food and lifestyle and host bespoke events
The dram echoes with notes of tropical fruits and citrus, vanilla fudge and spices. It has a wonderful silky texture, coating the mouth and making us crave more