Archive for November, 2008

School Cook Creates Vegetarian Dishes

November 26, 2008

Wylie Gray poses with his chef’s hat Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2008, while preparing
a hot meal for students at Bentonville’s Seventh-Day Adventist School.

Meat Takes Mystery Role In School Lunch, School Cook Creates Vegetarian Dishes

November 25, 2008

Editor’s note: Chef Series is an occasional feature about local chefs — including professional and home cooks — who exhibit dedication to furthering the culinary arts.

This profile will offer a few tips and recipes from the featured chef.

This month’s chef is Wylie Gray.

By Marla Hinkle

BENTONVILLE, ARKANSAS — Wylie Gray builds layers of organic spaghetti sauce, pureed zucchini squash and whole-wheat noodles.

He prepares a vegetarian meal for children at the Bentonville Seventh-day Adventist School each Wednesday. About 29 pupils are enrolled, and not all partake in the meatless lunch.

Meals are $2.50 for children in kindergarten through second grades, and $3 for older students and adults. All proceeds from the lunch go back to supporting the school.

Rob Farinholt, principal at the school, said Gray has become creative in his cooking skills.

“I know my daughter Simone looks forward to hot lunch day on Wednesdays. As parents, we love it, too,” Farinholt said.

The school recently promoted its support of nutrition with a four-day Vegan Raw cooking class presented by health and lifestyle trainers Jeff and Nancy Reidesel. The members also have recipes published in the church cookbook.

About 60 people attended the event each night, Farinholt said.

Gray has been a supporter of the school more than 20 years and is the grandparent of two pupils there, Brayden Richardson and Brielle Richardson.

“We do not serve fast food here. I think you’re a lot better off if you have a more natural diet,” Gray said.

He also takes the time to do his enchiladas “the hard way” dipping his shell in sauce and adding ingredients one by one.

“When you layer food, it separates the flavor of each ingredient, and you will taste more of it.”

Adding flavor is one of the challenges he must meet in preparing tasteful vegan and vegetarian food that, at times, strives to imitate meat texture. Take Gray’s lasagna. He used spun dried soybean to add bulk. He said it’s virtually tasteless but tends to soak up whatever ingredients and spices are in the recipe. Sometimes he uses griller burger from Morningstar Farms.

He has used cashew cheese and bell peppers in his lasagna for added flavor and texture.

“Soybean has a nice texture to it and is a good, transitional food.”

The Bentonville Seventh-day Adventist Church has a potluck on the Sabbath, and they don’t serve meat, so the school continued that tradition, Gray said, although it’s not a church doctrine one cannot eat meat.

Also, a couple of doctors who are church members agree with this diet, Gray said. Some members are completely vegan, and he tries to accommodate them by using Smart Balance non-dairy butter and soy milk in recipes like his mashed potatoes.

“I ran out of Smart Balance and used one stick of butter in my Banana Nut Bread, but I didn’t use eggs.”

One loaf didn’t rise, but two did.

“It’s no big deal, since the flavor didn’t change.”

Dessert is usually healthy, such as Gray’s Tropical Fruit Kabobs.

“I don’t fix sugar cookies.”

All cookies aren’t forbidden. Gray has made oatmeal cookies with a cherry in the middle for decoration. He’s also used crushed pineapple in his banana bread.

Gray used to have more of a sweet tooth, he said.

He grew up in Hammond, La., home of 5,000 people “and a few old grouches,” Gray said, smiling as he shared a description of what was written on the town sign.

Gray was born to older parents; his father was 60 and his mother was 43 when he was born. He liked to cook with his mother.

“I remember we were always shelling black-eyed peas, snapping green beans and picking blackberries. We had 5 gallons of blackberries, and I could have all the pie I wanted.”

A pulpwood train went by their home, and he recalls a man waving to him and throwing him a bag of candy as he went by.

“I have the cavities to prove it.”

In the summertime, Gray’s father would give the train crew some of the vegetables he had grown in his garden.

Although the family grew their own food, at times, there wasn’t enough money to pay for food.

Gray caught his own trout and cleaned them. He still eats some meat.

“I’m open-minded. If it’s vegan and it tastes good, it’s good.”

He had the chance to put his cooking to the test while in the military. Gray was a medic in Vietnam, and he was put in charge of cooking one day when they were short-handed.

A back injury has caused Gray a great deal of back pain. Nerve damage and arthritis prevent him from standing at the sink and peeling 20 pounds of potatoes, he said.

Wednesdays can be a struggle for him, but it is a day he still anticipates with pleasure. A staff of about four adults assists him.

If he has a problem with food, Gray said it’s simply that he eats too much of it.

The children have their own favorites, like Haystacks, a layered combination of Frito chips or baked chips, cheese, beans, lettuce, tomato, picante sauce or salsa, sour cream and onions.

“The kids haven’t told me I’ve fixed the same thing twice. Even when I have a repeat, I’ll do something different.”

Tofu Lasagna

12 lasagna noodles, whole, cooked
Cashew Cheese, recipe below
Tomato sauce, recipe below
1 pound tofu

Tomato sauce:

1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup carrots, grated
1/4 cup green pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 quart tomatoes
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 cup vege-burger (optional)
1/2 teaspoon basil

Saute vegetables in oil until tender and add vege-burger. Add tomatoes and simmer for 1/2 hour.

Cashew Cheese

1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon onion salt
3 tablespoons brewers yeast
1 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup oil
1 (4-ounce) jar pimientos
1 teaspoon garlic salt

Place water, cashews and salt in blender. Whiz thoroughly. Add oil slowly until mixture thickens. Add lemon juice, pimiento and seasonings and whiz again.

Crumble tofu into bowl, pour in the cashew cheese and mix. Use alternately with tomato sauce and noodles. Save some to drizzle on top. Bake lasagna at 350 degrees until good and bubbly.

Servings: 8 to 10.

— Vonda Beerman, “Favorite Vegetarian Recipes” (Bentonville Seventh-day Adventist Elementary School)

Persimmon Cake

1 cup persimmon pulp
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup butter
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon soda

Combine all ingredients. Mix well and pour into a well-greased and floured pan. Bake approximately 40 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

— Katy Jones, “Seasoned with Love” (Rogers Seventh-day Adventist Church)