Julia Maurus highlights the food crimes and accidental recipes in Jeremy Dixon’s series of healthy cookbooks.
Jeremy Dixon opened Revive Café in Auckland in 2005 with the aim of serving nourishing meals to local residents and inner-city workers. Around his establishment are dozens of other eating outlets, which Dixon says ‘are virtually poisoning people with their food and beverages.
‘My objective was to get normal people eating healthier…people who are currently eating the traditional western diet which would include meat, processed flour, sugars, pies, muffins, copious amounts of dairy, soft drinks and coffee. [These highly refined foods] damage peoples’ bodies, deplete their energy, vitality, quality of life and most likely shorten their lives,’ he laments.
Within the first year of opening, Revive Café had queues out the door most lunchtimes. Soon enough, people were asking him for his healthy recipes, and in 2012 he published The Revive Café Cookbook.
‘I have a passion for sharing health principles with people,’ he explains in the introduction to his book, which sets out his food principles, kitchen tips and ‘The 8 Keys to Healthy Living’.
‘So many people are dragging themselves through life content with being overweight, having headaches, health issues and feeling tired all the time.’
He wanted to expand his healthy influence outside of the Auckland CBD so he thought a cookbook would be a good idea. After leaving a decade-long career as a cereal marketer with Sanitarium to pursue his dream of becoming a chef and owning his own café, publishing The Revive Café Cookbook was another risky endeavour.
‘Publishers did not want to do a book for me (apparently too many cookbooks) so I published it myself,’ he says. ‘It was a lot more risk, expense and work but it has been worth it. I had a designer do the design, took up photography and put it all together. Proofing. A lot of work. And then sent to a printer to print and deliver books. I had to do all the distribution and marketing myself.’
Each recipe has a full-page photograph, a description of a feature ingredient and an introductory note revealing the recipe’s background. The Dukkah Roasted Potatoes, we read, was a finalist in the 2009 Great New Zealand Potato Challenge, Dixon created the Thai Green Curry Veges when he accidentally ordered too much green curry paste and needed to use it up, and the Almond Carrot Crunch came about as a result of a world shortage of cashews in 2011.
But the funniest anecdote is probably the one that accompanies the Miso Bean Mingle:
In my second year at Revive we had this dish displayed as a “Black Turtle Bean Stir Fry”. A new customer came in and was quite concerned that we may be using turtles in our food. He was fine when we explained we were vegetarian however our team found this very amusing.
With recipes like Not Butter Chicken, Neat Loaf and Shepherdess Pie, these cookbooks will be an adventure for most. Dixon espouses ‘an attitude of trying anything new. Step out of your cooking comfort zone. Be prepared to make a few mistakes. If you stick to the recipes you will be fine.’
He is certainly experimental (ever thought to julienne pumpkin or substitute sunflower cream for sour cream?) and loves getting a traditional meal and making a healthy version. And he has raised the hackles of some customers by taking ‘food naming liberties’. His ‘Corn & Potato Chowder’ ought to be a soup, he says, but ‘we make it thick, add chickpeas and serve on rice to make it a hotpot.’ Of the Mushroom Goulash he writes:
I sometimes call it a Russian stroganoff and sometimes a Hungarian goulash. However I get in trouble with Russians and Hungarians every time as they both claim it is not true to their national dish. But it is a great hotpot and the joy of owning a café is that you can call dishes what you like. Well you can until the mafia visits.
His favourite recipe is the Pumpkin, Spinach, Ginger & Tofu Curry in Cookbook 1. ‘This dish was on the menu in the first few weeks we started Revive. It is our customers’ favourite too and is so easy to make.’
Dixon describes his cooking style as ‘healthy, whole foods, plant based, rustic, quick and simple.’
As a proponent of a vegetarian whole food philosophy, what does he make of the paleo diet, which has been in the news lately?
‘The paleo diet has some redeeming features like lots of fruit and vegetables,’ he concedes. ‘However that is where it ends. It promotes a lot of meat which is responsible for disease and does not allow for eating healthy grains or legumes. It is popular because it tastes so good. I call it the heart attack diet.’
Dixon, who also runs cooking demonstrations and writes a weekly e-newsletter, did not envision The Revive Café Cookbook as a series, but the first and second books both went well and now he is producing a cookbook a year. He puts a lot of creative energy into the challenge of choosing and organising the recipes for each book but, having learnt a lot in 10 years creating café food, he has a good base and is slowly improving his process from one book to the next.
‘It is a successful formula so nothing massive has to change.’
Indeed, when asked why he didn’t include estimated preparation and cooking times in the recipes, he answers: ‘You cannot include everything that every cookbooks does. Just choose what is appropriate.’
His advice to aspiring cookbook authors: ‘Make sure you have something different or special to share. Don’t copy or try to be someone you are not.’
The Revive Café Cookbook (RRP NZ$30.00) is published by Revive Concepts Ltd <revive.co.nz/cookbooks>. On the website you can also watch the first episode of Dixon’s Cook:30 TV show and sign up for weekly emails containing recipes and cooking and lifestyle tips.
Images copyright and courtesy of Jeremy Dixon.
The original version of this article was published as ‘Writer at Work: Jeremy Dixon’ in The Australian Writer issue 389 (September–November 2015).