‘Umami’ delicious in any language

You’re familiar with sweet and sour, salty and bitter. But do you know the taste of umami?

Greg Laviolette says umami is his specialty.

“It’s the fifth flavour,” explains the chef at Greens Organic Café on the corner of Lochiel and Christina streets.

“Umami translates from Japanese and means deliciousness.  When you’re cooking and it is missing something, it’s the umami that fills the flavour hole.”

Since becoming a self-taught expert in organic and vegan cooking, Laviolette has learned that ripe tomatoes, mushrooms, cashews, tahini and nutritional inactive yeast are some of the most common umami sources.

He incorporated all of them in the menu he created for the Greens Organic Café when it opened 14 months ago.

Cashew cream, for instance, is in nearly everything, adding flavour and texture very much like cheese.

Laviolette, 49, grew up in Sarnia and left when he was 18. He worked in the restaurant business for years in Toronto and Mexico before returning home. His family owns Albert’s Rolling Lunch on Michigan Avenue in Point Edward, where he took a job when he got back.

“But by then I was a vegan and I brought my own lunch in every day.”

He used to eat meat and dairy. In fact, he’s owned two restaurants – a small diner in Toronto’s Kensington Market called Hell’s Kitchen and a fish and chip place in Mexico – where meat and dairy were staples.

But eight years ago he lost his aunt and uncle to cancer, and that made Laviolette think more seriously about diet.

“I actually googled anti-cancer diet and the answer came up vegan.”

When a friend opened a restaurant at Lochiel and Christina in Sarnia, he started what he calls a “pop up” operation on weekends that involved him bringing in all his own food and preparing a vegan menu.

He developed each item from scratch or took an existing recipe and adapted it. That lasted for 15 months and proved very successful, said Laviolette.

When the friend’s restaurant lease became available, Laviolette signed on with business partners Don Conant and Dr. Lenka Kucerova and Greens Organic was launched.

“The pop-up restaurant was a great way for me to get my feet wet,” he said. “It’s really how I developed the menu for our new café.”

Greens Organic Café House Dressing

2 cups raw cashews (soak for two hours)

2 tbsp toasted sesame oil

2 tbsp tamari or soy

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

Blend until smooth. Lasts 10 days in the fridge.

 Nut Parmesan (1 cup)

1 cup raw cashews or walnuts

½ cup nutritional yeast

¼ tsp onion powder

¼ tsp garlic powder

¼ tsp salt

Process in food processor until a fine crumb. Ideal for pasta, Caesar salad or mac & cheese.

– Cathy Dobson