Vegan Umami or The Secret Fifth Flavour: A Review of Cooking Course at The Natural Gourmet Institute

Umami – this mysterious word describes the fifth basic taste (the other four being sweet, salty, sour and bitter). This secret fifth taste is a savoury flavour that is known as “the taste beyond the taste“. It is described as a brothy, meaty and earthy taste that gives you the mouthwatering feeling that makes you want to lick your plate! I am certain that you have experienced this before! I seem to do on a regular basis since I am often tempted to finish every crumb and sometimes even make sure I get the last drop of sauce in a meal.

Have you ever heard of umami before? I, myself, did not know anything about this secret fifth flavour before my visit to New York City two weeks ago! Let me tell you how I discovered this amazing secret…

Vegan Umami Cooking Course at The Natural Gourmet Institute

I have been intrigued by The Natural Gourmet Institute for a few years now, looking at the Professional Chef Training that they offer for natural, health-supporting food and dreaming that one day, I might be able to do this Chef training. When I booked my trip to NYC, I decided to register my husband and I at one of their public classes to get a glimpse of the Institute. The class I selected was called Vegan Umami. I chose this class because I was just so intrigued by all the possibilities to learn new things about umami (it would be easy since I knew nothing about it at the time)!

When we first stepped into the Institute, I was immediately inspired by the atmosphere. The place was buzzling with chefs and students sporting white chef outfits wh0 were going from one kitchen to another with loads of ingredients, kitchen tools and books.

We were guided to the kitchen classroom where our course was to take place and handed an apron and a booklet of recipes that we would make during the evening. I was flipping through the pages while waiting for the course to start, and was so excited to look at the menu:

  • Smoky Mushroom “Bacon” Cannellini Crostini
  • Vegan Caesar Salad with Garlic Confit Dressing and Roasted Chickpea “Croutons”
  • Heirloom Tomato Salad with Cashew Ricotta and Balsamic Pearls 
  • Creamy Fresh Corn Polenta with Seared Trumpet Mushroom “Scallops” and Red Chile Infused Oil
  • Massaged Kale with Pine Nuts and Warm Golden Raisin Vinaigrette
  • Baked Eggplant Rollatini with Miso Basil Pesto and Crispy Capers
  • Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Crust Tartlets with Whipped Coconut Cream

All these items just looked like they could be served in a five star vegan restaurant! In only 3 hours, we would prepare a 7 course vegan feast while learning how to incorporate the umami flavour in all the dishes with health-supportive ingredients such as miso, mushrooms, seaweed, tempeh, etc.

The course, given by Chef Olivia Roszkowski, started with an introduction on the Institute and the concept vegan umami. The introduction was followed by a demonstration of a few cooking techniques such as pickling, smoking, grilling and making infused oils. This was really interesting and I learned a few really cool tricks, such as how to smoke tempeh at home with micro woodchips and how to pickle strawberries that are busrting in flavour.

Then, we started the fun hands-on part. We split up in groups of 3 and each group prepared 3 of the 7 recipes listed above. It was amazing to cook in a professional kitchen! There were a few great helpers that were cleaning up all of our dirty dishes and answering our questions as they arose. This made the cooking process a lot faster and enjoyable! Once we were all done cooking, we plated our dishes, placed all the food on a large table and gathered around another table to eat all this delicious vegan umami dishes. Everything was so delicious, but if I had to pick my favourite dishes, it would be the Baked Eggplant Rollatini and the Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Tartlets (unfortunately I did not get a picture of those tartlets!).

Vegan Umami Cooking Course at The Natural Gourmet Institute

Vegan Umami Cooking Course at The Natural Gourmet Institute

The coolest new technique I learned in the course was how to make balsamic pearls! Seriously, look at these beautiful black pearls that look just like caviar on top of the heirloom tomatoes. Those are the ones I made, they are not all even, but with a bit of practice, I should get better at it!

Vegan Umami Cooking Course at The Natural Gourmet Institute - Heirloom Tomato Salad with Cashew Ricotta and Balsamic Pearls

I really loved this experience and really hope I can go back for more training one day!!! I am hoping to be able to participate in the 2-week Summer Basic Intensive Class next year, we will see if this happens!

I am curious to know if you have ever taken cooking courses and if so, what are the favourite things you learned during these courses. Leave your comments below!


  1. kim says

    I am always inspired by your posts. Keep up the interesting work….and a big thank you for sharing your lovely experiences.

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