A New York chef's book touts the 'flexitarian' approach to recipes. This approach emphasizes 'convertible' recipes, which can be used with meat or vegetarian ingredients. - Bob Pennell illustration

Finding a balance

One daughter's innate aversion to meat and another's carnivorous tendencies have given Peter Berley plenty of practice in accommodating divergent palates.

Berley's new book, "The Flexitarian Table," celebrates inclusion in the kitchen with flexible, "convertible" recipes that appeal to vegetarians and meat eaters alike. A Saturday book-signing in Ashland will give local residents a chance to meet the Brooklyn, N.Y., chef and author.

Defined as "a person who is mainly a vegetarian but occasionally eats meat," a flexitarian, Berley said, also can be a non-vegetarian who enjoys meatless meals.

"It's a very flexible way of eating and cooking," Berley said. "You can enjoy a really great vegetarian meal and not lack for meat."

Although not a vegetarian, himself, Berley, 53, previously headed Angelica Kitchen, a renowned New York vegan eatery. There, he discovered that about 60 percent of the loyal clientele ate meat. He said he's now in the midst of starting his own New York restaurant based on the concept of "flexitarianism."

In "The Flexitarian Table" (Houghton Mifflin, 2007, $30, 352 pages), Berley emphasizes grains, beans and lean proteins. Menus are organized by season in keeping with Berley's passion for cooking with the freshest, local produce he can find.

"You can't get energetic broccoli in June," Berley said. "It's a matter of common sense."

Also a proponent of food co-ops, Berley jumped at the chance to visit Ashland, teach a cooking class — now full — and promote his book. In addition to "The Flexitarian Table," Ashland Food Co-op plans to stock copies of Berley's first book, "The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen," which won James Beard and International Association of Culinary Professionals awards.

Berley's philosophies fit perfectly with Ashland Food Co-op's mission of providing fresh, local and seasonal products, said culinary educator Mary Shaw, calling Berley the "poster child" for Co-op cooking classes, many of them vegetarian.

Vegetarians will be thrilled that Berley's recipes offer much beyond the realm of tofu, Shaw said. And those leery of stereotypical vegetarian fare likely will be receptive to Berley's meatless options because the flavors are so compelling, she added.

"It really helps to understand that beans, whole grains and nuts ... are very satisfying foods."

A former vegetarian, Shaw said she discovered in recent years that "balance" meant consuming some animal protein. While it's often harder convincing vegetarians to compromise moral viewpoints by eating meat, Berley said, enough make exceptions — for social, pragmatic or nutritional reasons — to warrant the term "flexitarian."

The American Dialect Society in 2003 voted "flexitarian" the year's most useful word. Its earliest known use took place in an Oct. 17, 1992, Austin American-Statesman article about a then-new restaurant called Acorn Cafe.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail

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