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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
http://www.latimes.com/features/food...headlines-food

This article is, for the most part, AWESOME! Read up, especially all you Angelenos...

Quote:
FOOD

Nouveau Vegan

Take an austere way of eating, add masterful chefs. Even the foodies will approve.

By Valli Herman-Cohen

Times Staff Writer

July 23, 2003

Top chefs always have their eyes open. They know a trend when they see one. They know when to hop on the bandwagon while there's still room. And the latest one trundling through town carries the awareness that chefs have to find a way to appeal to the impressively large tribe of vegans.

Vegans! These people a meat-eating, dairy-slurping eater might think are the anithesis of the food lovers who fill the tables at top dining spots. They hardly eat anything. Well, yes and no. In fact, that's the challenge.

The trick is to take the ingredients vegans do eat and bring to them the same intensity, innovation and affection for the beautiful dish that prevails in more conventional approaches, and in the process change dutiful eating into joyful dining.

Over the last few months, a handful of Los Angeles chefs have expanded their vegan repertoires in earnest. They have maintained their creativity and style, even as they've eliminated many of the basic materials that define them: butter and cream, fish and meat, even eggs and cheese.

It's all proof that serious vegan cooking isn't some passing fad, such as raw food and its gimmicky imitations. (Pizza with a "living buckwheat crust"? Get real.)

At Grace on Beverly Boulevard, chef Neal Fraser has featured a vegan appetizer, entree and dessert every night since the restaurant opened about five months ago. He has served a pumpkin soup with a soy-tofu foam and now offers a corn soup with squash blossoms. The main dish is a basmati-stuffed pepper with diced vegetables, dried fruits and pecans. For dessert: a rich chocolate ganache tart made with maple syrup and presented with sour cherry compote and roasted Spanish almonds.

"It's shortsighted to think that everyone eats meat and fish," said Fraser. Tellingly, the vegan rice-stuffed pepper outsells the chicken, said Richard Drapkin, managing partner.

With a gilded edge

While it doesn't seem like such a leap for a chef like Fraser, cooking in an ambitious modern style, it's something of a surprise to find an extensive vegan menu at a formal French restaurant.

But that's exactly what Jean Francois Meteigner is doing at La Cachette in Century City. It started last year, with an episode of "Dinner for Five," an Independent Film Channel series with actor Jon Favreau and four guests.

An episode was being shot at the restaurant. "Two days before, they tell me one guy is vegan," Meteigner said. "That is when I started seriously panicking. I didn't know what vegan food was, frankly. Then I did a lot of research on the computer. I found that we had a lot of stuff that worked."

That guest, actor Ed Begley Jr., became a regular at La Cachette, and Meteigner started cooking monthly vegan dinners. Now Begley has spread the word to fellow vegans, such as actor James Cromwell, and Meteigner has expanded his repertoire with $50 vegan-tasting menus on Friday nights. On Aug. 10, he'll do seven courses, pairing each one with either fresh-squeezed juices or wine. He's even offering a $25 vegan picnic basket.

As Meteigner presented a beautifully composed terrine of beets, avocado and heirloom tomatoes, he couldn't contain a bit of pride.

"If vegan could be like this all the time, I'd eat it all the time," he said. His family is eating more vegan meals partly to avoid his toddler daughter's egg and dairy-product allergies and because his wife, Allie Ko, grew up on Korean cooking that's often all-vegetable. Ko introduced her husband to ingredients as she shopped for soy milks, rice ice creams and the like for their daughter.

It's not without some sacrifice that these chefs give up their traditional ways of cooking. Yet as demand grows for vegan food, many have adjusted.

Six weeks ago, Miró, the restaurant at Santa Barbara's Bacara spa and resort, added a four-course, prix-fixe menu for vegans and vegetarians.

"When we'd get a vegan request, it always seemed like it was during a rush," said sous-chef Joe Anguiano. "It was like we turned into Iron Chef and had to do something spur-of-the moment."

Chefs these days also have to consider nutrition as much as they do taste and presentation, said John Rucci, an executive food and beverage manager at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. Chef Bill Bracken of the hotel's Belvedere restaurant has adapted many recipes to appeal to vegans.

"In this day and age," said Rucci, "if you can't vary from macrobiotic to vegan and everything in between, you are not going to survive."

In fact, vegan dining has become a sort of draw for some restaurants. In June, Hugo's in Studio City hosted a "Mindful Dining" evening of mostly vegan courses accompanied by meditations on the food. Its 40 seats sold out in a week.

When he moved from Atlanta three years ago to Jer-ne at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey, chef Troy N. Thompson offered many vegan menu items in anticipation of dozens of requests. The response wasn't overwhelming, but he's still pushing toward a more haute vegan menu. He's done vegan meals with wine tastings and is redesigning the restaurant's menu to include a "veggie menu" that will appeal to vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike.

At HamaSaku, a Westside Japanese restaurant, owner Toshi Kihara has his chefs turn tomatoes and a sushi rice risotto into objects of art. Beneath the pickled eggplant and snow-pea garnish is a tasty and satisfying dish. For three years, he's offered a vegan menu, mainly because he's noticed diners from the entertainment industry are increasingly avoiding meat and dairy products.

Until recently, vegan cuisine was perhaps accurately perceived as an austere way of eating that was more heavily infused with philosophy than with flavor. In the nearly 60 years since the British Vegan Society coined the term vegan for nondairy vegetarians, the concept has become more mainstream. Locally, restaurants such as Real Food Daily have grown as they've cast off their grubby, extreme-cuisine image in favor of a good-for-you gourmet label.

Eddie Caraeff, chef of the Newsroom Café in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, is one of the city's pioneers in restaurant vegan cooking. His Santa Monica cafe opened 13 years ago with a menu minus red meat and fried food. It's the same today, but his vegan customers make up nearly 20% of the patrons, who frequently include some of the city's top chefs.

"It is harder to cook vegan," said Caraeff, who is glad to see haute cuisine embrace the animal-free ideal. "Usually vegan food is so bland. Why is that? Do they think that vegans won't take anything with a little zip?"

Beyond Tofurkey

Vegan cuisine itself has adopted a more progressive attitude. Making pretend "lamb chops" or using vegetable ingredients to mimic other animal-based foods is passé. Chefs are maximizing fresh produce with simple dressings and purées, and creating beautiful plates of artfully combined ingredients. Eric Tucker at Millennium in San Francisco has helped make vegan home cooking more interesting too.

"A lot of people think of it as for ex-hippies who are eating granola and brown rice and overcooked vegetables somewhere. We are showing that you can do a lot of different textures and flavor combinations," Tucker said.

The success of vegan cuisine has spread awareness of the diet's vast potential, not just its limitations.

Tucker recently moved the Millennium restaurant just blocks from Union Square in San Francisco a move that's symbolic of veganism's encroachment upon mainstream culture. In November, Tucker's new cookbook, "The Artful Vegan" (Ten Speed Press), will show home cooks how to put a gourmet spin on vegan cuisine with the restaurant's recipes. A new everyday vegan cookbook "Vegan Planet," by Robin Robertson (Harvard Common Press), puts 400 vegan recipes in paperback.

Still, this cuisine can be tricky for chefs used to consuming the world's bounty.

"As a French chef," said Meteigner, "it's very difficult to use no eggs or butter."

Fraser, meanwhile, continues to explore. Right now, he's working on an entree composed of stuffed vegetables: an heirloom tomato with couscous and hemp seed; a fried squash blossom with potato stuffing; a poblano chile filled with rice; and maybe even some new twists on squash.

Um, hemp seed?

"It's got the same texture as couscous," he said, not to mention essential fatty acids. "And if you're not going to eat meat, it's a good thing to consider."
 

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Maybe California has some redeeming qualities after all! I knew it had to be possible for a "chef" to make something more appealing then tossed salad, steamed green beans and baby potatoes swimming in margarine.

I knew there were places like the greens (not actually vegan) and I can usually put SOMETHING together from the menu but this is great.
 

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It's still wierd how they keep peppering the article with little things like

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"It is harder to cook vegan," said Caraeff, who is glad to see haute cuisine embrace the animal-free ideal. "Usually vegan food is so bland. Why is that? Do they think that vegans won't take anything with a little zip?""

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I just don't see what the problem is really. I'm not a world class chef and I've never made anything bland.

It just kindof annoys me seeing so many references to tasteless and bland in things .... but it's good to see articles in mainstream publications
 

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I noticed that too, DK.
Quote:
It's all proof that serious vegan cooking isn't some passing fad, such as raw food and its gimmicky imitations. (Pizza with a "living buckwheat crust"? Get real.)
Something tells me this guy did an article on raw cooking three years ago.


The rest of the article was pretty good, but I must admit, I was quite confused until I passed "might" in this sentence
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Vegans! These people a meat-eating, dairy-slurping eater might think are the anithesis of the food lovers who fill the tables at top dining spots.
 

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Nice article!

We have it pretty good here in Santa Fe, too - most of the upscale restaurants have lots of creative veg*n dishes. I got some quinoa-stuffed poblano peppers once that were exquisite. Alas, though, the less expensive places are less likely to have decent choices on the menu.

It's interesting to me that the perception persists that it is somehow difficult to make vegan food tasty. I've never had that problem, and it doesn't make sense on the surface of it. The herbs and spices that we use to flavor foods are all vegan.

In most places, the challenge of a vegan diet is not cooking, it's shopping.

Blessings, Tom
 

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Some of the best meals I've had have been in omni restaurants when I have to go for business or whatnot. I usually call ahead and then everyone at the table oohs and aahs over my plate (which also cost less!). I usually dreaded these meals since they are nonoptional, but they've turned out to be a treat.

For instance, I went out to Bacar in SF last month, which is rather swanky. The menu is full of lobster, veal, foie gras and wild "game" dishes, so I didn't think I'd get a decent meal. The chef himself came to the table to assure me that everything was vegan and to get my opinion on the food! I was served a salad of mixed greens with sauteed pears and gingered pecans for starters. My entree was two different risottos, one with wild mushrooms and the other with squash blossoms and a whole slew of roasted vegetables along with a fresh heirloom tomato salad with fresh herbs and a balsamic reduction. There was enough food for three. Dessert was a trio of exotic fruit sorbets with a bitter chocolate and cognac sauce. Drool! I think my meal came to about 30 bucks with tip.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I had to call ahead to a restaurant at the Disneyland resort to request a vegan dish for brunch the weekend of my wedding, when my family was out. The foods was fantastic. A little heavy on the curry, which my wife doesn't like, but even she thought it was great. Vegan food, in the hands of an excellent chef, is superior to what the average person considers food.

Anyway, the reservations you all had about the article are the same I had, which is why I said "for the most part," but even now, reading them, I get what it's saying, because your average non-vegan thinks exactly that way, so I'm not going to tear him apart for it. When you go to a fabulous gourmet restaurant, even their simpler dishes have more pizzazz than the bland old food I used to eat. I can see why someone experienced with haute cuisine would think that any vegan dish I prepared on a daily basis was bland, and not just in terms of flavor, but preparation, color, etc. That's a big part of haute cuisine.

I'm very excited about this article, and I hope thousands and thousands of people in LA saw it. Now we need it to trickle down to chain restaurant cuisine. Let's see Wolfgang Puck put his inventiveness into creating a couple of vegan selections for his cafe restaurant chain... CPK, that kind of thing. I actually read that the veggie (vegan) burger at Houstons is one of the best veggie burgers in the world.
 
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