As a meat-sot—the author of a book about hamburgers, a public hater of vegetables for years and the founder of Meatopia, a flesh-centric food festival—I was more skeptical than most about the rise of vegetable cooking in America. It seemed vain, sanctimonious and showy. It could never take the place of real food, or satisfy an unjaded appetite.
Then I ate Tim Rattray’s cauliflower risotto. And my doubts disappeared.
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Based in San Antonio, Rattray is probably the only modernist barbecue chef in the country. I stumbled across his restaurant, The Granary, and was knocked out by what he was doing with things like beef clod and lamb shoulder. Imagine my shock, then, when his best dish turned out to be an all-vegetarian item that carried the smoke and intensity and richness of good barbecue. He smokes cauliflower in the pit, then juices it for risotto stock; other bits go into a cauliflower cream, and the finished whole is folded with gelled “bursts” of IPA beer, shiitake powder and a fractal slice of dehydrated cauliflower. The risotto is soft and sweet, the IPA gels bitter and firm, and the mushroom powder brings an umami wallop.