Innovative cooks are finding more inspiration in a giant head of cauliflower than they are in a hunk of meat. Here, F&W explores the state of vegetable-centric eating, with recipes from culinary stars.
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Chef Innovator Richard Landau
The menu at Vedge restaurant in Philadelphia is filled with words you might see at a barbecue joint, like smoked and charred. But unlike most pit masters, chef Richard Landau coaxes incredible flavor from vegetables—roasting carrots in fragrant spices, say, then finishing them on the grill and serving them over black lentils with olive stew and harissa. He’s a master at building layers of flavor, whether using dried shiitake mushrooms and kombu in an umami-rich broth for soups, or creating a kimchi stew with pickled tofu and charred broccoli.
Landau has been part of the Philadelphia restaurant scene for years: He and his wife, Kate Jacoby, who makes desserts, opened Horizons Café in the Philadelphia suburbs in 1994. The restaurant was well loved, but even after they moved it downtown in 2006, it never got out of its vegan niche. It also started to feel dated. “We used to try to figure out how to charge $19 for an entrée,” Landau says. “But in the end, there were too many things on the plate.” Vedge is vegan as well, although the word appears nowhere on the menu. “That was a conscious decision,” Landau says. “I want to be compared against the best restaurants in the city, not other vegan and vegetarian restaurants.”
In Landau and Jacoby’s newest book, Vedge, they share simplified restaurant dishes, like a BLT made with seared king oyster mushrooms instead of bacon. “In Philadelphia, you can always get a fine vegetarian meal, like asparagus with Parmesan and a fried egg,” Landau says. “We wanted to remove all animal products to create a meal you can’t get anywhere else.”
Cookbook Legend Deborah Madison
Long before today’s chefs proclaimed their love of vegetables by turning mushrooms into “pâté,” there was Deborah Madison. As chef at San Francisco’s Greens in the early ’80s and author of the groundbreaking 1997 book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, she used her vast knowledge of vegetables to bring out the best in each type. She was one of the first US chefs to approach vegetarian cooking with elegance; without ever seeming preachy, she made it seem perfectly reasonable for omnivores to eat meatless meals once in a while. Since moving to New Mexico in 1990, she has championed farmers’ markets and heirloom seeds and, most recently, she’s taken up gardening as research for her 11th book, Vegetable Literacy. She’s aiming at a new generation of cooks who want to know the difference between Scarlet Nantes carrots (often used for supermarket baby carrots) and the pale-fleshed White Belgian kind in their CSA boxes. “When you get behind the pretty face of vegetables, you learn that hundreds of years ago, new varieties were regarded with great suspicion. In England, they even had to be presented to the courts,” she says. “Now, we’re all so curious—we’ll try anything.”
Star Bloggers David Frenkiel & Luise Vindahl
Green Kitchen Stories, a four-year-old blog focused on whole grains and vegetables, is almost too perfect. The home page shows a grid of stunning food images, all healthy dishes, all of them shot in the most flattering natural light, often on a beautiful rough-hewn wooden table. David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl, the Stockholm-based couple behind the blog, are also enviably good looking, as is their three-year-old daughter, Elsa. But just when you start to think their life is too idyllic, they make a disarmingly honest confession. Recently, for instance, Frenkiel wrote about how he usually photographs recipes for the blog close up, because their city apartment “is in a constant state of half-broken.” While the two bloggers are still pursuing other careers—Frenkiel is an art director at a Swedish interiors magazine, Vindahl is studying to become a nutritional therapist—they have accomplished a lot on the food front: They’ve created two outstanding and easy-to-use cooking apps (including one on healthy desserts) and written their first cookbook, Vegetarian Everyday. And they have plans for more. “If we could, we’d write our next cookbook from Italy,” Frenkiel says. “That’s the dream.”