Vegetables Take Center Stage

Vegetables are sitting high on the list of trends in culinary right now. Many believe that the vegetable focused trend started as early as 2001 when French chef Alain Passard removed all red meat from L’Arpege, his restaurant in France. Whether you call it vegivore cuisine, or vegetable focused, one thing is for sure, today’s chefs are reimagining vegetable preparations that appeal to meat eaters and vegetarians alike. It’s really no wonder that this trend is gaining speed.

For one, it’s an increased focus on consumer health. Rising rates of obesity and a desire for more “better-for-you” options are driving consumers to seek out new flavors and more vegetables on their plates. While the steak the size of your plate is something that will never go away, more and more the shift to vegetable-centric plates translates to a healthier bottom line for both the consumer and the restaurateur. This trend is not about excluding meat from the plate but rather using it as a flavor to complement the vegetables. Because one thing is for sure, consumers as a whole still want meat on their plate.

In addition to the purported health benefits of a vegetable dense diet, more restaurants are shifting to a focus on vegetables for another reason entirely – cost. Especially in light of the recent egg shortage and with escalating beef prices, making vegetables the star just makes sense. With this shift of protein to the left of center, food costs are reduced. It’s the difference between an 8 ounce portion of meat on the plate versus 2-3 ounces that complement the flavor of the vegetables.

Concepts that are setting the trend:

  • Dirt Candy (Amanda Cohen, NY) – a strictly vegetarian restaurant known for its fun and whimsical outlook on vegetables, features unique dishes such as portobello mousse with cherries and Asian pears as well as grilled smoked broccoli dogs.
  • Oxheart (Justin Yu, Houston, Tx) – helmed by Justin Yu, Oxheart features 2 tasting menus, the Garden Menu (vegan) and the Tasting Menu (vegetable-centered). The chef comes with a rather impressive pedigree, including time at restaurants Green Zebra, Spring and Ubuntu.
  • Gardner (Ben Edgerton & Andrew Wiseman, Austin, Tx)- featuring fresh and locally sourced produce complemented by fresh seafood and proteins with a heavy focus on vegetables, Gardner was recently nominated by Bon Appetit for “Best New Restaurant”. While they didn’t make the Top 10, even a nomination is worth a mention.
  • Commissary (Roy Choi, LA) –  a restaurant inside of a working greenhouse on the 2nd Floor of The LINE Hotel, Commissar features several protein based dishes but the predominant portion of the menu features vegetarian dishes with the signature Roy Choi flair. Think fusion cuisine with Asian and Mediterranean flavors. Charred carrots with a tart yogurt drizzle, radish sprouts and a drizzle of green sauce signify the focus of the menu: the freshest vegetables, reimagined with creative cooking techniques and complementary flavors.
  • Beefsteak (Jose Andres, D.C.) – Chipotle-esque concept in D.C. from Jose Andres that focuses on feeding fresh vegetable based dishes to the masses. With 3 locations and an assembly line format, this may very well be the beginning of a very successful vegetable based franchise.
  • Gjelina (Travis Lett, Venice Beach, CA) – while not a predominantly vegetable focused restaurant, there is a whole section devoted entirely to vegetables, and then another section devoted to salad, which may or may not contain animal proteins. Even in the salad section, the utilization of animal protein is kept to a minimum. Interesting dishes include a squash blossom pizza with burrata and roasted sun chokes with garlic tarragon and vinegar.

One thing is for sure, if you are developing concepts for the next generation consumer, well-constructed, vegetable-focused plates play a key role and a tasty one at that.

 

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