Kerstin Kühn: On veganism and LA's top vegan restaurants

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th February 2016
This month, Los Angeles-based food writer Kerstin Kühn wonders why veganism is still frowned upon by so many chefs and takes a look at LA’s top vegan restaurants and their signature dishes. One of the strangest things I have had to get used to living in Los Angeles is people’s unusual eating habits. Almost everyone here is on a different diet: gluten-free; meat-free; dairy-free, paleo or raw food only. It’s exhausting to keep up with everyone’s dietary restrictions and when I recently invited some new friends over for dinner, I instantly regretted that decision when they told me they were vegans. I actually panicked. “We must cancel or suggest we eat out instead,” I shrieked. “What the hell can I cook that is vegan?” “Ask one of your chef friends,” my husband calmly replied. But when I took to Facebook asking my “chef friends” to please help with recipe ideas, these were some of their responses: “Lights off and be very, very quiet if the doorbell goes.” “Choose your friends more carefully.” “Run!” While the comments obviously made me laugh, they also made me realise that veganism is still something many meat eaters and clearly a lot of chefs frown upon. And I think those beefy opinions are largely unfair. Firstly, as annoying as it can be at times, let’s not judge people based on their eating habits. If everyone ate a little less meat, I’m confident this world would be a better place. Secondly, as chefs, who cook for a living, surely you guys should have a few ideas for meat-free dishes up your sleeves? It’s 2016, people – embrace different types of cuisines, including plant-based cooking. A plate is not just a plate of food if it has meat on it! I understand that living in Southern California, I am exceptionally lucky to have access to some of the most incredible fresh produce in the world. With vegetables that are so fresh, vibrant and full of flavour, it’s easy to cook an amazing dish without meat. But in an effort to inspire meat eaters and chefs elsewhere in the world to try to cook and eat a bit more vegan food once in a while, here’s a little round up of some of Los Angeles’ best vegan restaurants and their top dishes. LA’s TOP VEGAN DISHES: Plant foodPlant Food and Wine This Venice Beach restaurant is the new flagship from celebrity chef and James Beard Award nominee Matthew Kenney. The ethos is serving upscale vegan cuisine showcasing local produce alongside organic and biodynamic wines. There’s no tofu here, just the best seasonal fruit and vegetables the chefs can find. Top dish: Cacio e Pepe This is a vegan take on the Roman pasta dish, consisting of raw zucchini and spicy greens tossed in a sauce made from sunflower cream with lashings of black pepper and lemon, and topped with sprouts and a black olive crumb. It’s light and fresh, peppery and creamy and nobody needs dairy when it is served like this. Crossroads New York Times bestselling author and chef Tal Ronnen is the go-to chef for LA’s most famous vegans, including the likes of Sir Paul McCartney, Jay Z and Beyonce. His creative vegan dishes are exquisitely presented showcasing vegetables as the centerpiece rather than the side dish in his Mediterranean-influenced menu. Top dish: Jann’s bagel A bagel smeared with Kite Hill Cream Cheese, which is made from almond milk, and piled high with slivers of red onion, capers and carrot "lox". How can carrots taste like smoked salmon? You roast them, wrap them in nori (seaweed) and then smoke them. Café Gratitudesamosas Shiny, happy people work at Café Gratitude, a vegan restaurant chain that serves innovative plates in a smart setting. Dishes have hippie-inspired names like Magical, Honest or Devoted but it’s not all airy-fairy: the food is great and there’s a pretty decent wine list to boot. Top dish: cauliflower yam samosa chaat Made up of two whole-wheat samosas with a roasted garnet yam and cauliflower filling, it comes with kale, chana masala, housemade bengali garam masala, coconut mint chutney and spicy tomato jam. A lot of intense flavours come together in this delightful dish. Shojin The dishes at this Japanese vegan, organic, macrobiotic "sushi" restaurant are unlike anything you’ve seen before. shojinLocated on the third floor of shopping mall in Little Tokyo, its meat substitutes comprise tofu and tempeh, along with an interesting range of veggies and grains. Top dish: Baked scallop roll Instead of scallops, this dish is made up of a combination of Eryngii mushrooms and onions on a spicy Hijiki (sea vegetable) roll with sweet tamari sauce. And for a bit of theatre it gets torched at your table. Little Pine Singer-songwriter Moby has ventured into hospitality with this all-day vegan restaurant serving an all-organic, plant-based menu inspired by Mediterranean and California cuisines. Top dish: Shepherd’s pie By definition a meat eater’s dish, this is made with beluga lentils and house-made Italian seitan sausage, which are cooked in a dense stew of roasted tomatoes and mirepoix. It is then topped with mashed potatoes, which get their creaminess from roasted garlic cashew cream. Not only is this dish rich in flavor, but it is also rich in protein thanks to the lentils and the seitan sausage. Kerstin_KuhnKerstin Kühn is a freelance food and travel writer, specialising in restaurant and chef stories. The former restaurant editor of Caterer and Hotelkeeper, she relocated from London to Los Angeles in 2013, where she lives on the city’s trendy East Side. With a vast network of chefs from around the world, Kerstin has profiled the likes of Michel Roux, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, the Roca brothers and Massimo Bottura. She is a regular contributor to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, FOUR Magazine, M&C Report and Spinney’s Food, and also writes her own blog, La Goulue. You can follow Kerstin on Twitter @LaGoulue_ >>>Read more of Kerstin's blogs here.
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th February 2016

Kerstin Kühn: On veganism and LA's top vegan restaurants