In New York, Sarma Melngailis, owner of Pure Food and
Wine restaurant and One Lucky Duck takeaway shop, opened
her high-end restaurant operation seven years ago, breaking
the tradition of the stark, uninviting environments that tended
to describe the first generation of vegan restaurants.
“Pure Food and Wine has a cozy, sexy and warm vibe, staffed
by chefs who have a passion for food and just happen to be
vegan,” Melngailis says. “I wanted to open a place that would
appeal to everybody, not just servicing vegan or specifically
raw foodists. On a weekend night when we do 200 covers or
more, a great many of our customers come to us because they
like food and the contemporary dining experience first and
wish to be vegan or consumers of raw food second.”
She has taken vegan one step further into the raw food arena,
where foods are never allowed to go above 115-118ºF and
where nothing on the menu is served above that temperature,
even in winter. Relying on dehydrators to “cook” and
concentrate the flavor of foods, there are no ovens or stoves
in the kitchen, a source of confusion to health department
inspectors but a boon to a restaurant operator whose menu
items are less apt to lead to outbreaks of foodborne illness.
Given that the careful preparations for much of the menu occur
during before-service times, Melngailis says, “Serving our
kind of food does not have to rely on really skilled line cooks,
as would be needed in an orthodox meat-centric restaurant.
All of the components are already made earlier in the day, and
our line cooks’ skills are centered around the need to be able to
ABOVE: Sarma Melngailis’ menu items at Pure Food and Wine, including this
zucchini lasagna, appeal to a wide range of diners.
Five years ago, The Veggie Grill
opened in southern California.
Now with seven locations and
further expansion planned on
the West Coast this mini chain
is proving that “Vegan cuisine,
which is purely plant-based, can
be delicious, wholesome and
satisfying, and unthreateningly
familiar, appealing to a wide
audience, many of whom do not
identify themselves as strictly
vegans or even vegetarians,”
says co-founder T.K. Pillan.
Featuring brightly colored,
contemporary décor, the
restaurants’ menus boast starters
and sides, entree salads (All Hail
Kale with quinoa and agave-
roasted walnuts in a ginger/papaya
vinaigrette is a bestseller), soups
and sandwiches and burgers, but
with a difference. The chicken is
chickin’ and the beef is made from
seasoned vegetable protein. All
offerings come in at under $10, with
all dishes produced on premises.
“We don’t promise low-calorie
meals, but instead, ‘good calorie’
foods with no cholesterol, trans
fats or high fructose corn syrup,”
“Those looking for fast-casual
dining at a price point slightly
above the fast food chains are
flocking to this fresh concept,
transcending the mom-and-pop
vegan restaurants of yesteryear
and shaking up stereotypes about
this kind of food in the process.”
make a beautiful plate of food, not juggle sending out plates of
meat or other protein cooked to multiple degrees of doneness.”
Although the menu at Pure Food does not feature fake meat
or mimic the flavors and textures of meat, the menu does
make use of thinly sliced dried parsnip, for instance, which
has been marinated in spices and maple syrup and bears
an uncanny resemblance to bacon. Further, finely blended
nuts, drained and pressed and sometimes fermented for a
stronger, well-ripened flavor, become the basis for what
otherwise might be cheese or dairy-based ingredients.
If Mario Batali offering a vegan tasting menu at his
decidedly meat-focused and upscale Del Posto in New York
is any indication, then perhaps it’s time for more chefs to get
on the bandwagon, even with a single featured vegan special
of the day (marked as such on the menu).
PHOTO CREDIT: Pure Food and Wine
Challenging oneself as a creative and resourceful chef may not
be the only benefit of such an exercise. It may lead to winning
new loyal customers in the process or pleasantly surprising
those you already have with meat-free and dairy-free options.
ROBERT WEMISCHNER (W W W.ROBERT WEMISCHNER.COM) TEACHES PROFESSIONAL
BAKING AT LOS ANGELES TRADE-TECHNICAL COLLEGE AND IS THE AU THOR OF FOUR
BOOKS, MOS T RECENTLY, THE DESSERT ARCHITECT (CENGAGE LEARNING, 2010).