Vegetables take center stage when chefs put
produce first. BY CLARE LESCHIN-HOAR
ndrea Reusing didn’t intentionally set out to offer a veg-
friendly menu at her Chapel Hill, N.C., restaurant Lantern. It snuck up
on the award-winning chef because she has a soft spot for local farmers, and cringed at
turning away produce that unexpectedly showed up at the back door.
PHOTO CREDIT: Top right, clockwise to top left: Carmen Troesser; David Naugle; Craig Brimanson; Bridget M. Rehner; from Cooking In the Moment (Clarkson Potter, 2011)
That 50 pound bag of tender young beets had to be used, which meant slipping them into
dishes across the menu. But an abundance of spectacular and sometimes unexpected produce
also summons chefs such as Reusing, and plenty of others, to change the way they incorporate
vegetables into their menus. Increasingly, tasty green things are getting the star treatment.
Some of that momentum could be fueled by movements such as Meatless Mondays or President
Clinton’s public outing as a vegan, promoting a less-meat-is-cool-too attitude among guests. Or
perhaps it’s simply a shift in the way diners are looking to eat.
But many chefs warn that success in breaking meat as the center-of-the-plate model hinges on
how a dish is formed from the get-go.
“In my experience, it’s not useful to conceive of a dish as vegetarian, but think about the specific
vegetable and what flavors make sense. Let the dish fall into place that way. It may call for a little
bit of cheese, butter or a little bit of bacon, and then the dish becomes something that attracts
a guest who wants vegetables, but isn’t necessarily vegetarian or vegan,” says Reusing, whose
recent cookbook, Cooking In the Moment (Clarkson Potter, 2011), showcases her love of produce.
Steven Satterfield of Atlanta’s Miller Union takes a similar approach, and says he’s converted
many a Brussels sprouts hater. “Most chefs start with the proteins,” he says. “That’s all great,
but I think that approach puts produce in the back seat. Here we start with the produce first.
It’s not an afterthought.”
TOP RIGHT, CLOCKWISE TO TOP
LEFT: Gather’s vegetarian charcuterie;
a winter vegetable plate and a salad of
local lettuces and heirloom tomatoes
from Miller Union; Greenhouse Tavern’s
kabocha squash étouffeé with leeks, holy
trinity, vegan black roux and beans, and
stuffed Provençal peppers with heirloom
tomato sauce, chevre breadcrumbs and
ratatouille rice pilaf; curried beets from
Cooking In the Moment (Clarkson Potter,
2011), by Andrea Reusing, Lantern.
Because the bulk of what comes through Satterfield’s kitchen at Miller Union is fresh produce, he’s
zealous about prepping and storing it thoughtfully. “If we get asparagus in, I want it to be stored like
flowers, fresh cut, with a damp towel to keep the tips protected and the asparagus more crisp, sweet
and fresh. For porous vegetables, like lettuce, leafy greens, radishes, carrots, we keep damp towels
on everything. It’s all stored in clear bins so we can see in and check the quality every day.”
For a veg-focused restaurant, Satterfield says it’s also critically important to establish relationships
with local farmers. “We ask them to plant things specifically for the restaurant. It’s almost like a