Chefs focus on veggies instead of meat

October 05 2015

For many chefs, coming up with menu ideas starts with a focus on meat. Each dish begins with a centrepiece of beef or poultry, pork or fish, and everything else - the sides, the garnishes and even the plating style - is decided next.

However, for some once meat-centric chefs, this is beginning to change. The reasons are many - from the expense of animal-based protein, through to the increasing numbers of health-conscious diners and a desire to cater for all dietary requirements or preferences, including vegans and vegetarians.

For example, chef April Bloomfield was once known for her meat-filled menus. The Globe and Mail reports that on one trip to the British-born chef's New York gastropub, The Breslin, menu items included a braised pig's foot that was rolled in breadcrumbs, fried in butter and olive oil. 

"The massive trotter was all sticky, viscous goodness and fat. It represented excess and guaranteed a sleepless night. It was delicious and I would never eat it again," writes food critic Chris Johns.

Chef Bloomfield, who also co-owns New York eateries the Spotted Pig and Salvation Taco, made her reputation with indulgently meaty meals like a half-pound burger covered with Roquefort, wild boar Scotch eggs and a salad topped with crispy pig's ears. She was a big proponent of the nose-to-tail movement, but her most recent creations are very different.

Her latest book, A Girl and her Greens, takes a much more veggie-based approach to food. Dishes include braised peas and little gem lettuce, spiced carrots with yogurt and steamed and raw radish salad. Meat lovers shouldn't worry that chef Bloomfield has not gone completely to the other extreme of veganism, as demonstrated by recipes like sweet potatoes with bone marrow and chili. However, she is certainly placing more emphasis on plant-based food.

And she's not alone.

For example, in Los Angeles, chef Roy Choi has opened a garden-themed restaurant called Commissary. Chef Choi, whose Kogi restaurant is known for Korean barbecue short-rib tacos and spicy pork burritos is now serving dishes that are "vegetable-driven but not vegetarian" in a greenhouse setting. 

And in Montreal, David McMillan and Fred Morin, the chefs at Joe Beef, have now opened a wine bar with a vegetable-focused menu called Le Vin Papillon.

Canadian chef Hugh Acheson now runs four restaurants in the American South. His new book The Broad Fork focuses on fruits and vegetables. He says that the trend towards more produce on the menu offers benefits that are both economic and social.

Where he lives, poverty and food security are both big issues. "The health of our citizenry is really dependent on them eating more vegetables and smaller amounts of meat," he says.

He also explains the economic side of things: "We've seen these luxurious, beautiful proteins climb in price to a point where we just can't afford to do what we did before. We can't just walk into a fine dining restaurant and there's a seven or eight ounce portion of meat. We had to adjust years ago to portion size being an economy of scale and being a correct economic assumption on the plate."

Chef Acheson also notes that his new way of cooking actually better represents his own way of eating.

"If I have fried chicken, it's a thigh of fried chicken beautifully done, but then running down the table is succotash and sliced tomato and sauteed greens and perloo and favas and spring green beans and that spread and that multitude of choice is what people want more."