Measuring “gastronomic value”  »

"Carrots are the new caviar," according to Daniel Patterson in the Financial Times. Patterson is the chef and owner of Coi, one of a handful of haute cuisine restaurants in San Francisco that serve vegetarian specialties alongside meat dishes.

Patterson says that modern haute cuisine végétarien began when a French restaurant stopped serving meat during a 2001 European outbreak of BSE; instead of failing, as expected, the restaurant, l’Arpège continued to do excellent business. The next time someone asserts that “the French” wouldn’t stand for vegetarian or vegan food (Bourdain!), you can tell them that l’Arpège was very successful during its vegetarian period, and that stereotyping French people is kind of over (at least among the set who would rather not be associated with freedom fries).

Michael Bauer, San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic, assembled a list of six haute cuisine restaurants in the city where the chefs prepare vegetarian and vegan dishes with the same skill and creativity that they put into their meat-ful ones. I was surprised by all of them, though considering how infrequently I dine out on the fancy, that is not so big a deal.

After checking out the list in detail, I especially want to go to Coi and Fleur de Lys. Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys was the “first high-end French chef to offer a vegetable tasting menu,” (currently $70) in 1992. Coi is consistently rated as one of the top five best restaurants in San Francisco—extra-impressive for a restaurant whose chef only prepares “two or three” (out of 11!) dishes with animal products per menu. This menu will run you $125 per taster.

Dan Barber of Blue Hill in New York, who grows his own produce and raises his own animals for his restaurant, does a tasting menu with lots of vegetables too. Barber says that “plants grown from seeds adapted to their place [are] the new luxury,” and Patterson explains further that “by creating associative value in certain ingredients…[they] can have a trickle-down effect on the market by stimulating demand.” That is, demand for more high-quality produce, as opposed to some other type of animal or animal product.

Ultimately, what this means for us vegans is that as these famous chefs invent new techniques for cooking flora, our fine-dining choices expand. As omnivores find themselves eating vegan food at their usual haute cuisine restaurants, they learn not to fear and loathe the idea of cruelty-free dishes. As demand for fancy vegan food increases, chefs at smaller/lesser-known/not-so-fine restaurants put more vegan items on their menus. Then we have even more choices, and a vegan diet becomes more mainstreamed; that is pretty all right. Now go out and demand fantastic vegetable preparations: it is your duty as a citizen of the world to increase demand for fine vegan dining.

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