Vegetables are trending again. Diners still love our Filet Mignon with Truffle Wafu and Braised Chilean Sea Bass, a fact that is unlikely to change anytime soon, but we have definitely noticed an increase in requests for imaginative vegetarian and vegan options.
The recent French version of Netflix’s popular show, Chef’s table, launched with a 45-minute pilot centered around renowned French Chef, Alain Passard, and L’Arpège, his celebrated, three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris. Passard took a shocking risk in 2001 when he announced that he was removing meat from the menu at L’Arpège, which had earned its three stars as a Rotisserie. It was a success and L’Arpege has maintained all three Michelin stars as a predominantly vegetarian restaurant.
L’Arpege was probably the precursor for this trend towards creative, gourmet, vegetable-centered cuisine. In the wake of Passard’s transformation, Alain Ducasse recreated the menu at the Plaza Athénee to focus on plant-based food, and NOMA became famous for serving foraged vegetables. Even Bill Clinton let it be known that a vegan diet had probably helped save his life, while his daughter, Chelsea, served a vegan menu at her wedding (with some grass-fed beef as an option!)
Thierry Isambert’s executive sous-chef, Michael Finizia, remembers catering a 6-course plant-based meal for President Bill Clinton in Miami last year. “We have had more and more requests for organic vegetarian or vegan menus over the past year,” explained Michael. “Many people are convinced of the benefits of a vegetarian diet and they really commit to it. But they also want their meals to wow them as much as a meat-eater is wowed by a juicy steak, and why shouldn’t they!? We use the best local, organic produce that offers abundant, vibrant flavor!” Michael shows me a photo on his Instagram feed of Thierry Isambert’s Costa Rican Heart of Palm Ceviche which was part of Bill Clinton’s menu.
Vegetarianism is nothing new, of course! Michael Finizia recalls serving famous vegetarian, Sir Paul McCartney, at the Ritz, prior to joining Thierry Isambert’s culinary team. McCartney was on tour and he rented out a whole floor of the hotel for a month. “For the whole month, I prepared breakfast, lunch, and dinner for Paul McCartney,” says Michael, "everything was organic and mostly vegan.” Paul McCartney has been vegetarian since 1975, and as an animal advocate, he spearheaded the "Meat Free Monday" campaign which has garnered an enormous amount of support as a way to simply reduce meat consumption for health and environmental reasons.
Thierry Isambert continues to develop plenty of creative and visually appealing plant-based recipes. Most galas and large corporate functions now have a vegetarian main course option in addition to the customary beef or fish. The big hit for this year’s gala season was the Inverted Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho “Under Glass,” with micro tartare of gazpacho vegetables and a crouton decorated with local blossoms and botanicals. The Best Buddies Gala last year, attended by Steve Aoki, also a vegetarian, featured the Modern Winter Root Vegetable Salad as a starter.
It doesn't matter whether you adhere to a vegetarian regime or not, as Jamie Oliver says in the quote above, the wonderful flavors and textures you can create with the abundance of vegetables available to us, results in some seriously delicious recipes that everyone will enjoy!