Not long ago I found myself being interviewed on a live television broadcast after winning a national chefs’ challenge. About 300 people participated in the process of elimination over a number of months. The final cook off with 12 of us was rough but worth it. When the media asked what was one of the biggest factors to help make the dish succeed? I said, ‘Vegetables, Herbs and Spices. I got to combine them in a way that rocked the dish.’
Next day the stories centered around me as winning, but as a vegetarian, vegan, flexitarian and more. Nothing wrong with any of that, but nothing to do with the win.
That morning at this studio I sat there in front of the camera. The show host suddenly asked……’So..... I heard you won this contest. Certainly you have a great reputation around the United States, but what made you so into vegetables?’ Not thinking there could be a developing plot in his line of interview I said….’Well, I like vegetables and with herbs and spice a great cook can do something with them that many cannot. I think vegetables need a much higher place in the food world.’ Well that seemed to be all it took to get him a sly smile, next asking me, unbelievably, if I thought people might think I was ‘soft, a tree hugger, light in the loafers, or against meat and poultry, fish and game?’ I was stunned….’a tree hugger, light in the loafers?’ What the hell. Did he actually just say that?
A sense of humor is paramount. But I realized that maybe I had said something or suggested something DISRUPTIVE! It might be almost as disruptive as the corporate challenge in the 'Eat More Kale' issue! http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/05/us/eat-more-kale-t-shirts-challenged-by-chick-fil-a.html
Maybe he thinks of a burly image of a chef, male or female, as slaughtering and eating meats, butchering chickens, fishing or hunting game as center of plate. Maybe vegetables shattered it! lol! Maybe my thoughts on celery, onions and carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, cabbage, grains, herbs, and spices were dismantling the rough and tough image of America! I had no reason to respond aggressively. His comments surprised me on live camera. I sat there looking at this guy in his snake tall cowboy boots and thought.... I think he is offended by the image of what someone who eats vegetables might suggest. Not vegetables only mind you, but just vegetables in general. After all, I am on his show and maybe he wants me to be some way as a chef he sees as acceptable. There could be a perception problem about people who like vegetables. Maybe part of that was the J. Edgar Hoover mentality that anything that challenged the status quo was done by subversives or freaks. What he probably was remembering were who he saw as hippies, animal rights activists, religious zealots and others, part of a changing culture and a good part.
Reality is, eating a balanced diet with smart food is just plain common sense that most people continue to reject. No matter who we are: omnivore, carnivore, herbivore or whatavore… taste and preparations kill good basic ingredients at home or in restaurants. It is not brain surgery to see the time has come to make vegetables and lots of other fantastic enriching foods part of mainstream menus. What you take in for your fuel makes a difference in how you look, how you feel and in your health. And it makes a difference for the planet. Research and common sense, no matter how uncommon it often seems to be, align veggies with better health for the smarter who get it.
Vegetables are truly maligned by just plain bad cooking. Americans are not exactly known for their reverence on the vegetable trail history. However, things are changing and you don't have to hug a tree to say thanks. Thank the Chinese, the Italians, Japanese and others who show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T for dishes that sing of mainstream wonderfulness. So let the throwdown begin.....
Viva la Vegetable! Viva los herbs and spice! I share with you a recent pasta dish that rocks veggies big time. Enjoy it for four as a snack or generous two of your for lunch or dinner.
Pan Roasted Cauliflower with Orecchiette
1 head cauliflower, broken into florets and cut in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves of garlic chopped fine
1 medium onion, chopped fine
12 ounces cooked whole wheat orecchitte, 1 cup of pasta water reserved
¼ cup Italian parsley, chopped coarsely
1 lemon, seeded and juiced
½ cup Pecorino Romano, grated or parmesan, grated
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1. Head a 10 inch skillet or wok to medium and add olive oil and butter. When melted add the cauliflower, smooth sides down. Brown 4-5 minutes slowly on both sides. Add the garlic and onion. Continue to cook slowly about 3 minutes.
2. Toss in the pasta and stir. Add the pasta water, the lemon juice, parsley and seasonings. Mix.
3. Serve in deep bowls, sprinkling the grated cheese evenly on top.