I will never become a vegan. There are too many soft-shell crabs and Camemberts out there waiting for me. Also, vegan dishes – which are more restrictive than vegetarian ones because they contain no eggs, milk or other animal products – often are stereotyped as unsophisticated melanges of beans and tofu.
But chefs are finding that more of their restaurant patrons are vegan or vegetarian, and are requesting suitable dishes. When some of the nation’s best chefs turn their creative energy to the cuisine, the results aren’t wild hickory nut loaf.
Linda Long’s gorgeously photographed new book, “Great Chefs Cook Vegan” (Gibbs Smith, $35) makes vegan sexy. Daniel Boulud’s Zucchini Boxes Provencal with Black Mosto Oil, Red Pickled Shallots and Opal Basil look like veggie petit fours. Thomas Keller’s Salad of Riesling-Poached Tokyo Turnips with Brussels Sprouts, Pickled French Laundry Garden Onions and Toasted Mustard Seed Emulsion is a handful of jewels on a plate.
No surprise that the photos look so good: Long is a professional photographer and spent two decades working in the fashion industry.
Long, who has been vegan for 33 years, was in Chapel Hill on Monday in advance of her class at A Southern Season tonight and a signing at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh on Wednesday. For the lunch at the Siena Hotel, chef Adam Rose prepared his own vegan dishes, including a wild mushroom lasagna with olive oil-poached tomatoes. For dessert, he prepared Strawberry Lime Soup with Yerba Mate Sorbet, a recipe from Jason Cunningham, executive chef of the Washington Duke Inn in Durham. Cunningham is one of two Triangle chefs in the book; the other is Phil Evans, formerly of Herons at the Umstead Hotel in Cary.
The book shows that vegan cooking doesn’t have to be stuck in the ’60s. Many of the recipes are accessible for a home cook. Chilled Watermelon Gazpacho from Jean-Georges Vongerichten, for example, is simple and beautiful. Erik Blauberg’s Gratin of Berries with Tahitian Vanilla Bean and Dark Rum (called a gratin, but there is no dairy in it) looks like another simple dish, provided you remember to prepare the cashew milk 6 hours ahead.
However, some dishes might be daunting to inexperienced cooks. As you might expect from Jose Andres, one of his recipes requires a cotton candy machine. But the book does show how vegetables can be the star of the show.