The Vegetable Revolution
Long overshadowed by meaty entrées and rich desserts, the humble vegetable has emerged as the star of the table. See how Ritz-Carlton chefs are enticing — with a lineup of bold, flavorful dishes — even the most devoted meat lovers to dine vegetarian.
Once considered best served as a side dish, vegetables are now being given the premium position on the plate by some of the best chefs in the world. Chefs are giving veggies as much painstaking attention as meat, preparing them in curious and inventive ways and, in some cases, even making vegetables the star of the dining experience, every bit as satisfying as a cut of the highest-end aged beef.
Whereas it’s common for kitchens to serve defrosted vegetables, restaurants like Hinokizaka at The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo go the extra mile to find produce that is not only of the most excellent quality available but also seasonal. Just as they do to source their premium cuts of fish from the auctions, Hinokizaka’s team scours local markets for the most beautiful lotus root, corn, peas and other vegetables to fry at their tempura station.
At the California-inspired Cast & Plow at The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey, extra care is given to challenge the diner’s perception of crudités. Typically thought of as just some pieces of cut celery, the crudités at Cast & Plow are elevated by the addition of sweet tomatoes, breakfast radishes, and crunchy baby heirloom carrots sourced from local farmers markets. They’re tossed with cilantro and served with special dips such as chipotle hummus. “Vegetables don’t need much — even sautéed with a little spice and acid from high-quality vinegar or lemon juice, they’re a healthy and delicious option,” Cast & Plow Chef Umit Kaygusuz says.
Kaygusuz believes so much in the wonder of vegetables, he serves them as main courses that could win over even the most committed of carnivores. “Fried green tomatoes, for instance, are an excellent exchange for chicken or fish in a sandwich,” he says. Diners can see for themselves by tasting his crispy fried green tomato sandwich, served with red pepper jam, ricotta and avocado on naan bread. His favorite substitute for meat though? Definitely mushrooms. Not just your average shiitakes or portobellos though. “Many people only know a limited variety of mushrooms, but there are so many options that have earthy and meaty textures — ones that reflect unique flavor profiles and really stun the palate. For example, the hearty lobster mushroom or bluefoot mushroom can easily stand in for a steak.”
Even those who don’t want to dine solely on vegetables can have a memorable experience heightened by produce. At Italian restaurant Tosca at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, Chef Pino Lavarra focuses on preparation. He boosts the flavor of the vegetables — whether appetizers, accompaniments to mains, or side dishes — by using simple enhancers: For instance, he adds high-quality olive oil to mashed potatoes, and rock salt and fresh basil to lift up roasted, smoked eggplant. He rethinks how he uses vegetables in his Italian dishes as well. Instead of chicken Parmesan, he likes to swap the protein for zucchini. He also adds celery to his sea urchin linguine to give it fresh flavors. “I also love to cook steamed white asparagus, Parmesan and egg-white mayo to enhance the palate,” Lavarra says.