I love meat. I fantasize about ribeye. I would live inside of one of Momofuku's pork belly buns if I could. But I have to say the meal that's seared in my memory after a recent trip to California is the plate of perfectly cooked, delicately dressed vegetables I had at Solbar in Calistoga. A lovely arrangement of carrots, beets, parsley root and Tokyo turnips, this was a shockingly flavorful dish that made me rethink my carnivorous ways—at least for a night.
And I'm not alone: Just as New York magazine proclaimed that "Vegetables are the New Meat," a chorus of influential foodies have concurred.
"I'm tired of pork," said Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, at the organization's recent "Culinary Liasons" gala, which featured dishes by Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Jean-Georges Vongrichten, and Francois Payard. (Savoy and Ducasse's offerings were vegetarian.) "It's become overdone and it's not as healthy for you."
Meanwhile, popular restaurants like April Bloomfield's The Spotted Pig in New York City and Mario Batali's Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles are participating in the Meatless Mondays movement, which encourages consumers to cut out meat once a week; participating restaurants offer vegetarian specials every Monday.
"I'm excited about vegetables," says Solbar chef Brandon Sharp, who created my veggie nirvana. "It leaves less of a carbon footprint, you can eat more courses and it's hyper seasonal. Starches are easy, proteins are easy. Vegetables take time and attention to prepare."
Maybe it's just a natural backlash to the pork craze of the last few seasons or a sign that diners are becoming more aware of the lovely produce cramming farmers markets across the country. Either way, vegetables are moving from side-dish status to main course material.
Is your business profiting from vegetables' newfound popularity? If so, how? And what are your best-selling veggies?