Last night I had the honor of participating in a small slice of history. For the first time in twenty-three years, the James Beard Foundation honored plant-based cuisine by hosting an all-vegan dinner prepared by the immensely talented owners of Horizons restaurant.
Since all of you couldn’t be there to enjoy it (and since I couldn’t find a doggy bag big enough to share with everyone), I wanted to provide a thorough recount of the entire evening. Warning: you’ll probably be hungry after reading this.
Wearing my favorite suit and my fancy vegan pin (which I wear to all events) I made my way to the James Beard House. Within moments of my arrival, the servers appeared with trays of Oyster Mushroom Fritters, Edamame Puree with crispy sushi rice and Grilled Seitan with whipped avocado. But for me it was the Black Olive Blinis with truffle cream, golden beet relish and seaweed caviar that stole the show. The blinis were cooked perfectly and the seaweed caviar was remarkably similar to the real thing.
I noticed Joy and Bart from Candle 79 and Michael McGraw from PETA perched in the corner and went over to say hello. After an hour of drinking champagne and filling up on tasty appetizers, we retired upstairs for the much-anticipated dinner service.
A Smoked Eggplant Parfait with preserved lemon aioli and piquillo peppers revved up our palates and left us excited for more. The second and third courses were creatively prepared Portobello Carpaccio with crispy capers and Saffron Cauliflower Bisque with fennel confit crostini and oloroso sherry crema, respectively. Two obvious homeruns!
The next course, my favorite of the evening, was a Caramelized Celery Root Ravioli with charred Brussels sprouts, smoked royal trumpet mushrooms and sage-grain mustard emulsion. To get a better feel for the dish, imagine heaven, now cover it in a sage-grain mustard emulsion and pair it with a 2007 Chaddsford Pinot Noir. There, you have it.
The fifth course was a well-prepared piece of Peppercorn-Seared Tofu that could have made the most stubborn of carnivores beg for more. It was served with creamed leek and truffled parsnip puree, salt-roasted golden beets, hazelnuts and apple cider vinegar reduction. Love at first bite.
A piece of Heirloom Pumpkin Cheesecake with chestnut candy and quince jam completed the evening and received outspoken praise from each of the dinner guests at my table (all omnivores, by the way).
As I finished the last bite of my pumpkin cheesecake, I couldn’t help but feel rather nostalgic about the whole evening. The James Beard Foundation – an organization dedicated to preserving and promoting American cuisine – was recognizing vegan food in a way that had never been done before. By sharing their kitchen with the talented owners of Horizons restaurant they were not only honoring these chefs, but legitimizing the entire cuisine.
A big thank you to the James Beard Foundation for their progressive outlook and to the staff at Horizons restaurant for their thoughtful presentation and supreme execution. It was an incredible evening.