Dear Shaded Viewers,
I am not a vegan or a vegetarian, nor am I bloodthirsty carnivore who regularly attends artisanal bacon orgies or patronizes meat-centric hipster clip joints in the wilds of Brooklyn. Okay, yes, you may catch me ordering a medium-rare horse-meat steak in a trattoria nestled in the Italian Alps, or lost in the throes of a giddy würstel bender in Vienna—but much of the time I am perfectly happy with all-vegetable meals. I do not cook meat at home and I occasionally suffer from watercress cravings.
So it was with an open mind and curious palate that I approached PLANTLAB: Crafting the Future of Food (Regan Arts), a brand-new cookbook by celebrity vegan chef Matthew Kenney. (The phoenix-like return of Judith Regan, who was seated behind me at a recent screening of Abel Ferrara’s Piazza Vittorio, is a testament to the Teflon resilience of New Yorkers. Titles in her Phaidon-owned company range from Hitler Saved My Life—featuring an image of Adolf in drag on the cover—to Amanda Lepore’s autobiography Doll Parts, to tony food books like Preservation Pantry and the one we are discussing here.)
It was via my friend Kelly Cutrone, who organized the Ferrara screening, that I was introduced to PLANTLAB, a formidable hardcover that takes the art of food photography to a new stratosphere. In this Insta-food-porn culture, it is such a pleasure to leave those postage-stamp-sized shots behind for a while and indulge in this book’s large, luscious photos by Adrian Mueller. It is here that the value of plant-based meals make a convincing case for culinary superiority: the dull brown and off-white flesh of cooked animals is no match for the eye-popping hues of vegetables, fruits and edible flowers.
The chef flaunts nature’s colors uninterrupted (save for a photo of Kenney on a skateboard here, a tattooed sous chef there) throughout the first half of the book; the recipes make up the second half. So you can give yourself over to the visceral beauty of the dishes and decide later if you’re up to the task of tackling Kenney’s rather ambitious recipes. In any case, it may inspire you to bring more plants into your kitchen.
California Hearts of Palm Ceviche with California Fruits, Vegetables and Flowers
Carrot Ribbons with Almond Whey, Radishes and Nasturtium Leaves
Just in time for Thanksgiving: Pumpkin Chocolate Pie with Coconut and Cardamom Cream
My pal Carole Pope, the lesbian rock star who was visiting from LA, and I were invited to dine at Kenney’s new vegan Mexican restaurant in the East Village, Bar Verde. Everything we ordered was a hit.
If you can handle my amateur shots, here’s one of the delicious appetizers we started with: Smoked Potato Croquettas with lime cashew sour cream, cacoa mole, avocado and pickled jalapeños. I have no plans to eliminate dairy products from my diet, but I must admit that this plant-based “sour cream” was indeed more tasty than the milk version. The Mango Guacamole was also impressive.
We were big fans of the Wild Mushroom Tamale with mole, cashew crema and salsa verde.
Thanks for reading.