What: Vegetarian Cooking Workshop with Chef Tal RonnenWhere: California Culinary Academy, San Francisco, Calif.
When: Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Why: Because I'll go anywhere that involves over-sized Vita-Mixes and tasting samples.
The Scoop: I don't much consider myself a chef, unless baking vegan cookies and eating half of them when they come out of the oven makes me the next Eric Tucker. Luckily, as the only editorial assistant with a car, I had the opportunity to learn a thing or two from vegan chef Tal Ronnen when he stopped by San Francisco's California Culinary Academy for a vegetarian workshop. The man behind VN's 2009 Book of the Year, The Conscious Cook, Ronnen has worked with Oprah, creating recipes for her 21-day vegan cleanse, and catered Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi's vegan wedding.
After applauding myself for arriving 10 minutes early, I spent the next 15 looking for parking and trying to find my way around the maze that is the CCA building. I eventually coerced a security guard into escorting me to the workshop room, scooted my way past the chef coats and little white hats, and finally plopped down onto a tiny red stool before turning my attention to Tal. Chef Ronnen started off with a brief presentation on vegetarian sources of protein. After discussing the comparative merits of the different "meat analogues"—tofu, tempeh, seitan, and (of course) Gardein—he launched into the food demonstration. But not before breaking out this bad boy:
Ronnen unveiling one freakin' big Vita-Mix
Here at VegNews we love Vita-Mixes more than we'd love our first-born children, so I was expecting a little more enthusiasm from the crowd when Ronnen broke out the biggest beauty of a Vita-Mix I have ever seen. I was the only one giddily clapping and leering at it, even after Ronnen explained that it was theirs to keep. They'll learn. Ronnen demonstrated that vegan cooking can be just as creative and flavorful as meat-based dishes—and proved his point by making a celery root soup with granny smith apples; artichoke ricotta tortellini with saffron cream sauce; and Gardein "chicken" scaloppini with shiitake-sake sauce, braised pea shoots, and crispy udon-noodle cakes.
Ronnen demonstrating how to prepare the udon cakes.
Ronnen interacted well with the crowd, which was primarily made up of meat-eating, meat-cooking chefs. He breezed through the meal preparations while fielding questions that ranged from thoughtful (how soy effects estrogen levels) to slightly ridiculous (if consuming eight pounds of quinoa was the only way to get adequate meatless protein). He was able to completely finish three of the menu items, and let everyone come up and have a taste. The response from the vegan-skeptics was fantastic. Everyone kept exclaiming "this is so good," and one guy tried to be sneaky, coming back for second and third helpings.
While I'm not entirely convinced that the chefs decided to eschew meat following Ronnen's workshop, they did leave more informed about how to cater to a growing vegan and vegetarian community with discerning palates. At least no one will be trying to fit eight pounds of quinoa on a plate. I hope.