Chef Louis Robinson, owner of the pop-up restaurant “Spice” of Sarasota Florida recently came to Miami to host a vegan 5-course nature-themed experimental dinner. This is my first exposure to artistic cooking, besides visually consuming the baby-plated flurries of creativity on “Chef’s Table”. Just to explain, a pop-up restaurant is one that has no shop or set location but is rather the manifestation of the chef’s creativity wherever he is invited. And I’d say that artistic cooking is the creation of dishes that are meant to express more than just flavor but an idea or sentiment that invites the mind and heart into the experience of the meal.
Here are the ecosystems evoked by the individual dishes:
Coastline: Pomelo, marinated tomatoes, sea purslane, tomato water, red dulse seaweed
Snowy Mountains: Turnips poached in spiced coconut milk, Recado negro, Pickled cauliflower, Coconut “snow”.
Forest: Forest scented potatoes, vegetable demi, oyster mushrooms, sous vide leeks, olive pine
Desert: (not dessert, ya sugar fiend!): BeCultured Tempeh, Salsa Macha, Charred nopales, sweet n sour aloe, petite epazote salad
Tropical Islands: Compressed papaya, sweet dukkah, burnt citrus guava coyote, coconut yogurt, aquafaba meringue
Now if you’re looking at these ingredient compilations and wondering what the fuck these dishes are or how they even remotely taste, fear not for I’ve set tongue to vegetable to investigate for you!
My palate wasn’t honed enough to really enjoy the Coastline dish as the first plate, partly because I was starting to crave fried things after tasting BeCultured Tempeh’s samples. I also defiled the dish by adding some kale from my pocket, as the tomato water seemed to be an adequate dressing. The Snowy Mountains themed dish had a really complex sauce which combined a slew of spices and ingredients that reminded me of a Thai dish in which the dazzling complexity pings off of itself to form something coherent and tasty. I made sure to scrape every last bit of evidence off my plate for analysis. I still have no idea what’s in that sauce though! The Forest themed dish I enjoyed more for its simple blend of lightly roasted potato and gentle umami from the oyster mushrooms, along with a mushroom-flavored sauce. I guess tempeh can ferment in the Desert, as it was the star of the plate for the next round along with microgreens (hey, they do require minimal watering). Those brown circles on the dish are not mushrooms (although they were spicy and pungent-flavored) but grilled nopales paddles that were punched into circular shapes. Also, there were two cubes of aloe that sat like strange translucent art fixtures on the tempeh and added an alien texture to the dish that I can def vibe with. I noted that the tempeh acted as meat does on a typical dinner plate, being the main show with a little side veg. Here comes tha future! Finally, the Tropical Islands dish turned out to be my favorite and it’s partly because sugar is very stimulating to the human organism but also because of the delicate balance the chef achieved of fruity, creamy, crunchy, and savory. The whole meal was satisfying, but was it vegan?
Yes, he’s on that nasturtium leaf! It’s so damn fresh that the forest ecosystem came with it! I set him free, maintaining everyone’s dignity and setting loose a new potential butterfly.
For those interested in hearing Chef Louis Robinson’s perspective on the future of restaurants and food, along with personal insights into how and why he became a chef, listen here:
“A chef is no better than his product…everybody can learn how to cook to a certain extent, but if the next guy in the next state over has produce that’s 10x better than yours, well, your food is not gonna level up to his. Starting with the best product is always paramount.”
“Plant-based food is becoming more trendy and more widely accepted looked for…even for people who aren’t vegan, they’re gonna want to eat more fruits and vegetables, they’re gonna want to taste more seasonal vegetables.”
“If we can have meat, for those who eat meat, as a side for a vegetable dish, I think that’s a good concept going forward.”
I also met a cool lady who goes by the name Plant Powered Pea, if you’d like to check out her recipes and health inspiration: https://plantpoweredpea.blog/
Perhaps this is ironic, but I’m going to focus on homeless and low-income people in my next post and leave aside vegan-ity for the time being.