As the trend has been covered extensively in these pages over the last three years, it was of particular interest that vegetable centricity was a significant callout of the conference. Not only was one of the event’s decorative banners adorning the main entrance for the event emblazoned with the words “Veg-Centric,” a significant portion of the World Marketplace tasting room was devoted to chefs serving dishes that reflect the principles of vegetable centricity.
The defining aspect of veg-centric cuisine is the judicious incorporation of meat and seafood proteins in produce-based dishes, the goal being to increase the richness and flavor complexity of the dish beyond what could be achieved simply with plant-based ingredients.
The number of umami-rich protein “adds” in these dishes continues to expand as more chefs adapt this style of cooking, and include boldly flavored sausages such as Portuguese linguiça and Chinese lap cheong, cured hams including Ibérico, prosciutto and American country hams, meat ragouts and broths, anchovy, bonito flakes and fish roe.
This practice results in dishes that are not vegetarian or vegan, and are not targeted at those niche groups, but rather the vast number of omnivorous consumers. And while a few of the dishes featured in the Veg-Centric tasting area were meatless, craveable plant-based dishes featuring creative protein additions were an easy find.
Highlights included John McConnell’s Roasted Beet Tartare Crostini topped with sturgeon caviar; Jonathan Wu’s Fava Bean Curd Terrine with bacon and chile oil, Katianna Hong’s (Meadowood, St. Helena, Calif.) Tartine of Green Garlic, Spring Peas and Lardo; and Michelle Minori’s (Barzotto, San Francisco) Belgian Endive with Pasta Pearls, Tuna Conserva and Bottarga.