Digging into Dirt Candy

Q & A with Chef Cohen

What inspired you to rethink the center of plate? What created that moment?

There are thousands of vegetables that people just don’t know how to cook or eat or what to do with. I realized that there really is this moment in time where we can take all these vegetables, rethink what we do with them, and start having fun with them.

When I was starting to think about opening my own restaurant, there were so many meat, chicken and seafood restaurants, but no restaurant dedicated to veggies, especially center of plate. I decided to put my money where my mouth is. It was time we rethought how we serve vegetables, and how we get people to enjoy vegetables.

How do you get people to love their vegetables?

I was a vegetarian for 15 years and one day I got bored of all the vegetarian offerings. I thought that I would become a much, much better chef if I can taste what other chefs care about. 15 years ago, that was meat, protein. I started eating those things to understand what flavors consumers were looking for and what was satisfying to them. I then applied this to vegetables to draw in omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans alike. Now, I don’t actually eat that much meat, but I do eat fish. I will try anything at least once.

What’s your favorite vegetable?

This is a pretty surprising answer for most people, but it’s an onion. To me, it’s the unsung hero of the kitchen. It’s the backbone of almost every single dish, and people just don’t appreciate it— they genuinely just sort of forget it exists. It is a vegetable, it pretty much creates all the food in a kitchen and it’s delicious!

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CULINARY TIPS & TECHNIQUES

Tips from the Chef

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Smoking

Adding smoke to vegetables allows a dish to take on the same satisfaction of a center-of-plate proteins

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Textures

Create a variety of textures with simple tools to add unexpected complexity and variety to vegetables.

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Get to know the golden spice

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