Learning from a vegan master
Since 1980, Chef Ron Pickarski (at right) has spent his career taking plant-based food further through research, development, teaching and writing cookbooks. He was the first vegan chef to be awarded a CEC designation by American Culinary Federation.
Bowties with meat sauce
Pickarski is also the founder of Eco-Cuisine Natural Foods, which makes plant-based dry mixes (made with ingredients like dried vegetables, grains, beans, soy, pulses and seitan) that can replace meat, as with the meat sauce in this dish.
Chef to chef
Rice U Senior Executive Chef Johnny Curet, CEC, (left) was looking for a good vegan cookbook when he came across Pickarski’s book, which he ordered and loved. “I said, ‘This looks like what we’re looking for: classical cooking and being current with plating techniques,’” Curet says. The two ended up speaking by phone and arranging the visit.
This vegan “chicken” cacciatore features a plant-based chicken product and fried basil leaves. Pickarski calls his style of cooking “a more evolved version of vegetarian food,” something he describes as being the last frontier in cuisine. He made headlines in 1992, when he led a team from the U.S. to win a gold medal in the International Culinary Olympics using only a plant-based menu.
This vegan roulade is another example of a traditional techniques applied to vegetarian cooking. For Pickarski, classic technique is a jumping-off point in the recipes he develops, with an eye towards how foodservice operations can do plant-based, speed-scratch cooking with minimal labor and cost.
Pasta with cream sauce
There’s no dairy here: this Sicilian-accented sauce is made with cashew cream, onion, garlic and green olives. Vegetables are cooked as a confit: “bell pepper, carrots and onions covered with olive oil and cooked really slow for a long time,” Curet says.
BBQ "chicken" sliders
Using chicken-style fake meat, the team julienned strips of the product, added barbecue sauce and made sandwiches with caramelized red onion. “We don’t say, ‘Here, try the vegan slider,” Curet says. “We say, ‘Try this slider. By the way, it’s vegan.’”
Yes, it’s possible. The charcuterie here gets flavor from smoked yeast, “not liquid smoke, which I’m not a fan of,” Curet says. “This one was unbelievable.” White beans create the marbling effect.
German chocolate cake
Pastry chefs joined Pickarski on the second day, and created dishes like this German chocolate cake, which uses neither sugar, cream nor butter.
A thin layer of raspberry puree takes this vegan dessert (made with vegan chocolate ganache) over the top. Someone from the maintenance staff walked by, grabbed a piece and took a bite. “He was like, ‘This is VEGAN?’” Curet says.
With the leftover vegan ganache, cookies got a sweet coat of glossy chocolate (zero-trans fat vegan shortening creates the sheen).
A new approach to vegan cooking
Curet hopes the chefs took away a lesson from Pickarski’s visit. “Let’s think of vegan cooking as a cuisine, not as a lifestyle,” Curet says. “Thinking of being a vegan as a lifestyle was bogging us down. Like you have to be a certain kind of person and have certain values…not that those are bad values, but we had to change the way we think.”