The plant-based revolution might be powered by burgers, but now chefs at the top ranks of the culinary universe are jumping on board.
Eleven Madison Park, which has been ranked as the world’s best restaurant, revealed that the menu will be basically vegan when it reopens on June 10 in Manhattan. In Healdsburg, Calif., Kyle and Katina Connaughton, the owners of the Michelin three-star SingleThread Farm and Restaurant, have announced they will open a plant-based restaurant and café in the wine country downtown in late summer.
Chefs, like their customers, are motivated by everything from health and environmental concerns to the opportunity to be creative with plant-based foods. “A piece of fish, meat—there aren’t that many different ways to prepare them. If you have a beet, an eggplant, the opportunities feel endless,” EMP’s chef-owner Daniel Humm said.
The vegan market continues to grow. Retail plant-based food sales hit $7 billion in 2020 and grew 27% over the past year; $2.1 billion was invested in plant-based food companies last year, according to the Plant-Based Food Association. Beef, meanwhile, beef could become the new coal.
In the U.K., the acclaimed four-year-old Root restaurant in Bristol is not a strictly vegan establishment. But it has been vegetable-forward since its inception and continues to move toward a more plant-based menu. “We opened Root with at-least six sides of meat or fish; now we have one—sometimes two—on the menu,” says head chef and owner Rob Howell.
Howell has compiled his top recipes from his restaurant in Root: Small Vegetable Plates, a Little Meat on the Side (Bloomsbury; $32). Like the restaurant, the book isn’t vegan: In addition to a chapter that addresses meat, fish, and shellfish, there’s a cheese section. But most of the book is given over to alluring vegetable dishes, with several vegan recipes that don’t hit you over the head with their label, such as deep-fried celeriac that can be made with oat milk in place of buttermilk and tempura spring onions with sweet chili sauce. But rising above them all is an old-school mushrooms on toast.
“We have an amazing mushroom grower close to the restaurant, which means they are available to us all year round,” says Howell about the dish, which is a menu staple at Root.
The dish is the platonic ideal of mushroom soup meets sandwich: Quickly sautéed, just-tender chunks of fungi are piled high on bread beneath a creamy sauce that drips down the sides. Howell is smart to serve his version on focaccia—the puffy, oil-infused base makes it even more monumental. It’s especially lovely for spring, when fresh mushrooms abound in farmers markets after any rainy day.
Although Howell proclaims mushrooms on toast as “one of those classic dishes with which it’s best not to meddle,” he does a sleight-of-hand trick with the signature cream sauce, subbing in an easily made, thick almond milk. The end result is, as the cliché goes, a dish you wouldn’t know was vegan.
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The tangy, green peppercorn almond “cream” sauce—punched up with an optional dash of brandy and hot sauce that counterbalances the sweetness of the nuts—is also great on tofu, rice, and anywhere you want a silky sop with a bite that also delivers a powerful dose of comfort. (It’s broken out below so you can make it separately.) For those of us who don’t cook vegan-style often enough, it also hints at the work that’s currently going on behind the scenes at a handful of America’s top kitchens—and what we’re about to see.
The following recipe is adapted from Root, by Rob Howell. Testers note: Classic Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies. Vegan versions are available at specialty food stores and by mail order.
Mushrooms on Toast With Almond Cream
For the sauce
5 oz. whole or slivered blanched almonds (about 1 ½ cups)
2 oz. good quality olive oil
1 ¼ cups water
½ cup vegan Worcestershire sauce, plus more to taste
2 tbsp. green peppercorns in brine, drained
1 tsp. Dijon mustard, plus more to taste
1 tsp. sugar
Pinch of cracked black pepper
Pinch of salt
Splash of Tabasco (optional)
Splash of brandy (optional), to taste
For the mushrooms
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
12 oz. wild or good-quality mushrooms, large ones chopped into bite-size pieces
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
4 squares of focaccia
For the peppercorn sauce, put the almonds, oil, and water in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Pass through a sieve into a bowl, pressing down on the solid.
Put the Worcestershire sauce, peppercorns, mustard, sugar, pepper, salt, and Tabasco (optional) in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Boil until the liquid has reduced by about two-thirds, about 4–5 minutes.
Add the almond milk and allow the sauce to come to boil again. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes, giving the sauce a good whisk to fully combine. Check the seasoning and add a splash of brandy or a little additional mustard to taste, if necessary. Set aside and keep warm.
For the mushrooms, heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan over a high heat. Add the mushrooms and season with a good amount of salt (it’s surprising how much salt mushrooms can take). Leave the mushrooms to cook for 30 seconds, then give them a toss in the pan and cook again for a further 30 seconds, just until tender. Add the lemon juice and chopped parsley. Remove from the heat and taste to check the seasoning.
Meanwhile preheat the broiler or a grill pan. Toast the foccacio until golden on both sides. If necessary, reheat the peppercorn sauce. If it’s too thick, loosen it with a mixture of water and olive oil. To serve, spoon the mushrooms on to the focaccia toast and spoon over the hot peppercorn sauce.