I recently attended an event held at the Lexington Ave 92Y for Chef Michael Anthony. Michael Anthony is a James Beard Outstanding chef USA winner and executive chef at Gramercy Tavern and Untitled. The talk was held to highlight Anthony’s new book entitled V Is for Vegetables and to discuss his love for cooking, especially with vegetables.
Although Anthony’s cookbook highlights vegetables he says he is not in anyway for "self deprivation." He believes people should still enjoy meat, but argues that in recent years Americans have become more health conscious and vegetable-based meals are quickly becoming the current cooking focus. The moderator asked if he thought vegetable-centered dishes are a "trend", and he quickly turned down this idea. Anthony believes the emphasis on vegetables is here to stay and has allowed for our cultural cuisine to come full circle. He went on to say that this way of cooking is shaping what we call "Contemporary American Cuisine."
The tone of his book is not to emphasize that "vegetables are king," but rather to encourage people to enjoy eating this way. He encourages people to look at their food in the most primitive way and connect with what they are going to eat. Vegetables often require more work because of their leaves, stems, roots, etc. He mentioned we are so used to simply throwing away stems or leaves from vegetables, but reminded us that they are edible and should be cooked and eaten! He wants to bring a sense of beauty back into the kitchen and for people to enjoy preparing a meal and nourishing your body. In addition to empathizing nourishment, Anthony feels strongly about replacing bowls as the new plates! Anthony says the physics of changing our presentation vessel from plate to bowl could increase our intake of beans, legumes and vegetables. Vegetables and legumes naturally take up more room, which would decrease the amount of meat showing up in our meals without leaving us unfulfilled.
People often argue that eating local, organic or even "healthy" is for the elite. He thinks everyone can eat this way and it is most certainly not for the elitist. If we change the way we look at food, everyone can eat healthfully. Naturally this conversation lead to seeking out his opinion on purchasing local and organic foods. He feels the organic label has been somewhat diluted. He believes in buying food from people who are passionate about what they grow and are willing to answer questions about their farming methods. Many farmers can’t afford or, out of principle, refuse to pay for the “USDA” organic label because many of them have been farming this way from the beginning. He always says to be careful of the buying exclusively local because you don’t want to discount flavors from other cultures.
An audience member asked him “What vegetable do you think is going to be the next kale?” Thankfully Anthony doesn’t see kale going anywhere but says he is pushing for parsnips! He also shared his love for lima beans as they are a summer to early fall favorite of his. And lastly, we all had to know his favorite vegetable, which is the Jerusalem Sunchoke! He says it is poorly understood but so beautiful and can be eaten in a variety of ways.
Michael Anthony’s eloquent style of speaking and enthusiasm was simply contagious. He was so passionate about vegetables and cooking, I could hear him speak all day! After leaving this event I was ready to get into the kitchen with a new appreciation for vegetables and explore those Jerusalem sunchokes.