Life After Kale
These are the vegetables trends you need to know
For years people would turn up their noses at Brussels sprouts and no one had ever heard of kale. Now? You can't look at a restaurant menu nearly anywhere in the country without having both of those ubiquitous vegetables stare back at you. Diners — and thus, chefs — jumped on the kale superfood trend and prepared more roasted Brussels with bacon than you can shake a stick at. While we still love both, isn't it time to let other fabulous vegetables — and how to prepare them — shine?
Chefs around the country have started gravitating toward beautiful, underused vegetables like turnips, kohlrabi, cabbages, watermelon radishes, green garlic, rutabaga, escarole, collard greens and the even more familiar cauliflower, beets and carrots, but prepared in new, inventive ways.
"My big gripe is everyone does things the same way," said Rich Landau, chef/owner of the much-heralded Philadelphia vegan restaurant, Vedge. "Don't do what everyone else does; find something interesting. To get vegetables to be spectacular, you need to give them a lot of attention and that takes a lot of work."
Don't do what everyone else does; find something interesting.
This is why many chefs have also started using a variety of techniques to make vegetables stand out throughout the year. There are numerous ways to go beyond simply steaming or roasting vegetables to really help bring out their natural flavors and nuances. Between grilling over open fire, fermenting, pickling, preserving and using interesting new spices, the options to bring vegetables front and center are fairly endless.
"You're seeing a lot of chefs experimenting with preservation and fermentation, which isn't going away," said Bryce Gilmore, chef/partner at Barley Swine and Odd Duck restaurants in Austin, Texas. "Since we source locally, if we want to use any chiles, we have to preserve them so we can use them year round. We'll ferment them when we get them so we can use them in winter. That [trend] is going to continue. It's funny because it goes full circle and these are techniques people had to use forever prior to refrigeration."
Even if you've seen certain vegetables on menus for a while, there are still ways to go about preparing them to give them new life. At Chicago's Fulton Market Kitchen, chef Chris Curren revisited heirloom tomatoes recently. Yes, heirloom tomatoes have loomed large for years, but Curren returned to a classic French technique to make tomato water for a dish and it blew his diners' minds.
Turn things on their side. Be creative.
"You can use an ingredient people know and love and do it in an interesting way people haven't seen before," Curren said. "Tomato water is a classic French fine dining thing, but it still takes people back because of how pungent and powerful it can be. That's where technique comes in."
CJ Jacobson, who gained national fame appearing on Top Chef, teamed up with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises to open the vegetable-focused Ema in Chicago in 2016. He suggests taking familiar vegetables like cucumbers or radishes and finding different ways to prepare them. He sees more chefs doing this to get diners excited about vegetables.
"You need to play around with your vegetable dishes more to show their beauty," Jacobson said. "Take something you're used to seeing on salads and flip things. If you cook a cucumber or radish, they become juicy like a turnip. If you shave a turnip raw, it's delicious and crunchy. Roasted cucumbers taste like squash. Turn things on their side. Be creative."
Last, the biggest trend more diners are seeking with vegetables is, well, seeing more vegetables move front and center. Sure, people still want meat, but we're also seeing a lot of people going out to get their veggie fix.
"Vegetables are slowly becoming more prominent," said Emily Fiffer, who along with Heather Sperling will open the vegetable-focused restaurant Botanica in Los Angeles' Silver Lake neighborhood this April. "I think chefs and restaurants are afraid to go all the way because of alienating people. If you start to view something as having the potential to be a main course, I think that's how things will start changing."
And it all starts with a trend.