“Anyone can cook a hamburger, leave vegetables to the professionals.”
That’s Amanda Cohen’s mantra. The Canadian born chef and owner of Dirt Candy restaurant in NYC is on to something with her vegetable inspired menu.
[Pictured: Cohen’s Broccoli Dogs – grilled and smoked broccoli sautéed in broccoli oil, and served with a side of broccoli kraut and broccoli rabe chips.]
Here are highlights from my amazing interview with Chef Cohen.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
Cohen: I was born in Ottawa but grew up in Toronto. I came to New York to go to NYU and never looked back. I wet to the Natural Gourmet Institute’s Chef’s Training Program and after that I worked in pretty much every single restaurant I could for about 10 years. I realized that no one was going to give me a chance to cook the kind of food I wanted to cook, so I opened the original Dirt Candy in 2008. It’s been going like gangbusters ever since.
What inspired you to focus on vegetables only?
Cohen: There are hundreds of steak houses, thousands of seafood restaurants, millions of hamburger restaurants, but Dirt Candy is the only restaurant that only focuses on vegetables. I’m not making vegetarian food, and I’m not making fish with a lot of vegetable sides. I’m cooking vegetables. I’m sitting here in my kitchen and running it like a lab, seeing how far I can push each vegetable and what kind of flavor I can get out of them. No one else is doing this, so for me, it’s like being in the Wild West. There are no rules, and no one telling me what I should do. I love it!
Why are vegetables so tricky to work with?
Cohen: Vegetables are tricky because they have no fat…fat carries flavor, so you have to add [flavor] yourself. Also, vegetables have a high water content that you have to get rid of somehow when you cook them. And finally, vegetables have a uniform texture throughout and don’t have the different flavours and textures that say a big chunk of steak will have. To make vegetables taste good, you really have to work.
Tell us about your Broccoli Dogs!
Cohen: I spent three months trying to make them work before throwing everything out and starting from scratch, which took another four weeks. I experimented with 38 different doughs before finding the right one I use for the bun.
Any plans to open a Dirt Candy in Canada sometime??
Cohen: I wish!