Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Eat Your Vegetables!

Training in French restaurants, Steven soon learned a profound lesson. Despite the respect that all French cooks have for produce just in from the farm, sometimes they didn't really understand what ingredients a vegetarian might eat. Often he has heard, "They might have the fish," or, "Use the chicken stock for that vegetarian pasta, it has the best flavor."

Growing up and growing vegetables in a community garden with his mother, Steven learned to appreciate the things that sprout in the soil - after overcoming the initial uncertainty of a rebellious child. So its not surprising that his first stand in the kitchen was over the purity of vegetarian items. He took it upon himself to craft new menus in advance for vegetarian guests, and always insisted that any chef he worked with try the vegetable stock he made to replace the chicken... each time, he succeeded.

Today, Steven believes that vegetables, grains, fruit, and seeds should be respected as primary ingredients in any dish, and he believes that anything "meatless" is not suffering from a lack of substance or protein, nor does it need to mimic a meaty alternative. At Claire's, he exemplifies this approach on the menu with a daily "Warm greens, grains, seeds, and sprouts." Reflecting our support for local farms, the primary ingredient is the greens available in season, right now including baby chard, kale, and mustard greens, warmed and wilted in butter or oil (vegan depending) but still retaining their vibrant color and "bite." Adding grains, such as wheatberries, quinoa, and barley, provides a mixture of sweet and earthy flavors, a great "chew" or texture, and they are loaded with proteins. Though many Vermonters have discovered the wonders of quinoa, or even wheatberries, barley remains an underappreciated item for vegetarians and omnivores alike. A heaping spoonful of pesto - made with our sweet local garlic in season and lemony wild sorrel, or basil later in the season, or early mint - is mixed in to bring out the sweetness of the grains and greens while adding a subtle sense of heat and crispness. Oven roasted seeds add to the protein in the dish while providing the smokey flavor of caramel.

Our warm greens change regularly, while there are always other vegetarian and vegan items on our menu, from salads and pastas to rich stews, silky soups, and stunning entrees. And we have dishes to satisfy any omnivore, from the best grilled steak in the Kingdom and locally raised poultry and pork, to seafood from sustainable fisheries.

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