#39 | V Street
100 Globe-Hopping Plates on the Cutting Edge of Vegetable Cooking
By Rich Landau & Kate Jacoby
Suzy Chase: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book Podcast with me, Suzy Chase.
Kate Jacoby: Hi. This is Kate Jacoby.
Rich Landau: And Rich Landau.
Kate Jacoby: And we're from V Street, and we're proud of our brand new book, V Street, the cookbook.
Suzy Chase: V Street, the cookbook is a celebration of the great street food of the world. In terms of your restaurants, how is V Street different from your other restaurant, Vedge?
Rich Landau: Actually, V Street is much more casual than Vedge. Vedge kind of took on a life of its own. It's funny, you know, you can come up with all these concepts of what you want your restaurant to be, but ultimately, it's the customers that will tell you what it's really going to be. Vedge became a very ... I don't want to call it a fancy place, but it became ... It got pretty big. It got some national attention and then it became a special occasion restaurant. Every vegan and vegetarian in the tri state area was coming in to celebrate their anniversary, or their birthday, or something. People were dressing up. It's a very nice place in a beautiful building, and it does lend itself to a finer dining experience, and so we felt that the edge in Vedge was still something we needed to say. Yes, Vedge is cutting edge as far as what we're doing with vegetables, as far as kind of like, exploring the boundaries of what can be done.
But, there was that kind of spicier, grittier, kind of message that we wanted to get across that was so important to us, and that's why we opened V Street. It was just something from a culinary aspect that we still needed to say and an experience we wanted people to have.
Kate Jacoby: And where the influence on our menu at Vedge is all just about the vegetables themselves and highlighting them in really interesting ways that celebrate their unique flavors and textures, the inspiration for V Street comes from all over the world. We're not trying to replicate an exact dish that we've had in our travels or something that's stimulated us from another culture. This is like our take on what it would be like if we were going to try to vegan-ize some street foods across the globe.
Suzy Chase: Your travel journal pages are interspersed in this cookbook, with places like Tokyo, Marrakesh, and Brazil. Where is your favorite place in the world for street food?
Rich Landau: I would say Morocco was the one that moved us the most. First of all, there was so much there for us to eat. We were worried when we went there. What would vegans and vegetarians eat when they go to Morocco? It turns out, everything. It's an incredibly friendly place for us, and we found the most incredible things just walking down the street one day. Even after lunch, we're like, "Oh, wow. Onion crepes." That's amazing. Had to go in there and eat, even though we just ate lunch. These things just kept popping up at us that we had to eat, even though we were full. To me, that's what makes a great food experience, is when you just have to keep eating. Morocco is definitely up there with that one. Anywhere in Asia, too, I think is pretty high up there with street food, as well.
Kate Jacoby: The first thing that jumps to mind is actually an experience from many, many years ago. We were in Antigua. We had rented a car and just were exploring the island and we saw an Ital food shack. We kind of immediately headed right for it and had the most amazing styrofoam container piled high with all these different beautiful curries and gorgeous rice. It was just so aromatic and delicious. Everything was completely Rasta style. It was just such a delicious meal, coming right out of these beautiful clay pots.
Yeah. Any opportunity where we can just kind of connect with the local people who are cooking their favorite foods for everyday people, not for special occasions, but just like what you eat on an everyday basis. It tells us so much about the culture.
Rich Landau: If you just ate, and you find more street food, duty calls. You have to eat again.
Suzy Chase: Keep eating. I find that most street food is chicken, beef, pork, or some sort of mystery meat. Was it hard to find vegetarian street food?
Rich Landau: Yes. In a lot of places, we really stumbled. A place like Hong Kong, where we thought it would be a breeze to eat vegan. Street food, nothing. I mean, just a whole bunch of dead animal carcasses hanging everywhere. I mean, there was really nothing there, as far as Hong Kong went. We found some decent meals in restaurants in Hong Kong, but we didn't just walk the streets and get flooded with options there.
It's a little bit easier, I think, in Japan and in Korea and in Singapore. It all comes down to, great food is tradition all throughout Asia, and it all comes down to how prevalent that is in that particular culture. The more you see the ... The more Buddhists you have, the more vegetarian options you have.
Suzy Chase: How has the idea of being vegan changed over the years for you?
Kate Jacoby: I started up with Rich in the restaurant in 2001 and back at that time it was funny, because vegetarian was sort of off putting to a lot of people, let alone vegan. And now, here we are, 2016, I think vegan has become such a buzz word, where it's no longer strange or baffling to people. I think it's actually become, in some cases, very trendy. Some people, celebrities especially, have made it kind of, something that a lot of people are more interested in learning about and incorporating into their lifestyle.
The word incorporating is interesting because I also see this change where, even five years ago, if you were going to be part of this very exclusive vegan club, you had to be strict. There was sort of like a vegan police out to get you, prove you wrong if you wavered. But, what I've noticed, because we like to think that we pay close attention to the food aspect of this movement, but then beyond the food, I think that anybody who's been vegetarian, vegan, in recent years there's been this more inclusive effort to encourage people to lean vegetarian and vegan. You don't have to commit and be perfect, but baby steps, leaning in the direction, trying to incorporate more of that philosophy into your lifestyle has been much more accepted. I think it's more effective because people ... You don't want to be feeling threatened, like you've got to overhaul your entire life. For that reason, I think a lot more people are open minded to, maybe it's one meal once a week, or whatever it is. But, lots more people are interested in plan based foods these days.
Rich Landau: A lot of it, culturally, I think it's fascinating, how mainstream veganism has become. This is really just the beginning, but we see. We saw the changes early on. For instance, a bus goes by with a billboard on it for Silk. Morningstar Farms on a commercial on TV. We see these for the first time, and we're just shocked by it, because you would've never, ever seen this five, six, seven years ago, and yet, it's happening. So now, it's become, oh, there's the Morningstar Farms commercial again. No big deal.
But, perhaps the most interesting thing we saw was on Saturday Night Live, when Justin Timberlake dressed up as a block of tofu singing, Come On Down to Vegan Town and just kind of going back and forth with this guy who makes sausage. Kate and I just sat there watching it, waiting for the punchline. When are they going to make fun of the vegans? What's going to happen? When is someone really skinny going to come out? Whatever it's going to be, we were waiting for the punchline, and there wasn't a punchline.
It was just kind of ... It wasn't celebrating what we're doing, but it was just speaking of how mainstream this has become. It is a commonplace word. We were watching House of Cards the other night and the word vegan popped up on there, just as a part of the conversation. Not this, wow, kind of, wow, do you believe these people, kind of thing. It just happened to be in the conversation. It's amazing. As students of this progress, as students of this movement, it's amazing to see all the baby steps turn into these kind of big leaps as we're going on.
Suzy Chase: Your carrots caught my eye in this cookbook. I noticed that you leave on the skin. Describe your technique for carrots.
Rich Landau: One of the reasons we leave the skin on, I mean, you have to find the right carrots. If the carrots have dirty, gritty, hairy skin, you've got to peel it. But, the particular carrots we get, which are actually jumbo organic juicing carrots, have beautiful skin and that's where a lot of the flavor is. And you can also, when you cook them right, get this kind of, almost a blistery, crackly effect on the skin, which is beautiful.
To me, when you peel a carrot and it's really bright orange, it's beautiful and it's great that exists in nature, but it looks like a salad to me. I like the rusticity of leaving the skin on. As elegant as we sometimes tell people Vedge has become, it is a very rustic place to eat. My mantra with our kitchen staff is, rustic elegance, when it comes down to cooking the food. Make it beautiful on the plate, but have this element of rusticity on there that's kind of raw, kind of in the garden, over the campfire, feelings when you're eating. Leaving the skin on the carrots is one example of that.
Our carrots start with a stock. They're blanched in kind of an aromatic broth of bay leaf, peppercorn, and thyme. After that, they're roasted in the oven with some steak spice, like Montreal steak spice, because it's not just for steaks. It's for carrots too. And then, they come off and they go over the wood grill, where we have this kind of melange of apple wood, cherry, and mesquite chips. They kind of open up and get all this smoky, delicious flavor in there and they get a few char marks on them. When the finish for the customer, they go on the plancha, which is the flat top grill, and that's where they really caramelize and all the sugars from the carrot comes out and the skin gets kind of blistery and stands out a bit. It's a beautiful effect. Again, it's all at once rustic and elegant on the plate.
Suzy Chase: You have an ingenious chapter called, Shopping the Markets, where you list go to items at different ethnic markets. Oftentimes, I walk into a market, such as an Indian market, and I don't know where to begin.
Kate Jacoby: We worked with some pretty fantastic publishers, who really helped us create a book that would be very user friendly, and this was a wonderful example of: How can we not just give a bunch of recipes to people? But, how can we kind of walk them through the experience of start to finish? Where do you get the ingredients? How do you go through that store with confidence and know how to sort through, maybe, a bunch of ingredients that aren't familiar to you? We feel the same way. We are fortunate in the Philadelphia area to have a lot of really different ethnic markets that bring in products that you can't find in a larger, more mainstream supermarket.
We kind of go in there with our tail between our legs and walk up and down. Maybe, try to ask questions if we can, but we read labels as best we can and then we'll come home and experiment. We put that forth as an effort to sort of let people know that, even as chefs, it can be daunting sometimes when you're approaching a new food culture, especially in a vegan umbrella. We were really proud of that. I think it was kind of setting a good tone for how to approach the book and hopefully giving people some very practical information that they could use to make these recipes a big success.
Suzy Chase: Kate, describe your vegan ice cream. The sweet corn ice cream looks so good.
Kate Jacoby: When I'm creating a dessert menu, I like to imagine the whole experience for our guests when they're sitting down. What do they really want at the end of their meal? At the end of a V Street meal, you've probably had a nice range of all different ethnic foods and probably a certain amount of spice throughout the dinner. I wanted to capture some good street food desserts. In large part, ice cream is very important. We even invested in a beautiful soft serve machine, so that's been kind of fun getting to work with that over, now, two years.
The sweet corn ice cream was something we created to go with our ice [inaudible 00:12:42]. This is a traditionally Malaysian dessert of shaved ice with different flavored syrups, maybe sweetened condensed milk, a lot of different, maybe, gummies, and fermented fruits, pickled fruits, beans, a really interested textural experience. Oftentimes, you'll actually, through the Southeast Asian desserts, you'll see corn incorporated. Maybe just like roasted corn or kind of spooned on as like a sauce, even.
For me, I've worked with corn in many different ways. Oftentimes, there's cornbread in desserts at Vedge, so that was kind of an easy go to for me, just because the sweetness, the natural sugars in corn, I feel like it just makes a beautiful base for ice cream. For that particular dish, we mix that with blackberry granita and a bunch of different pickled fruits and beans. It's just a really fun celebratory dessert. Especially when you've had some spicy food, it's a great way to cool down your palate.
Suzy Chase: On Sunday, I made your recipe for sesame rice balls on page 157. Talk a little bit about how you interpreted the sesame rice ball recipe.
Kate Jacoby: This one was kind of like, one of those sort of like, sweet, savory items. We developed sort of a rice flour dough that would work well for us. It just was kind of one of those fun things. I think we actually put it on our menu around New Years. We were working with them as sort of a complement to a little tasting menu that we did. But, it's always nice to have a range of things in your repertoire at the restaurant, but this one in particular I thought translated pretty well for a home cook.
When we were in Tokyo, I remember thinking that the dessert options weren't all that vast. A lot of [inaudible 00:14:40] and green tea ice creams and things like that, so it's a little bit of adjustment when you're thinking of certain Asian style desserts and how you're going to incorporate them onto a broader menu over here. But, that was one that we thought was a nice [inaudible 00:14:56] that's just lightly on the sweet side.
Suzy Chase: You have a really easy bean paste recipe, too, that was simple to make.
Kate Jacoby: Good. Yeah. That's the kind of thing that, again, you're putting out a cookbook. You want to encourage people to be able to make things from scratch at home. Obviously, you could buy a bean paste, but you can make it so easily and with such pure ingredients, that it's a nice ... You can feel so accomplished and it's actually not all that hard. Right?
Suzy Chase: And I did, and I posted it on Instagram.
Kate Jacoby: Excellent. Well done. That's the last step in every good recipe. Right? To take a picture and put it on Instagram.
Suzy Chase: Exactly. Where can we find you in Philadelphia and on the web?
Kate Jacoby: Online, we are at vstreetfood.com and on that website, you can link to our restaurant, vedgerestaurant.com. Brand new fast casual, it's Wiz Kid. Here in Philadelphia, you can visit us at V Street in Rittenhouse, right on 19th. The address is 126 South 19th Street. And then, Vedge is on Locust Street, at 1221 Locust Street. Wiz Kid just opened inside the new Whole Foods at 2001 Pennsylvania Avenue. That's a small, little location, our very first. The sort of flagship Wiz Kid is going to roll out next to V Street at the end of this year. The address there will be 124 South 19th Street. Again, that will be a few months out.
Suzy Chase: Rich and Kate, you have taught us that you don't have to eat animals to have a good meal. Thanks so much for coming on Cookery by the Book Podcast.
Rich Landau: Our pleasure.
Kate Jacoby: Thanks for having us.