In 2013, I was introduced to vegan cuisine by my now wife who has been vegan for 30 years. I had been going through a rough patch personally and needed to make a change in my life. I fell in love with vegan cooking and eating and embraced it “cold turkey.” (Yes, I recognize the irony in that statement). I dropped a ton of weight and started training for a marathon and cycling. It was transformative. I developed a love and passion for plant-based cooking and where it could take me. For a while I had to battle some internal demons because I was still a chef in a company that loves food and not everyone wants to be plant-based. But now I have a niche. I’ve been a plant-based chef for a wide variety of technology and creative companies in Northern and Southern California and now I get to train and inspire teams in plant-based techniques.
Where I work now, at a major Bay Area technology company, there’s a lot of interest in and support for plant-based cooking. While the entire program isn’t plant-based, the executive chef and the whole culinary team are really interested in learning how to make delicious plant-based food. When I’m introducing chefs to plant-based cooking, I encourage them to use a lot of the techniques they already know and would use for meat-focused dishes to make food that’s just as delicious, beautiful, and technically sound. Like if you’re doing a pasta carbonara, instead of the bacon or pancetta, you can caramelize mushrooms and get them really crispy and have a similar effect. Lately we’ve been making a butternut squash soup that has depth and complexity from a smoked butternut squash and a texture from cashews that mimics cream. I prefer to show people how to use whole vegetables and grains like beets, mushrooms, and quinoa to make interesting dishes rather than relying on vegan meat alternatives. At home, my wife and I make a spicy dish with eggplant and mushrooms that have a similar character to chorizo, though we don’t call it that.
The dish I’m sharing is a wild mushroom carbonara. Its smoky flavor pairs with the crispy texture of the mushrooms and gives you flavor and textural elements that resemble bacon or pancetta. Traditionally this dish is created with regular semolina flour, however a suitable alternative is to use whole wheat or even whole grain pasta such as a quinoa-based one. I love this dish because it gives me everything that I’m looking for in a sexy, satisfying Italian pasta dish without having to add meat or the traditional dairy products.
I love educating people about plant-based cooking and introducing them to new dishes. There are so many different cuisines around the world that don’t rely on meat-based proteins. Indian food is one of my top loves. Ethiopian, Thai, and even Italian food for that matter have a lot of recipes that don’t require meat. I think getting people to try something new is the best way to get them interested in eating more plant-based and plant-forward foods. I’ll come out into the café with samples of dishes we’ve created so our guests can taste test them. I’m always honest that we’re not trying to fool people. We’re not trying to replace meat, but this is something that’s incredibly tasty that you should try. I don’t expect everyone to be plant-based or plant-forward, but if you open yourself up to experiences and make a little bit of change, you’re going to get interested in something new that is good for your health and good for the planet.
- 4 pounds baby bella mushrooms may use creminis, oyster, chanterelle, or other local mushrooms
- 1/4 cup garlic minced
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/3 cup coconut aminos*
- 1 1/2 Tbsp maple syrup
- 1 Tbsp smoked paprika
- 1 Tbsp liquid smoke
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cashew Cream Sauce
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp chili flakes
- 1 whole yellow onion diced small
- 8 garlic cloves diced small
- 2 1/2 cups cashews
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup white wine non-alcoholic wine works if preferred
- 1 cup water if too thick add 2 tablespoons at a time
- salt and pepper to taste
- pasta whole wheat, brown rice pasta or whole grain of choice
- 1 cup basil or parsley rough chopped
- 1 cup vegan Parmesan cheese
- Heat oven to 375°F. Cut all mushrooms into bite-sized pieces and place in a mixing bowl. Whisk all remaining ingredients, pour over the mushrooms, and mix until thoroughly coated. Line a sheet tray with parchment and spread mushrooms out in a single layer. Bake for 30-45 minutes until crispy. Remove and set aside.
- Meanwhile prepare pasta of choice according to the package directions, garnishes, and the cream sauce.
- For the sauce, heat oil in stockpot over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, toast chili flake for 30 seconds. Add the onions, garlic, and cashews and caramelize until golden brown in color. Deglaze the pan with white wine and reduce by half, add water, let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Then add the apple cider vinegar and continue cooking for an additional 3 minutes.
- Remove from heat, place in a high-powered blender taking care to avoid splashing any hot liquid. Blend until sauce has a smooth and creamy finish with no chunks or bits of cashew remaining. If the sauce appears too thick, add 2 tablespoons of water at a time and continue to blend to desired thickness. Blend, blend, blend until the sauce has a shiny appearance. Place back in stockpot and season with salt and pepper. Sauce will continue to thicken as it cooks. It should be similar consistency to a traditional béchamel.
- Once all components are done, combine the pasta with the cashew cream sauce and fold in one-half of the fresh herbs and cheese. Divide onto plates and top with mushrooms and remaining herbs and cheese.