I had a thought once about couples where one person was a vegetarian and the other was a meat eater. It seemed like they could really never share a meal and have the same experience without one person–usually the omnivore–compromising to suit the mutually agreeable meal. To a normal, well adjusted human being, this is a totally banal observation that wouldn’t warrant losing sleep over.
But to us at Studiofeast, we thought it’d be cool to do a meal where an omnivore and a vegetarian could both share the same meal without the former forgoing meat or the latter having to try flesh. That was the seed of an idea that grew into our most recent dinner: a 7 course meal with an omnivore and vegetarian option where each corresponding course looked identical across the meat/vegetable line. And on July 17th, we seated 40 guests–20 omnivores on one side of the table, 20 vegetarians sitting opposite them–and served them our Doppelganger Dinner. [Full menu & photo gallery after the jump!]
We also wanted to challenge ourselves by not simply creating a bunch of meat dishes and substituting each meat with tofu or some other protein stand-in. So no repeating of ingredients: if we used basil puree in the veggie dish, then we had to use parsley puree in the meat dish. This turned out to be an interesting puzzle because we had to compose our dishes in pairs. Ingredients that could never be coaxed into resembling some other ingredient were out of the question. On top of that, we needed pairs of ingredients that looked visually alike to each other, but also paired nicely with the flavor profile of the rest of their dishes. Derrick, Soomin, Christine, Demian and I spent hours brainstorming and testing to create what ultimately became our menu:
Vegetarian: Apricot Roe, Coconut, Mint
Omnivore: Salmon Roe, Vichyssoise, Celery
Spherified apricot puree matched salmon roe with our pair of white soups.
Vegetarian: Tomato, Yellow Pepper, Basil
Omnivore: Beef, Smoked Egg, Parsley
Again, spheres save the day and we paired a smoked egg yolk to a yellow pepper puree.
Vegetarian: Potato/Onion, Kale, Miso Butter
Omnivore: Beef, Mustard Green, Duckfat
The team hand carved 45 yukon potatoes to look like bones; caramelized onion played the marrow part.
Vegetarian: La Mian, Shiitake Dashi, Kombu
Omnivore: Shrimp Noodle, Bacon Dashi, Wood Ear
Instead of veggie looking like meat, we had meat looking like veggie. Activa bonded shrimp paste was extruded through a squeeze bottle to create pure shrimp noodles.
Vegetarian: Watermelon, Fennel, Carrot
Omnivore: Duck, Celery, Sweet Potato
Compressing, sous vide-ing, and grilling watermelon yields a deep, red, meaty texture.
Vegetarian: Tofu, Green Bean, Kimchi
Omnivore: Sea Scallop, Garlic Scape, Red Pepper
Amazing tofu from an old man in Chinatown hand carved to mirror some incredible dayboat scallops from Metropolitan Seafood.
Vegetarian: Blueberry, Frikeh Wooddruff, Birch
Omnivore: Uni, Lobster, Corn, Licorice
Micah Phillips from Compose, kicking ass as usual.
That dessert was lovingly invented and crafted by Micah, pastry chef at Compose in Tribeca, with help from his lovely assistant Karen Yung. Derrick and I had been to Compose during the planning phase of this dinner and instantly knew that Micah was the perfect pastry chef to rise to this challenge. He definitely hit it out of the park.
During service, I also saw a great deal of cross dish sharing, with veggies and omnis curious about what the other had on their plate. Confusion was indeed a byproduct of this meal and I hope it kept everyone on their toes throughout the meal. That tension of “wait, what am I eating?” ended up being a great catalyst for conversation and interaction and it was fun to watch the crowd as new dishes arrived on the table. It was also nice to simply see vegetarians in the room, as this was the first time we’ve ever offered something for them. The night turned out incredibly and we had a well oiled machine that was our chef/server crew creating a great night for a room full of happy guests.
This was certainly one of the more complex events we’ve pulled off, and I would be remissed if I didn’t give a shout out to the amazing staff helping to plan and execute this dinner: Derrick Yuen, Soomin Baik, Demian Repucci, and Christine Wells for their herculean efforts during testing and prep; Joe LeVine for being an especially awesome dude; Michael Cirino of a razor, a shiny knife lending his formidable science and cooking skills to our chef team; Brian Quinn for pairing and serving our wines along with Jessica Lawrence; Micah Phillips and Karen Yung for killing it on the dessert; Ben Walmer of the Highlands Dinner Club for hooking me up with Mark Drabich at Metropolitan Seafood (the greatest scallops I’ve ever tasted); Steph Goralnick for being a visual virtuoso and capturing the evening beautifully; and finally to Jeremy Kressmann, Jenny Lee, Brittany Clark and Roiya Saatian, and Danielle Gould of Food+Tech Connect for being total rockstars at making sure our guests were happy in the dining room.
Below is a full photo gallery of the evening by Steph. Stay tuned for a time lapse video and be on the lookout for more events coming soon. We look forward to cooking for you in the future.
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