Last week the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills hosted a poolside cooking demonstration to celebrate the launch of some new additions to the Cabana Restaurant menu. As waiters circulated with samples on silver serving trays the press in attendance (myself included) swarmed for every bite. Here’s what makes this surprising: those nibbles didn’t include the usual high-end fare of caviar or glistening slices of sashimi. There were no Kobe beef sliders or lobster wontons. Instead, the delicacies included veggie burgers with house-made beet ketchup; battered avocado tacos with pickled purple onions; smoked mushroom skewers with sun-dried tomato cashew cheese and maple mustard and ginger-glazed tempeh skewers over brown rice couscous.
The vegan and gluten-free dishes were created by Jenny Engel and Heather Goldberg, the sisters behind Spork Foods, a Los Angeles-based gourmet vegan cooking school and food company. "We want to make vegan food sexy and sassy and not about sacrifice," says Jenny. This being LA, their food has attracted the attention of Hollywood. Another pair of sisters-actresses Zooey and Emily Deschanel-wrote the foreword to their book Spork-Fed: Super Fun and Flavorful Vegan Recipes from the Sisters of Spork Foods.
But make no mistake, Jenny and Heather are taken seriously in nutrition circles. Recently, they served food to 1,500 people at UCLA; they’ve been hired to revamp the campus menu and educate the college’s chefs about healthier cooking. The sisters also do private cooking lessons-for both social and corporate groups, in-home pantry makeovers, and they’ll even take clients shopping at the market to teach them how to choose the best tasting, healthiest products.
It’s become a cliché for vegan fare to be touted as so tasty that even diehard carnivores will love it. So, with full acknowledgement that this is not an original statement, l’m repeating that sentiment here. The dishes that Jenny and Heather demonstrated at The Four Seasons were so brimming with texture and flavor, they’d tickle a palette more inclined toward a rare rib-eye or double-cut pork chops.
Here’s a sample Spork recipe, perfect for a summer picnic.
California Style Brown Rice Cous Cous
Cous Cous Ingredients:
2 cups Lundberg brown rice cous cous, cooked according to directions
1/3 cup roasted pistachio kernels, roughly chopped, plus for topping
6 fresh figs, quartered or ½ cup dried figs (diced)
12-14 leaves fresh mint, finely chopped (1 tablespoon), plus for garnish
4 sprigs fresh thyme, finely chopped (2 teaspoons)
1 carrot, finely chopped
½ teaspoon sea salt, plus to taste
¼ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon brown rice syrup
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 grilled lemon, sliced into thin rounds *for garnish
1 Persian cucumber, sliced into thin rounds *for garnish
Transfer cooked cous cous into a large bowl and add pistachios, figs, mint, thyme, carrot, sea salt, pepper, brown rice syrup, lemon juice and olive oil. Toss together until well mixed. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if desired.
Garnish cous cous with toasted pistachios and mint sprig and line plate with alternating slices of grilled lemon and cucumber.
© Spork Foods, 2014