The Vegetarian Experiment

It’s funny how the things we begin to accept as we get older are generally those same things we swore in our youth never to compromise on. For some it’s politics, for others it’s art, for me, it was my diet. I’ve been a carnivore since day one. I love meat, in all forms, shapes and sizes. I’m the chef of a steakhouse, how could I do what I do and NOT love meat.

Roasting your own peppers packs alot more flavor.

But the older I get, the more I have to pay attention to that dreaded phrase “in moderation”. I’ve noticed my beef intake over the last 6 months has soared dramatically. Even before that I’ve received stern warnings from my doctor about less-than-optimal cholesterol counts. I’ve also noticed over the last 6 months a ‘heaviness’ and general malaise that I began to attribute to the amount of beef, pork and poultry I was eating. I couldn’t make it through a day away from work without a nap, what was once a guilty pleasure became a necessity.

Granted, I haven’t had a vacation in years, I work 60-70 hours a week, I have two young children and an obsession with my camera that definitely cuts into my sleeping time. It wouldn’t be a stretch at all to blame my general lack of energy on all those factors as well, would it? The truth is, my family has been gone in Europe for almost 6 weeks, I’ve been sleeping plenty and my down time is just that, yet I still needed the naps. I’m not talking about a 20 minute refresher, I’m talking about a 2 ½ hour sleep cycle.

After recalling a conversation with another chef friend who had given up meat, I figured it was worth a shot. Now this chef friend doesn’t oversee such a meat-centric kitchen as I do, so I knew there would be challenges, ridicule and everything else that goes along with calling your new diet vegetarian, but if it kept me awake throughout the day and made it easier to get going in the mornings, it was worth a shot.

I started with the plan of going vegan for two weeks, which ended abruptly after a couple of gnarly soy-protein links on day one. After realizing that was too much of a shock, I scaled back to vegetarian. I figured if a little dairy and cheese ‘in moderation’ would help me avoid meat altogether, I was still coming out ahead.

I have never gone more than a day without meat until last week. Today is day eight. As much as I miss it and as much as I can’t wait to go back to it ‘in moderation’, I actually feel quite good. I haven’t napped all week, my mornings start a little earlier and overall, I just feel…better.

As a chef, I’ve always kept vegetarian options on my menu, not for myself, but because this is Colorado, and even in a steakhouse you’ll get a request for a vegetarian plate, which is a whole other topic for a later post. Here is a light lunch I used to feature on one of my menus.

Grilled Portobello Sandwich, Roast Red Peppers, Arugula, Lemon Aioli

½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup olive oil
4 oz fresh Portobello, stemmed removed
1 bell pepper, roasted
A handful of baby arugula or rocket
1 Tbs lemon aioli*
2 slices of your bread of choice, I prefer a hearty seed bread for mine.
Fresh ground black pepper

Method:
1. Whisk together the olive oil and the vinegar, this is a temporary emulsion but you only need it to last long enough to marinate the mushrooms for a bit.
2. Add the mushrooms and a little black pepper.
3. Set aside.
4. Lightly rub the pepper in oil and place on a hot grill, turn as each side begins to char.
5. You can also roast the pepper in the oven if that’s easier although you won’t get the same charred flavor from the pepper.
6. Remove the pepper from the grill/oven to an ice bath (I prefer ice baths to steaming roast peppers because I want to leave a slight crunchy texture on the peppers).
7. Grill the mushrooms for 2-3 minutes on each side, beware of flare up from the vinegar and oil.
8. Remove the mushrooms from the grill and place back in the marinade to cool.
9. Scrape the charred skin off the red pepper. Also remove seeds, stem and julienne.
10. Remove the mushrooms from the marinade and slice on a bias.
11. Assemble the sandwich with the aioli, arugula, mushrooms and peppers.

*I used to have a recipe for aioli on my site but I can’t seem to find it, I’ll have to locate and upload again for you if you’d like to make it for yourself.

3 Responses

  1. Pingback: Southern Fried Chicken Thighs, Charred Corn-Red Onion Relish | ChristopherCina.com

  2. Great post and very skillful execution of the roasting pepper photo. I especially like the golden reflection of the flames – beautiful and delicious looking!

  3. RJ Dollen says:

    This looks amazing! I’ve been taking health a bit more serious lately as well and very much appreciate what you are doing. Cooking without meat is a foreign idea to me so it’s very cool to have someone like you posting these recipes.

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