I have known many meat eaters to be far more non-violent than vegetarians. – Mohandas Gandhi
Vegetarianism is harmless enough, although it is apt to fill a man with wind and self-righteousness. – Sir Robert Hutchinson
Vegetarians have wicked, shifty eyes and laugh in a cold, calculating manner. They pinch little children, steal stamps, drink water, favor beards. – J.B. Morton
Face it: we all eat too much meat. No one loves a good steak more than yours truly, but the raising of large mammals for human consumption is bad for both the body and the body politic.
But where’s a body to go when the spirit to eat healthy is willing, but the choices are weak? And more to the point, why is vegetarian food so bad? (Let’s face it #2: Most vegetarian food sucks harder than a Fremont Street hooker on a three-day meth bender. It sucks because most vegetarian food is cooked by vegetarians, and vegetarians are usually terrible at cooking food, because all of them suffer from fear of food.)
It’s a true fact established by scientific data yet to be compiled that 96.97843% of all vegetarians live in mortal fear of the things they eat. (Vegans are even worse, but we won’t go there right now.)
It’s also true that you can’t cook anything well if you’re afraid of it. The key to good cooking (like good relationships) is loving and respecting the object of your affection. Not for nothing do barbecue cooks lovingly massage their briskets with dry rub, or dessert chefs view a pool of melted chocolate like an impressionist painter sees her oils.
Vegetarians never develop this kindred spirit with the things they eat. They’re too busy worrying about what their victuals are doing to their insides. Vegetarians have a preoccupation with their innards that borders on the religious.
They also don’t have a clue how to season things. Or how to tell when something is at its peak period of palate pleasing perfection.
So, bottom line: avoid vegetarians and (especially) vegetarian restaurants at all costs.
But, for the sake of argument, when you DO want to eat healthy, vegetarian food prepared by real experts, where should you go?
The answer is simple: Twist by Pierre Gagnaire — a restaurant so good at cooking vegetables you won’t miss meat even for a minute.
The reasons Twist is so good at vegetarian food is also simple. It’s because it is a real restaurant, manned by real chefs who understand and love food. They know how to choose good ingredients, how to handle them, how to prepare them and how to cook them. They know how to season things, and know exactly when that asparagus spear, or leaf of lettuce or slice of avocado is at its consumable best.
They’re also really really good at extracting and intensifying the flavors of things, be it a dot of lemon sauce, or horseradish-infused milk cubes:
They’re also experts (some of the best in the world, in fact) in presenting food as an eye-pleasing palette for your palate.
…as well as making the most out of modest provisions, like the celery/spinach/corn pudding/soup pictured above. If ever there were a vegetarian dish that highlights the glories of French cooking this is it. Parsed from the humblest ingredients, it is by turns both beautiful and greater than the sum of its parts. If all chefs could cook vegetables this well, the beasts and birds that roam the earth would have nothing to worry about.
The chef now in charge of the Twist kitchen is Frédéric Don. He is the third chef in eight years to take the helm here, and like his predecessors, his task is mostly to execute recipes that have been firmly vetted in corporate kitchens by a cadre of corporate chefs. This doesn’t make his duties any less important, but it does mean that he is expected to be more of a technician than an artiste. Whether he’s wildly creative, or a simple servant of his celebrity chef master, doesn’t matter to us. What does matter is the hyper-deliciousness of the food here, and we can confidently proclaim that well into its ninth year, the food at Twist is better than ever. And not to take anything away from those who preceded him, but I found Don’s dishes (both vegetarian and not) to be prettier on the plate, and more focused on the palate, than in the past. (We are talking very fine distinctions here: the difference between an A+ and (at worst) an A-, but when you’ve eaten here a dozen times, as we have, you notice these things.)
No matter how you slice the sunchokes, Don is doing Pierre Gagnaire proud, and keeping Twist at the forefront of our fine French restaurants. The wine list is vastly improved — not exactly a bargain hunter’s dream, but with some nice, easy-to-drink bottles for under a hundy — and the tiny bar now turns out an array of craft cocktails for those so inclined.
And for those of you so inclined to come over to the dark side, they also do some killer frogs’ legs.
Somewhere, an amphibian is on crutches.
TWIST BY PIERRE GAGNAIRE
Mandarin Oriental Hotel
ELV postscript: Before any of you get your mung beans in a bunch, know that my dearly beloved mother (Marcella Ruth Schroader Curtas, D.O.B. 8-10-24) has been a vegetarian for 50 of her 92 years. As far as I know, she’s never started any wars or kicked a small animal. My wife (the long-suffering Food Gal®) skews vegetarian as well. (Although she occasionally craves a cheeseburger.) ELV — the man, the myth the inveterate carnivore — realizes that some day all humans will be vegetarians and be healthier for it. However, until that day comes, he will continue to enjoy his pulled pork, as well as his duck a l’orange.)