Every year, NAIT’s Hokanson Chef in Residence program provides its culinary students the rare opportunity to learn first-hand from some of the best chefs in the world. This year the program welcomes Chef Amanda Cohen of New York’s Dirt Candy, a pioneer in the world of vegetable-centric cooking. Last week I had the opportunity to attend NAIT’s luncheon.
A quick bio on Chef Amanda Cohen:
Born in Ottawa and raised in Toronto, Cohen moved to New York City to attend university and never let. She is the chef and owner of Dirt Candy, an award-winning vegetable-only restaurant on New York’s Lower East Side. Dirt Candy became the first vegetarian restaurant in 17 years to receive 2 stars from the New York Times. It was recognized by the Michelin Guide 5 years in a row, and won awards from Gourmet Magazine, the Village Voice, and many others. Cohen was the first vegetarian chef to compete on Iron Chef America and her comic book cookbook, Dirt Candy: A Cookbook, is the first graphic novel cookbook to be published in North America.
Chef Cohen’s Dirt Candy was one of the first in New York to focus on vegetables in 2008, highlighting nature’s very own “candy shop”. Not only that, after relocating the original 18-seater eatery in 2015, Dirt Candy was the first to eliminate tipping in New York. It’s a trend I’m happy to see.
Our lunch started with an appetizer of roasted carrot buns with rainbow carrot and cucumber ginger salad. A play on the popular pork belly bao, I was impressed at the amount of work the NAIT culinary students put in to making their own bao dough!
The main entrée was a celebration of corn with stone ground grits. Chef Cohen really wanted to highlight the corn, a flavour that seemingly disappears with a lot of grit dishes. Mixed with corn cream, pickled shiitakes, and topped with a tempura poached egg, the dish was stunning and enticing. The grits as promised had a strong corn flavour and a dish that I won’t be forgetting soon. Take note: fried poached eggs should totally be a thing. Our plates were also dotted with huitlacoche, a fungus which grows naturally on the ears of corn and a delicacy in Mexico. Like other mushrooms and fungi, this “truffle of Mexico” added earthiness and umami to the dish. Very cool.
You would assume that a vegetarian meal would leave you wanting more but at this point, I was pretty full. At Dirt Candy, desserts also feature vegetables — examples include chocolate onion tarts, radish doughnuts, and carrot meringue pies. As an homage to Canada, Chef Cohen wanted to make a Nanaimo bar featuring sweet pea and mint. Beautiful!
Thank you to NAIT for this year’s invitation to attend the Hokanson Chef in Residence Luncheon. It’s amazing that every year NAIT is pushing the bar and bringing amazing chefs to inspire and mentor Edmonton’s own future chefs. The students are so lucky to work alongside Chef Amanda Cohen and learn so much about vegetable-centric dining! I’m looking forward to next year’s NAIT Chef in Residence already.
Disclaimer: I was invited as a guest and media for this year’s NAIT Chef in Residence luncheon. All opinions are of my own.