Cooking with Plants: Chef Ted Cizma
By JL Fields
Whether it’s for environmental, ethical or health reasons, more people are choosing to eat plant-based meals – even if they aren’t vegan seven days of the week. Some of 2017’s top trends echo this desire to eat less meat and animal-based products, from root-to-stem cooking and spiralized vegetables to fermented foods like kombucha and kimchi.
Chefs don’t need to follow a plant-based diet to make extraordinary vegan food, however. Take Chef Ted Cizma, global executive chef for Space Exploration Technologies Corp. – better known as SpaceX, the aerospace manufacturer and space transportation company launched by entrepreneur Elon Musk.
Cizma opened the award-winning Grace Restaurant in his hometown of Chicago in 1998 and its sister restaurant Elaine in nearby Naperville in 2001, both of which he later sold to consult to luxury resorts and hotels throughout the country. In 2000, Food & Wine magazine named him its Best New Chef in America.
The son and grandson of butchers, Cizma was once known for his signature game dishes – a very non-vegan chef. Yet since 2011 he has served tens of thousands of meals a month in California, Texas and Florida, feeding SpaceX employees like rocket scientists and astronauts and preparing lots of vegetable-forward dishes.
I talked with Ted last winter about why chefs should provide vegan options on their menus, what to focus on when cooking vegan, and which plant-based foods are easy to keep on hand in a commercial kitchen.
Why should chefs – regardless of their own dietary choice or culinary emphasis – provide vegan options?
Ted: It’s just good business. No matter what type of operation you have (independent, hotel or corporate) a portion of your “clientele” will be interested in vegan options. It’s your responsibility as a chef to provide them with offerings that are in keeping with your ability and mission to offer a product and service that is desirable to your guests.
What do you focus on when preparing a vegan meal?
Ted: I like to compose dishes with an eye on three components, primarily: flavor, texture and appearance. When considering a vegan dish, I often also give more emphasis to the nutritional values of the ingredients. But the most important thing about any dish, vegan or not, is that it be delicious and attractive to the diner.
What plant-based foods are easy to keep on hand in a commercial kitchen?
Ted: In my operation, because of the volume and variety of food I cook each day – 30 unique menu items per day over six to eight outlets – I generally have a plethora of both fresh and dried plant-based food. Recently I have been experimenting with creating nutritional “boosts” for plant-based dishes with pea protein and reduced, concentrated fruit and vegetable juices.
What is your go-to vegan recipe?
Ted: Crispy Cauliflower & Avocado Tacos with Pico de Gallo. Vegans and carnivores alike approve!
Looking for Vegan Food in Georgia?
Mainstays vegetarian Café Sunflower and all-vegan Soul Vegetarian Restaurant in Atlanta serve up plant-based fare that range from healthy to comfort food at its finest. cafesunflower.com, soulvegetarian2.com
Buffet-style Back to Edenz in Macon serves up veg versions of Southern favorites, from vegan mac and cheese to vegan sweet potato cupcakes. facebook.com/edenzvegetarian
New kid on the block Herban Fix in Midtown Atlanta focuses on upscale Asian vegan fare. herbanfix.com
In Athens, The Grit diner offer vegan soups, salads, deli-style sandwiches, Middle Eastern and Mexican plates and even vegan cake and ice cream. thegrit.com
Find sweet treats at Dulce Vegan Bakery & Café in the Kirkwood neighborhood of Atlanta. dulcevegan.com
While not a vegan or vegetarian restaurant, the menu at Vito Pizza & Ristorante in Alpharetta features vegan options for several Italian classics, including chicken parmesan and eggplant rollatini – and pizza with vegan cheese. vitospizzaandristorante.com
JL Fields is the founder and director of the Colorado Springs Vegan Cooking Academy and the author of several cookbooks, including The Vegan Air Fryer and Vegan Pressure Cooking. Fields is on the culinary arts faculty at the University of New Mexico-Taos, the Colorado Springs Gazette vegan dining critic, and hosts the weekly radio program Easy Vegan. Learn more at JLgoesVegan.com.