When asked why she named her popular all-vegetable restaurant on the lower east side of Manhattan “Dirt Candy,” chef Amanda Cohen had a simple answer.
“My restaurant is all about vegetables,” she said. “And for me, vegetables are candy and they come from the dirt.”
The Canadian-born Cohen, who participated in the Cayman Cookout culinary festival for the first time this year, is a James Beard-nominated chef and the first vegetarian chef to be featured on the popular Food Network show, Iron Chef America. In addition to preparing a dish for the Cookout’s final event, The Great Gala, Cohen headlined two other events over the course of the festival, including a lunch on Jan. 19 held at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s Andiamo Restaurant.
The four-course meal, which was paired with wines from the Thomas Fogarty Winery including a new line called “Skyline,” featured four colourful and creative vegetable dishes.
The first course was a unique take on a famous northern Italy dipping sauce called bagna cauda. Cohen explained that traditionally, bagna cauda is made of olive oil, garlic and anchovies, however, for her dish, fermented black beans provided the sharp flavors. Guests dipped a bowl of brightly coloured, mixed raw vegetables and lettuces into the sauce at the bottom of the bowl.
“It might be better than the original,” Cohen proudly told the guests. “But don’t tell the Italians.”
Served next was a salad made with pickled baby fennel, compressed white and black beans and carmelised yoghurt. The beans looked and tasted a lot like sausage, but what guests wanted to know most was how Cohen carmelised the creamy, golden-coloured yoghurt.
“I do it in a pressure cooker for 45 minutes,” she said, adding that if people wanted to try it at home, they’d need to use yoghurt that had no additives.
If they closed their eyes when the third course was served, many guests would have thought they were being served hot dogs. They would have been right except for the meat part. The grilled and smoked broccoli hot dogs were served on two mini-buns and topped with mustard and a sauerkraut relish. Cohen’s recommendation was that people eat them with their hands, just as they would a regular meat hot dog.
Finishing up the satisfyingly filling lunch was one of Cohen’s signature desserts, popcorn pudding, which is made with corn kernels and garnished with caramel popcorn.
Afterwards, the smiling and friendly Cohen came out and talked with guests, answering any questions they had.