Jeff Smith noon, March 8
Alchemy Chef Proves You Don't Have to be Vegetarian to Do Right By 'Em
At left: Ricardo Heredia
Cooking for vegetarians can be tough for chefs, not because they don’t respect them, but because, as members of perhaps the most over-the-top caste of foodies, these pros love all the food the world has to offer and hate to take any of it off the table. Were you to check out Alchemy chef Ricardo Heredia’s Wednesday night three-course vegetarian menus, you’d walk away thinking he subsisted on a diet fortified solely by sun-sweetened and soil-ripened rabbit food from Susie’s Farms.
As his special order suckling pig dinners suggest, Heredia loves him some meat and can’t even begin to comprehend the vegan lifestyle, but doesn’t let that get in the way of plating up inventive spontaneous dishes for his weekly vegetarian-based offerings. His $25 per person trios are whipped up the day of (the menu usually gets posted on Facebook and Twitter in the early afternoon so it doesn’t have to be a total surprise) based on what looks best or the most interesting over at Susie’s. A constant visitor and someone who brings in local kids to check out the farm, Heredia’s a big wheel at Susie’s. As a result, he has the opportunity to get at the cream of the crops.
Last week’s meal kicked off with a watermelon salad that featured its star ingredient (which was marinated in a delightful blend of olive oil and champagne vinegar) presented like a rectangular slab of tuna or pork belly. It was presented with watercress, watermelon radish and watermelon gherkins (they look like watermelons that have undergone shrunken head treatment). Together, it made for a very balanced dish that had great intermingling salty, sweet, sour and unami notes.
Next up was a ball of saffron-infused risotto studded with English peas and deep fried to golden brown perfection. It tasted like a meatless Spanish paella that, to make up for the lack of a protein such as lobster or chicken, had a gob of fresh mozzarella tucked in the center. Served over slightly bitter wilted black kale with basil-truffle oil, it was a dish I’d enjoy seeing on the menu full-time.
Keeping on the veggie theme, I closed things out with carrot cake. Two weeks ago, I professed my amour for this dessert after having a very traditional version at Barrio Logan’s Blueprint Café. Heredia’s version has a thicker layer of icing and is served with home-made caramel popcorn. And did I mention it has a pronounced amount of juniper berry in it? Tastes like gin meets dessert. It’s most definitely an original and worth a whirl, but I was surprised to find out I’m more old-fashioned than I thought when it comes to this meal-ender.