At first glance, it was business as usual last Wednesday night at Catch. Tourists snapped selfies in the floral entrance hallway. Foodies and hipsters packed the bar area and main dining room. The lounge was full of people attending a private event.
In the kitchen, however, there was a special sense of excitement. As VIP guests wandered in and out, the restaurant’s acclaimed seafood chef Andrew Carroll and four guest chefs from small-but-celebrated off-Strip establishments labored on a meal that was outside all of their wheelhouses: a five-course vegan feast.
“This event, for me, was a great challenge, and was fun to do,” Carroll said of the dinner for 78, as colleagues put finishing touches on plant-based canapes for the cocktail reception. “I’m super-happy that we got to do this. And I’m excited that it sold out. It feels like all of Vegas is pretty excited about it.”
In fact, the dinner had excited far more than the people in attendance, or even the Las Vegas culinary community. It was the culmination of a seven-month, 5,000-mile round-trip journey that began when Diana Edelman, founder of the Vegans, Baby website, received an email from Izabela Wojcik of the James Beard Foundation.
“Starting this past January, and going forward, I made a commitment with the foundation that we would host a monthly vegan dinner,” explains Wojcik, who oversees the guest chef program at the culinary organization’s Greenwich Village headquarters.
While researching possible Las Vegas participants, she came across a vegan dish from Border Grill, which she learned was part of the local Vegans, Baby website’s annual Veganuary celebration. She followed a trail of breadcrumbs back to Edelman.
“I came across Diana’s platform, and (saw) the kind of work that she was doing, and I thought what a wonderful opportunity. She must have a sense of the scene in Vegas. So I could actually partner with her and Vegans, Baby and have them kind of curate who should be invited.”
Tasked with finding chefs to represent Las Vegas, and veganism, at the Beard House, Edelman concentrated mainly on off-Strip restaurants that might not be known outside the valley. And she stuck with chefs who weren’t particularly known for vegan cuisine, but did offer vegan choices.
“I’ve always said ‘If you build it they will come,’ ” Edelman explains of her dining philosophy. “I’ve always encouraged restaurants that don’t have vegan options to have vegan options, because they reach another part of this community. So I really wanted to be able to showcase chefs (who do that), to encourage other chefs in this city.”
She settled on five chefs: Carroll, Oscar Amador of Edo Gastro Tapas &Wine, Brian Howard of Sparrow + Wolf, and the team of Yuri Szarzewski and Vincent Pellerin from sister restaurants Eatt Gourmet Bistro and Partage.
“Those five chefs really exemplify the creativity, and what I would like to see more restaurants have: innovative plant-based dining that truly highlighted the flavors, the textures and the actual ingredients, versus covering it up or using mock meats or something like that.”
Wojcik was sold.
“One of my favorite events is a group collaboration,” she says. “Also, what was really appealing was that it wasn’t necessarily a group of vegan chefs or vegan restaurants. It was this idea of create a vegan menu using your background, philosophy, culinary style, etc.”
By all accounts, the dinner at the Beard House on July 10 was a spectacular success, and everyone had a blast.
“For us, coming from France,” Szarzewski says, “cooking for the James Beard Foundation means a lot. “We are really proud to represent Vegas.”
“I definitely cried a lot,” Edelman recalls of the day. “And once I composed myself, it was just very surreal.”
When it was over, however, she realized they needed to do it one more time — in Las Vegas.
“It’s such good food, and these chefs are so talented, and their restaurants here are businesses the community should go out and support.”
The chefs agreed. And because Catch had a private lounge that would allow it to host the event without shutting the main restaurant for the night, Carroll agreed to host.
“I love it,” Howard says of the evening as he added shaved black truffle to a tray of morel mushroom velouté with XO wontons. “It’s exciting to be able to cook really interesting and fun food, that you typically wouldn’t see on a vegan menu, and to do it really well. We’re honored that we can fill a room this evening and have those people come out and get to try it.”
And Edelman isn’t finished wowing foodies in New York or Las Vegas with locally created vegan cuisine. On Nov. 13, she’ll return to the Beard House with another group of Las Vegas chefs for a follow-up meal, with more to follow. Details on who will be cooking, and when they might re-create it in Las Vegas, are being finalized.