Vegan venture


POSTED: Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Why not eat vegan? Let us count the ways: It's boring, it's hard, it won't be filling, it'll be the end of fine dining forever ... and who can eat tofu every day?

Eric Tucker has a message: Stop your whining.




Vegan Sunday brunch


        With chef Eric Tucker, Millennium, San Francisco:

» Demonstration and dining:: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 15
        » Place: Halekulani 
        » Cost: $75, includes “Millennium” cookbook
        » Call: 931-5040




As chef at San Francisco's Millennium restaurant, Tucker presides over a fine-dining menu that is 100 percent vegan. A sample dish, pictured on this page: Grilled Radicchio Salad with Pink Grapefruit, Pink Peppercorns and Garlic-Tarragon “;Ranch”; Dressing. Boring?

It's free of all animal products (the dressing is made with ground cashews, mustard, miso, champagne vinegar and various herbs) and is an example of what vegan dining can be — fresh, natural, flavorful.

Think beyond tempeh and tofu (as much as he enjoys both those products) and “;there's a ridiculous amount of things that can be done,”; Tucker said. The elements that make any dish interesting are not the sole province of carnivorous eating. “;All the seasonings, herbs and spices — that has nothing to do with meat.”;

Tucker will be the guest chef next weekend at the Halekulani, preparing an all-vegan Sunday brunch (no eggs!) as part of the resort's Halekulani Living series. His trip to Hawaii is sponsored by the Hale 'Aina 'Ohana, which supports culinary training in the state, so he'll also be conducting private demonstrations for culinary students.

Although he will no doubt carry the message that vegan eating is better for everyone's health and the health of the planet, he is not the Gestapo. “;My own diet is mostly vegetarian, mostly vegan, but I'll try a little bit of seafood, a little bit of meat, if I know it comes from a good source.”;

Most Millennium diners, in fact, are not strict vegans, he said. Some just want to vary their diet on occasion, some just want a nice meal, no matter what the menu philosophy. “;Occasionally we get skeptics dragged here by their sons, daughters, spouses. It's very rare that someone is not satisfied.”;

Tucker's own transition to a mostly vegan lifestyle began as a New Jersey teen in the early 1980s, when he was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. “;I was running cross country and track and always feeling lethargic. The nutritionist at the time said I should be eating like seven courses of meat, which sounded really counter-intuitive.”;

He began his own research into health foods, which eventually led him to the National Gourmet Institute for Food and Health in New York. After graduating in 1990, Tucker moved across country to intern at Milly's Restaurant in San Rafael, Calif., a restaurant focused on gourmet vegan cuisine. He helped open Millennium in 1994.

If you're thinking of dipping a toe into vegan waters, it's a good time, Tucker said. “;There's more of an awareness. There are more restaurants doing this type of cuisine, all over the country, nationwide and global.”;

He suggests exploring ethnic cuisines, especially Asian and Indian, which focus much less on meat. “;By default, a lot of it would be closer to veg-vegan.”;

And while you probably can't reproduce Tucker's complex dishes at home, that's not an excuse either. Get a simple vegetarian cookbook, or a subscription to Vegetarian Times, which he says offers good contemporary recipes. “;Find out where your farmers' market is and go there.”;

Finally, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. He has his own indulgences: “;At the end of the day — pizza is great, pizza and beer. Anything with an awesome crust,”; he said.

And, “;anything between bread. A good sandwich — good times.”;