On the whole, this is a good thing:
At Daniel or Per Se in New York, eating produce-heavy fare involves ordering from a vegetarian menu. But at venues like Manresa, or Atelier Crenn and Saison in San Francisco, you simply show up to partake of tastings in which half or more of the courses might revolve around plants.
As this article by Ryan Sutton reports, many tasting menus in Europe and the U.S. now feature vegetables rather than proteins. The days when every tasting menu included some combination of caviar, foie gras, lobster, pork, beef or veal, cheese, and a rich dessert appear to be over.
And that is a world well lost.
Nothing is as disappointing as a tasting menu that includes many innovative, strange and wonderful small plates leading up to the climax of the meal—another serving of short ribs or Kurobuta pork. Been there, done that.
This sounds more interesting: Potato cooked in beeswax, chocolate mint, a pudding of cauliflower, trout roe, and tapioca, or “a clear bowl filled with fire-grilled whelks (marine snails as richly flavorful as steak), oyster leaves (a rare foliage that tastes like its namesake) and soft green tomatoes (that taste like, well, tomatoes)” finished with “clam broth that’s been frozen into little pebbles using liquid nitrogen” which when melted “turns the salad into a cold seafood chowder.”
I like a plate of meat fat as much as anyone. But when you think of the range of flavors on the chef’s palette, vegetables provide endless variety and transformative potential. Animal proteins, although they make a wonderful flavor base for sauces, are limited in their intrinsic flavor potential. There are just many more plants than animals suitable for eating on the planet.
If chefs are going to continue to innovate, plants will have to be their primary raw material.