Husband-and-wife team Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby recently released their third cookbook, "Vedge: 100 Plates Large and Small That Redefine Vegetable Cooking." We sat down with Landau and Jacoby and talked about the vegan dining scene in Philadelphia, as well as where the chefs go to eat.
What is it like working with each other at the restaurant?
RL: It’s amazing. Kate runs the front of the house, the wine program, the bar program and [makes] the desserts, and I do all the food so our paths don’t cross as much as you would think. We built this together and we’re both so proud of it.
KJ: Food brought us together. We’re our biggest fans and toughest critics so it’s nice that we’re cooking for each other.
RL: We’re always trying to impress each other, even after 12 years together.
Vedge isn’t just a successful vegan restaurant; carnivores and vegans alike love it. Did you expect that kind of response?
RL: If you open up a vegetarian or vegan restaurant and cater only to vegetarians and vegans, you’re going to have a very hard time making a living. We don’t preach that we’re a vegan or vegetarian restaurant, there’s no literature here, no one is dressed up in the cow suit with a meat is murder sign out front. We kept that low key and made it all about the food. By being food forward we really reach out to the mainstream.
KJ: When we opened Vedge in 2011, it was a perfect time when people were fully embracing plant-based diets and vegan food. Five, ten years ago it was a little bit different. The culture of eating has changed. People are a lot more friendly to the idea of a plant-based diet so they don’t think it’s weird to come out and eat all kinds of different vegetables for dinner.
Tell us about your new cookbook. What do you hope people take from it?
RL: We wanted to bring the restaurant into people’s homes. A lot of people don’t cook vegetarian at home because they’re too intimidated. They don’t think vegetables belong in the center of the plate. They think they’re a side dish. We want people to really believe in it and know that it’s easy.
What are some of your favorite recipes?
KJ: The first one that everyone seems to make out of the book is the shaved brussel sprouts with whole-grain mustard. People are reporting back, “I made this and it worked out great!”
RL: There’s a really nice ode to South Philadelphia in there called the “Broccoli Rabe Philly Style.” It makes the best sandwich if you get that on an Amoroso roll.
A lot of the recipes in your cookbooks are inspired by your travels. What advice can you give visitors on getting the most out of a city’s dining scene that they’re not necessarily familiar with?
KJ: Look at the people who are living there. In Philly, the Vietnamese population is strong and we have some fantastic Vietnamese restaurants. I would suggest going to the city’s restaurant critics or food editors and asking them. People are so accessible these days through email, Twitter and Facebook.
RL: Don’t do the cliques. You have to dive deeper into the dining scene and research what’s coming in locally. We have Lancaster. We have Jersey. Great produce comes from those areas. Find restaurants that really feature what grows in that area.
What is your best advice for people who are trying to vegan-ize their diet?
RL: Don’t deprive yourself. Don’t feel like it’s a nuts and berries diet. Don’t feel like you have to go ultra-healthy and just eat bean sprouts, steamed kale and wheat germ. Grab a soft white roll and stuff it with fried tofu if you have to. Eat well. Indulge. Don’t deprive yourself of luxury food because veganism can be very indulgent. It doesn’t have to be 100% strict. If you slip a little bit, it’s okay. Get right back into it the next day but don’t give up. It’s not a religion; it’s just a state of mind.
Where do you like to go out to eat?
KJ: We love ethnic food. We’re safe when we go to Ethiopian, Indian or Vietnamese restaurants because the cooking is very bold, and oftentimes certain dishes are naturally vegan so it’s easy for us.
RL: There’s a place called Mumbai Bistro on Walnut Street that does a lot of great vegan curries. We just found a place called Kidari on 18th and South streets that has some vegetarian maki rolls that are just outstanding. The gritty ethnic spots are where chefs eat.
What is Philadelphia’s best-kept secret?
RL: It’s one of the most vegan friendly cities in the country. You can get a vegan cheesesteak anywhere that will make you wonder why you ever ate the real thing.