I wrote this response to the New York Times review of Candle 79 today:
Candle 79 is truly an amazing experience! Mr.Bruni approached his review of Candle 79 as if he were a Broadway critic reviewing a school play. Better yet, as if he were an insecure straight man reviewing a gay bar. Manliness and meat-eating are inseparable in our culture, after all.
Was it a good review? Maybe. He seemed more intent on reminding everyone he likes meat the entire time while giving 79 a somewhat patronizing pat-on-the-back.
Frank Bruni, like most other 'food experts' base their entire system like so: animal products are primary, and vegetation is complimentary or secondary - as he admits. This stereotype of vegan food as being a bland pile of grass clippings has been nearly overturned in the last decade. Places like Candle 79 are largely responsible. And unlike Mr. Bruni, I think the Seitan Chimichuris are delicious!
So why is there such a huge surge in vegan cuisine? Certainly there isn't some mass of martyrdom. An uprising of grassroots and DIY restaurants, cookbooks, bakeries, and other food products has proven that vegan cuisine can be so delicious, successful and lucrative in the last 10 years that the old-school has finally recognized it. Just yesterday Oprah did a special on factory farming and Proposition 2 in California that would ban cruel confinement conditions on animal farms. Ellen Degeneres and Portia are both newly vegan. New York Times best selling book "Skinny Bitch" is still selling like mad. There is a huge demand for conscientious hedonism! The Farm Sanctuary Gala and Genesis Awards are as star-studded as any Hollywood party.
The lamb, the calf, the aged udder secretions (cheese) and chickens' menstruations (eggs) and diseased goose & duck livers (foie gras) of animals confined and put through hell for their entire lives are, of course, not things we want to consider while eating them... much less something that would carry weight in a food critique. Infantile self-gratification at any cost, including convenient illusions of Utopian farm life for these animals is crucial to mainstream food reviewing. It's much easier to call it a burger or cheese or veal or Foie gras, and not let the reality remove pleasure from the illusions. You eat 'pork'. You don't eat 'a pig'.
That being said, I consider myself a vegan, a foodie and a conscientious hedonist. Silence your gasps! It is possible to lose pleasure when certain truths are uncovered, and it is possible to gain pleasure knowing you can have your cake and eat it too - and in this case, it's an amazing vegan cake with cinnamon ice cream (made from coconut cream, of course).
For people wanting to experience some of the BEST vegan food out there, go eat at Candle 79, or go to Whole Foods and try Field Roast's Apple Sage 'Grain Sausage' (www.fieldroast.com), Dr Cow's Tree Nut Cheese (www.Dr-Cow.com), Purely Decadent Coconut Cream Ice Creams (www.turtlemountain.com/products/purely_decadent_Coconut_Milk_CookieDough.html), or just come over to Brooklyn and I'll make you a batch of cinnamon, chocolate pistachio, vegan rugelach that even my very picky, non-vegan, Jewish mother told me 'put all other rugelachs to shame' including her own. (I'll be posting the recipe tomorrow!)
Mainstream food criticism insists it owns certain terminology - but 'meat' is not defined as animal flesh, and 'milk' does not mean 'cows milk'. These terms have been taken by the dominant culture, but meat can be the meat of an apple, and milk can be coconut milk. The idea of veganism being only a one way street; taking OUT certain ingredients, is only half true. We also put IN delicious ingredients most non-vegans wouldn't typically use like coconut oil, cashew cream, flax, sea vegetables, and nutritional yeast. Most chefs wouldn't know what to do with these ingredients, like how to turn flax into a whipped egg-substitute in baking, or combining cashew cream with nutritional yeast and black truffle oil for a creamy, cheesy sauce - which is why Vegan cuisine has been so DIY!
The only place Candle 79 falls short is in having to accommodate people like Frank Bruni by referencing animal products in their menus for fear of being overlooked in a meat-obsessed culture. Critics who have trouble experiencing food made without animal products fear a loss of identity. But they are no less into food than those who are vegan. Psychologically, there are many more things going on with defiant ties to a zealous affiliation with animal products (but that's a whole other article).
Veganism can taste amazing! Go enjoy the hundreds of veg restaurant NYC has to offer.
Joshua Katcher TheDiscerningBrute.com Fashion, Food & Etiquette for the Ethically Handsome Man