Chef News

Damon Brasch of Green New American Vegetarian Restaurant, Part Two

Yesterday we heard from Chef Damon Brasch of Green. Today the conversation continues.

Damon Brasch of Green New American Vegetarian Restaurant grew up in awe of his grandmother's magical cooking powers: "She could cook massive feasts out of this teeny tiny kitchen in the cabin house my grandfather and great-grandfather built." That inspired him to take some kitchen risks of his own, cooking up tons of tasty vegan food in a teeny tiny kitchen himself.

"Before I started as a chef, a group of my friends had these really extravagant dinner parties every weekend where one person was in charge of all the food and one person was in charge of all the alcohol," Brasch explains. "These parties were the first time I really got into gourmet cooking, because we were always trying to outdo one another. Whatever this person did last week, the next person was going to have to top it, and if that was your week, you really had to bring out all the stops."

Brasch, who learned to cook by trial-and-error and voraciously reading cookbooks, cooked for years in omnivorous restaurants before opening Green, his first vegan joint. Now he's franchising.

"I made a decision a year ago that if I wasn't in the vegan restaurant business I wouldn't be in the restaurant business anymore, so the only logical thing for me to do is open up another one," Brasch says of his decision to open a Green in Central Phoenix. "It's going to be Green number two. We're doing a very eco-conscious build out, and there's going to be a little something extra that is a surprise."

While he's tight-lipped about the "something extra," he's not afraid to tell us how he fields questions about meat from his vegan kids, what to expect from his under-wraps cookbook and why he picked Ouija boards for his latest art competition.

What's always in the kitchen at home? Definitely hot sauce. Always lots of vegetables, fresh and frozen. And always sherry vinegar. It's my favorite thing on earth, a good sherry vinegar.

Have you had to field the questions like, "Mom and dad, why don't I have bologna in my lunchbox?" Yes. We've always been very honest with them about where meat comes from. We let them know that's an animal, but nobody likes to think about it eating a pig, so they call it pork or bacon and not pig. There's one book for children that made a big impact called That's Why We Don't Eat Animals. It's a killer children's book. It talks about the difference between vegetarians and vegans and the bad conditions on some of the farms, but in a very gentle way and not graphic at all. It basically lets you know that animals are animals, not this ambiguous thing. And the kids are cool with it.

What's the one thing all vegans/vegetarians should own? My cookbook that I'm currently writing that will hopefully be out in 2011. It's kind of a chef's memoir with a lot of really great recipes. The culinary world has been really up and down for me. I've met a lot of really wonderful people and a lot of not so wonderful people, which makes for a lot of great stories and a lot of great recipes.

Favorite kitchen tool? Well, the real answer is my toaster oven at home. I cook everything in that toaster oven. It's a convection oven. It's so nice to not have to turn on the big oven in Arizona. I recommend everyone have a nice little toaster oven.

What's the hardest ingredient substitution? There's no way to get a soufflé to rise. That's the hardest exchange. We don't cook soufflés in the restaurant, so that's a good thing. But I'm working on figuring it out; I think it's probably a vinegar and baking soda solution. That's been my biggest hurdle so far. Pretty much everything else is easy.

How do you make mock meat? I think you can reproduce a faux chicken pretty easily because you're taking all the stuff that chickens eat, bypassing the chicken, and creating a mock meat. You're basically taking out the middleman that takes a lot of energy.

Why Ouija boards? No reason at all other than it's Halloween time and every year around that time we like to figure out some fun, creative, social art project with the community. We're hoping people will make a homemade Ouija board and submit it to win a really killer prize (two free meals at Green every week for a year!). It's funny because a lot of people are really confused and asking what's behind it. There's nothing behind it. It's just an idea that popped into someone's head.

Have you ever used one? I have played around with one. It seemed very, uh, I guess I'm just not a believer. I don't believe in Ouija boards or the mysticism behind them; I think they're just interesting art pieces and they can be fun.

If you were stranded on a deserted island and you had to pick one thing to eat, what would it be? Our vegan buffalo wings, and that is true.

Best cooking advice you ever got? A world famous chef told me that a great chef cooks with his nose and not with his taste buds. That's how I was able to cook meat for so many years without ever eating it.

Advice for other vegan/vegetarian cooks? Cook for people the way you would want to eat food. Don't limit yourself by staying away from the way that meat is prepared; learn from it and try to bring that into the fold of what you do.

This is the second installment of our Chef Chat with Brasch. Check out part one and check back tomorrow for his yummy mac'n'cheese that you won't believe is gluten- and dairy-free!