MY FAVORITE PEOPLE, MY FAVORITE RECIPES: Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby
Don’t these two look like your besties, the couple you want to hang with? Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby are all that, plus the duo who made vegan fine dining a thing with Vedge, their landmark Philadelphia restaurant. Then they took it to the street with V Street, with plant-based street food from around the world (second location opening soon in DC). Now they’ve launched fast casual Wiz Kid, built around their vegan Philly cheese steak.
The two have serious culinary creds — they’re James Beard Award nominees, Kate working pastry and Rich in the kitchen. They’re also parents to their nine-year old son Rio, “so we’re mindful of the need of convenience,” says Kate.
“There’s a reason people go to McDonald’s — it’s quick. It’s not because it’s delicious,” says Rich. “If you had to wait 20 minutes, to eat, you wouldn’t go there.” Both personally and from a market standpoint, they saw the need for high-quality fast food. “Bobby Flay is doing it, José Andrés is doing it. But there was not enough good vegan dining options.” Enter Wiz Kid.
Kate and Rich are vegan. Most of their guests, whether they grab lunch on the go at Wiz Kid or come to Vedge for date night are not. They just come for the food. And that’s just how they want it. “Vegans and vegetarians are going to find you,” says Rich. “Stop trying to reach out to the people who are going to find you anyway. Reach out to the mainstream.”
When they opened their first restaurant Horizons back in 1994, the mainstream still perceived vegetarian as “crazy food made by stoned hippies — macrobiotic this and granola that,” Rich says. Wiz Kid’s vegan Philly cheese steaks, Vedge’s meaty (but meatless ) eggplant braciole and V Street’s potato pakoras go a long way in proving “food is about flavor, not about flesh.”
“People no longer feel they have to choose to be vegan,” adds Kate. “There’s a lot less pressure to be perfect. It’s not like the vegan police are going to come get you. Vegan’s become normalized.”
You can get a vegan Philly cheese steak at Wiz Kid in under five minutes. Transitioning to vegan may take longer. “You gotta do it slowly,” says Rich. “Think of where you can cut out animal products. Trade stuff out of your diet. If you get frozen chicken nuggets, buy fake chicken nuggets.”
You don’t have to be a James Beard chef to prepare a plant-based meal worth eating. Rich’s advice is to treat vegetables the way you used to do meat. For the love of God, don’t boil vegetables. Roast them, sauté them, blacken them, treat them to a finger-licking good sauce. In other words, show your vegetables and yourself some love.
Rich and Kate may be a vegan’s best friend, but they’re each other’s best friends first. Running a restaurant — or three — means “there’s so much to talk about, good and bad. I can’t imagine coming home to someone who’s been in an office all day and trying to relate,” says Rich. “I couldn’t imagine the restaurant business without a partner or best friend.”