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.”
Potato Pakora with Tamarind SauceRecipe from V Street Food by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, copyright 2016, used with permission from William Morrow Publishing. All great food cultures have their signature fritter: zeppole, falafel, hush puppies; frying is universal. In India, the fritter of choice is the pakora, a mixture of various ingredients bound with a little chickpea flour and fried up for a tasty snack. Nowadays, you’ll see pakora throughout South Asia with countless riffs and variations. By using grated potato and some fresh herbs and spices, this particular version is at once rich and decadent but also fresh and aromatic. And the sweet-and-sour flavor of the tamarind sauce is a great accent, making your taste buds go haywire with a bright burst of tang against the crispy, little goodness.
- 2 cups chickpea flour
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 11/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1/4 cup sunflower oil
- 2 cups peeled grated potato (squeezed to remove excess water)
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced onion
- 1/4 cup chopped scallions white parts only
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 1/2 cup tamarind paste see note
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup sambal oelek
- 2 tablespoons agave syrup
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- Canola oil for frying
- Sift together the chickpea flour, cumin, coriander, curry powder, turmeric, and 1 teaspoon of the salt in a large bowl. Stir in 13/4 cups warm water and the sunflower oil, then add the potato, onion, scallions, and cilantro.
- Whisk together the remaining ingredients except the canola oil in a medium bowl until smooth. Set aside.
- Line a plate with paper towels. Preheat a fryer to 375°F or heat 1/2 inch of canola oil in a large skillet or saucepan. Using clean, lightly floured hands, roll the mixture into 11/2-inch balls. You should get about 18 out of the batch. Carefully fry the pakora, 3 or 4 at a time, for 3 minutes or until golden brown on all sides, turning occasionally. Transfer to the paper towel–lined plate to absorb any excess oil, then serve immediately with the tamarind sauce drizzled on top or on the side for dipping.