What’s “nirvana” food for vegan chef Mark Reinfeld of Kaua’i?
A humble “monk’s bowl”: a grain, a green, a protein dressed with a blend of flax or hemp oil, nutritional yeast (flaked or powdered deactivted yeast — cheesy, nutty, high-protein) and wheat-free temari (a type of soy sauce).
The monk’s bowl is one of the concepts Reinfeld introduces in the 10-day intensive vegan cooking courses he teaches. He’s on O’ahu right now in the midst of the first week of the two-week class, which he’s teaching in a private home in Kahala. But he took a break to spend a little time talking story with me; we had met when he was chef at the ‘Ilima Award-winning Blossoming Lotus restaurant in Kapa’a. There, he published his first cookbook, “Vegan Fusion.” (Alas! The Lotus folded its petals some years ago after the partnership that owned it overextended themselves and overhead outstripped profit, Reinfeld said.)
Over a cup of rooibos tea, Reinfeld said the grain/green/protein formula is an easy entry to more healthful eating. And it works even if you eat animal foods, except in that case, the proportions would be a little different, with the protein, if it’s meat, making up the smallest proportion: 50-60 percent grain, 30-40 percent greens, 10-20 percent protein.
It also illustrates his approach to recipes, thinking of them not as discreet, unchanging dishes but as versatile templates that open themselves to almost limitless variations. The grain can be rice, bulgar, quinoa, farro, millet, polenta, oat groats . . . The greens can be steamed leaves (kale, collards, spinach), roasted hard vegetables (kohlrabi, broccoli, green beans) and they may not even be green (beets, carrots, squash). And the protein might be be tofu, tempeh, seitan, shelled soybeans, lentils — any bean or legume). And they can be dressed however you wish: a fresh-made garlickey tomato saiuce, classic lemon-tahini dressing, a vinaigrette.
“I love it when people realize they’re not tied to one way of doing things,” said Reinfeld. And he enjoys introducing his students to ingredients that are new to them: nutritional yeast, asefetida (the dried gum of the terula root, which lends creamy texture and oniony flavor), tempeh.
His course covers 150 recipes, with each day devoted to a dish or ingredient: soups, dressings, tofu/temphe/seitan, ending up with three days of raw food focus — which includes such offbeat approaches as making pizza crust, granola and taco shells in a dehydrator. He laughs when he describes the shopping trips that precede each week of classes: his Whole Foods receipt was longer than his arm!
Some of his students are everyday cooks who, for a wide variety of reasons, want to adopt a vegan diet. A few are trained chefs who want to expand their menus to include vegan offerings.
Another of his tenets is to make use of intensely flavored ingredients: chipotle chili powdered, toasted sesame oil, toasting spices to bring out flavors.
Reinfeld has been teaching since 1998 but devised the 10-day, five-hour-a-day immersion course after Blossoming Lotus closed, offering the $1,500 series several times a year. He also conducts two-day and five-day workshops and vegan retreats around the country.
When he’s not teaching, he writes (watch for a piece on pineapple dishes — fried rice, tofu kebabs, salsa, cobbler and a gingered elixyr in the April-May Vegetarian Times magazine) and consults (he’s one of five chefs invited to devise recipes — in print and on video — a new Atkins Diet booklet series).
Is there another restaurant in his future? He looks off into the distance and says in a measured, older-but-wiser way: “I would be part of a group that did a restaurant if my role was to design the menu and consult a little — that would be the extent of it.”
To find out more about what Reinfeld is up to, including a schedule of upcoming vegan class series, go to www.veganfusion.com