Catching up with Vegan Chef Lenka Zivkovic at The Plough and Stars – Meatless Monday
Philadelphia has great vegan chefs. One of the hardest working among them is Chef Lenka, both a fantastic creative chef, plus a big advocate for animal welfare, spreading the word about vegan cooking – a true inspiration.
Last year the Plough and the Stars started hosting some vegan food events, and we went to one of the first, a prix-fix vegan meal prepared by The Plough’s own chef, Lenka Zivkovic. After I wrote about the fantastic food here on my blog, Lenka got in touch with me and even showed me how to make cashew creamer! During that time she has become even both more passionate about helping the animals and perhaps even delved more deeply into plant based food’s broad range.
I caught up with her again for an amazing meal she made for a “meatless monday” event in conjunction with Philadelphia’s Humane League, No Meat Athletes at The Plough and The Stars in Old City March 28th.
I’ve always loved this place – where I had my own very first dinner in Philly the night I moved here – Christmas Day, 2013! Props as always to The Plough for being open every day, including holidays, to provide for the Old City locals in need for a great meal and a guiness. Similarly now The Plough is giving support to those of us who want a real great plant based menu for “Meatless Monday”. Hey, throw in the happy hour – I love it!
However, this particular event was a full blown special happening, with 2 seatings and a wonderful menu of over 15 different items! The event took place upstairs, and filled the very nice space with great food served buffet style. Lots of people were there – it was a sold out!
A DELICIOUS ASSORTMENT…
Let me talk about a few of the dishes. Certainly everything was totally chips, which makes it’s hard not to mention each item, but let’s hit some highlights.
Amazing fresh cold pressed juices – one of celery, fennel, ginger and lemon, and another of raspberries, carrots, and orange. I’d never had a cold pressed juice with raspberries – simply the best juice ever.
There was a very nice lentil/walnut pate crostini with sweet onion fig jam. This looked so delicious – completely saying “please eat me”. We ate it, and loved it. Perfect balance between the walnuts, lentils and fig jam.
The “shrimp pop” was great. A very realistic shrimp was batter fried and covered with buffalo sauce with a touch of cilantro, in a small bar glass with some carrots and celery. This was reminiscent of one of our favorite all time vegan dishes, the “free range tofu wings” from the now closed Northern Spy in High Falls, NY. Eating this dish made us think once again “why doesn’t anyone make buffalo tofu wings in Philly?” Lenka’s shrimp pop was so flavorful with the perfect amount of spiciness, maybe even better than tofu wings!
Then there were two mexican style dishes – a tostado made with sauteed kale and spinach, plus marinaded red beets, sweet peppers and a mild aioli on a crisp corn tortilla, and a “fish taco”. The flour tortilla was lightly grilled but still tender and soft, filled with beer batter deep fried vegan “fish”. Out of this world!!
One more savory dish too good to leave out was a puff pastry reminiscent of a “beef confit vol au vent”. However this one was made with braised seitan, mushrooms and tomatoes in a rich cabernet veg au jus. I could eat this dish daily, no problem.
Lenka is a master of nut milks and cremes, and made her very special cashew cream “creme brûlée” – a signature desert. Also on hand was a chocolate ganache with rasberry coulis, that my dining date flipped out over. Also on the menu was a fresh fruit berry assortment in a margarita glass. The fruits, including kiwi, pineapple, blueberries, raspberries, black berries and strawberries were perfectly ripe and the fruit cup was wonderful too in that it brought back the basis for vegan foods greatness – it’s often very close to nature. Having the berries on the menu balanced to the very detailed cuisine of the other dishes – and seemed just so right!
AND TO WRAP IT UP
What makes Chef Lenka a favorite among vegans is that her food is in a sweet spot of very healthy preparations, restaurant style cuisine, and total vegan preparations. When I go out for a real vegan meal, I’m hoping for something beyond what I can do at home. Too often, especially at restaurants that serve just a few vegan dishes, it’s not that inspired: pasta primavera, a delicious salad, hummus, portabello mushroom sandwich. We eat it, because it’s all they serve. Lenka’s food is way beyond that. Perhaps because she has a ton of restaurant experience and training, she can make food really “restauranty” yet vegan. At home are can make a great simple vegetable dish, but she has the mind of a chef, with the training and the arsenal of dishes to do something really special. That was what made this dinner so fantastic. It illustrated that one really doesn’t need to compromise in any way if going plant-based. She’s making restaurant food you really want to order, just not with the meat. Plus, it is made with your heath in mind. That’s deep.
The whole meal got me thinking, inspired. Here in Philly we have some wonderful vegan restaurants. But what about the neighborhood spot to go for a great vegan meal? Right now it seems like maybe the Plough and Stars might pull off a new variant on the Vegan Cuisine – the “Meatless Monday Local.” Now, how about a city wide meatless Monday restaurant fight – a restaurant “compete without meat”? It’s just a dream… but perhaps, Philly could be the place!
Here’s what else tireless Chef Lenka is up to:
Philly Art and Food has teamed up with her Cooks Who Care and The KIND Institute for a series of 2-4 mile walks called “Urban Hikes” around Philly. Enjoy family-friendly excursions while focusing on cool healthy eating. Walk & stop at shops where food leaders/chefs who will share clean eating recipes & sample your way back on a stroll starting at the art museum. Lenka is hoping that this will inspire participants to learn to cook great vegan dishes at their own homes after the event. The first hike is on April 17th.
Lenka is also teaming up with The Rotunda for a special vegan brunch event there. Plus, a monthly Prix Fixe Brunch at Ben and Betsy in Old City. Look for a few pop up vegan spots throught the summer with Lenka. In fact, she really has a huge amount of great events and fundraisers she is working on. Follow her on Facebook and get the info, she is really making moves!
Lenka is a chef that makes Philly a better place!