Chef Louis Robinson is focusing on a classic, vital food group for his next pop-up dinner: vegetables.
Veganism has been around long before it was trendy.
The term was coined in 1944, but the practice of avoiding all food that comes from or includes an animal can be traced back to ancient Indian and eastern Mediterranean societies.
Today, the word “vegan” can be found everywhere. On shoes, shirts and even wallets (really, Google it) along with plenty of items at the grocery store. But why does the diet and lifestyle seem more popular these days?
“There is sort of a progression towards living healthier in general,” says chef Louis Robinson. “I think people today in 2019 are more aware of what they put in their bodies — they’re more conscious of where their food comes from … so I think veganism is one arm of the healthy lifestyle revolution.”
Robinson is the chef and co-owner (along with his wife, Joan Robinson) of Sarasota-based Spice, a pop-up restaurant and private chef service that serves the Tampa Bay area. On Feb. 25, Robinson’s latest venture, Grown: A Five-Course Vegan Experience, is coming to Baker & Wife.
The dinner is the latest installment in the Spice monthly dinner series. February’s theme is modern plant-based cooking, and guests will receive a five-course vegan meal and a cold-press juice from SaraFresh Juice.
“For a long time people have always known we need to eat more fruits and vegetables, that’s been drilled into our heads since kindergarten,” Robinson says. “People are looking to have a plant-based diet and a diet that is going to give them all of the nutrition and vitamins that will allow them to feel good about themselves.”
Cooking with, and designing a menu around, vegetables is inspiring for Robinson, who normally includes one vegetable dish on all of his pop-up menus.
“Cooking vegetables is something I enjoy, so I look at this as a challenge, a way to explore my creativity and a way to make vegetables shine,” Robinson says. “Especially when you get something in peak season that’s local and picked recently — there’s so much flavor there to be coaxed out.”
Spice hosted a successful vegan pop-up dinner last year in Miami, and Robinson says several Sarasotans inquired about whether he planned to do something similar in town.
“Our objective is to make people happy,” he says.
For the Feb. 25 dinner, the chef and his team chose one particular vegetable to highlight in each course and came up with various ways to use said ingredient. On this one-night-only menu, guests will start with a turnips and radish dish then enjoy a kobacha squash dish, Chinese broccoli dish, mushroom dish and finally a citrus dish to top it off.
He’s particularly excited about his Chinese broccoli dish highlighting an ingredient called gai lan, which he says is an ingredient you’ll rarely find on a restaurant menu.
“I think cooking that and allowing people to try that is something we endeavor for people to do,” Robinson says. “To give people a taste of something new that they’ve never experienced and try to spark people’s interests — to spark conversations around ingredients.”
On the morning of Feb. 25, Robinson and his team will arrive at Baker & Wife to prepare so everything is fresh. Nothing is frozen or cooked the day before. The cooking begins that morning and goes into the evening, he says. When guests arrive, they’ll be greeted by the Robinsons, who will explain the idea behind the dinner and how it will work — five courses that come out one at a time.
“The whole idea of it is to have not just a dinner, but an experience with friends or family,” he says. “To experience something different you can’t get at a restaurant.”
His vision is to create a flavorful, healthy meal in a laid-back environment. Luxury food that you can expect in five-star white tablecloth restaurants, but in a casual atmosphere that’s not stuffy like many gourmet restaurants. He wants his meal to be accessible to as many people as possible.
“You don’t have to wear a smoker’s jacket,” he says with a laugh.
He’s particularly excited to offer this event in Sarasota, a city he feels has a great deal to offer culturally, but has a lacking restaurant scene.
“The food scene has a lot of room to grow, and I think bringing these kinds of events and dining experiences to the city can assist in the food scene moving forward and progressing.”