If eating a plant-based diet seems like a sacrifice, the fashionably ethical vegan Joshua Katcher is out to change your mind, one deliciously indulgent meal at a time. His new biweekly dinner series, Gracious Gourmand, features a rotating roster of vegan chefs and puts pleasure (with a conscience) at the forefront.
Katcher is tapping into a burgeoning market, since it’s not just health-obsessed yogis and anti-establishment punks touting the animal-product-free lifestyle these days. A slew of well-known personalities, including Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Clinton, advocate a vegan diet, and awareness of the link between livestock and climate change is spreading. So it’s no surprise that Katcher says he’s found plenty of eager eaters looking to expand their palates since the dinner series at Williamsburg’s Second Stop Cafe began in August.
“Whether it be for environmental reasons or health reasons or ethical reasons, people are moving towards a plant-based diet,” says Katcher, who’s been vegan for 13 years, as we sit talking at Second Stop.
Katcher is something of a Renaissance man. A Brooklyn-based sculptor and filmmaker who focused on art and environmental studies at college in Syracuse, in 2008 he launched The Discerning Brute, a men’s lifestyle website that features sweatshop-free, eco-friendly vegan fashion and exceptional vegan food, as a resource for combining aesthetics with ethics in a sustainable way of life.
Through The Discerning Brute and his years of work in animal advocacy, Katcher has encountered scores of talented vegan chefs, and he decided that he wanted to provide an arena for them to pursue culinary experiments. So he created Gracious Gourmand as a tangible extension of The Discerning Brute.
“You can have the most convincing arguments in the world, but what would trump all of those things is handing someone an amazing plate of food,” Katcher says.
And though proponents of a plantbased diet have often detailed what’s subtracted from your meals, Katcher focuses on what’s added.
“I call it conscientious hedonism.
Traditional hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure at any cost. It’s very selfish,” says Katcher. “Conscientious hedonism, I believe, is knowing that your pleasure will be heightened when you have the knowledge that what you’re indulging in didn’t hurt anyone along the way.”
He teamed up with Second Stop Cafe, which has a cozy back room that’s perfect for the intimate supper club, for the Friday night feasts. Second Stop also has an established relationship with Brooklyn Grange, the massive organic rooftop farm in Long Island City, so chefs can use this connection or their own resources to create multi-course, fixed-price vegan meals that are gourmet, local and sustainable.
Neal Harden, former executive chef at Irving Place’s raw food haven Pure Food and Wine, and Ayinde Howell, the former executive chef at JivamukTea Cafe (in the Jivamukti Yoga Center), have concocted lavish spreads at Gracious Gourmand. Pam Brown of Woodstock’s Garden Cafe, Ella Nemcova of The Regal Vegan fine foods and catering and Matteo Silverman of the 4 Course Vegan dinner series are on the roster for November and December.
At a Gracious Gourmand dinner in September, Howell, a lifelong vegan, delivered a spectacular raw fusion menu that included raw cucumber rounds with smoky habañero-pepper-flecked quinoa, a raw chard salad in roasted squash bowls topped with caramelized pumpkin seeds, and a spicy jerk bolognese, which consisted of a savory tomato and tofu sauce over ribbons of raw zucchini.
For the Gracious Gourmand meals, Howell say he tries to source most of the food from his neighborhood CSA in Bed-Stuy, with a goal that 90 percent of the ingredients be organic, which he says is crucial in preparing a vegan meal that is so exceptional that carnivores won’t miss the meat.
“With vegan food, you have to really dazzle the palate, so people won’t be focused on it being tempeh or tofu or seitan,” Howell says. “I try not to force veganism on people. I try to make really good food so that they can just say ‘Oh, I can do this.’” For this Friday’s Gracious Gourmand dinner, he’ll rely on cilantro, cumin and paprika to craft a spicy Moroccaninfluenced menu of chermoula tempeh over raisin couscous and seitan shawarma “street meat” skewers, as well as a pomegranate arugula salad and a hearty Mediterranean mushroom soup.
Howell anticipates that the demand for the kind of innovative, high-quality vegan dining experience that Katcher is providing with Gracious Gourmand will only grow.
“It’s a good way to expose people who might not otherwise be interested in vegan food, because it’s cool, and it’s something you can go to with your friends,” he says. “What’s better than having a good dinner party? Come eat, get full, enjoy flavors and textures, and talk and laugh.”
>> Gracious Gourmand Oct. 22, Second Stop Cafe, 524 Lorimer St. (at Ainslie St.), Brooklyn, 718-486-6850; $50.