"Initially, when we first launched it, there were a lot of people who were a little hesitant. So I tried to give out samples to bring people in," said Lewis Chan, the restaurant's chef de cuisine.
An omnivore, Chan sees the restrictions of vegan cooking a challenge to work with but by no means insurmountable. "We're in an industry to please people; to make people happy; to make people smile. That shouldn't stop at vegetarians or vegans. I've got a lot of vegan friends. This one's for them," he says.
When he needs inspiration for recipe development, Chan often falls back on the fundamentals, opting to consult the first textbook passed out at Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena. At BLD, he has referred to equal parts kitchen teamwork and restaurantwide feedback for a sense of what works.
"There's a lot of recipe testing between my team and me. It stems from brainstorming ideas. We execute and we test it with the front house managers, Chef Neal and Amy [Fraser]. It's a long process, involving a lot of tweaks. But it's almost like the longer the recipe develops, the better it becomes," Chan says.
It's how the vegan pâté came to be a menu item. When Diana Stavaridis was chef de cuisine, she and Chan decided to create two pâtés as small-plates options on the seasonal menu. For the vegan version, they discovered each fitting ingredient -- walnuts for fattiness; sherry vinegar for acidity; shallots for sweetness; and tofu as a binder -- during their collaboration.
"We were kind of getting stumped, because we were running out of things to use and it wasn't coming out the way that she wanted. We sat down and we bounced out ideas from each other. It took a couple of different days, trials and errors. But we finally got the pâté down," Chan recalls.
Growing up in West Covina, Chan dreamed of becoming a professional skateboarder. When it came time to rethink his career path in college, he looked into three options: culinary, mechanic and massage therapy. He looked more closely at the possibilities of a culinary education after a call from Le Cordon Bleu, which came about from his informational request to the school. It was not a career trajectory he could have predicted before then.
"My mom cooked a lot at home. I would try to help her, but most of the time I'd just burn things. I really enjoyed watching people cook. I never thought I could. It was just difficult for me as a kid," Chan says. After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu, he worked at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills for close to six years and then at Blue Cow downtown before joining BLD as a sous chef last year.
"My wife and I used to come here a lot. It's our favorite breakfast and brunch place. As soon as they had an opening, I jumped on it," Chan says.
Now chef de cuisine, Chan along with his team is planning a menu overhaul with changes coming up in a month or so. In addition to the vegan pâté, BLD has a tofu bacon that comes in the vegan Benedict. It's an oft-requested item that soon may become a permanent side dish, according to Chan.
When asked if there are plans to expand the restaurant's vegan charcuterie selection, Chan says, "It is definitely something I'm looking into right now."
Smoked Mushroom Vegan Pâté
From: Lewis Chan and Diana Stavaridis
3 lb. crimini mushrooms
6 tbsp. canola oil
6 oz. shallots, sliced
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1 14-oz. package soft tofu
4 oz. raw walnuts, toasted
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Special equipment needed: A smoker and wood chips
1. Preheat oven to 225º Fahrenheit. Prepare smoker by placing enough wood chips to cover the bottom of a large skillet. Bring to high heat until chips begin to smoke. Add a layer of foil on top of the chips and spread 1.5 pounds of mushrooms over the foil. Place the smoker in the oven for an hour. At this point, you may need to disconnect your smoke alarm and open all the windows. Once done, remove the smoker from the oven and set aside to cool.
2. Slice remaining mushrooms and sauté them in 4 tbsp. of canola oil for 8 to 10 minutes, or until soft.
3. In a separate pan, heat 1 oz. of canola oil over medium heat. Cook the shallots down for 8 to 10 minutes, or until soft; then add sherry vinegar and reduce until it thickens into a glaze.
4. Combine smoked mushrooms, sautéed mushrooms, tofu, sautéed shallots and walnuts in a food processor and blend until smooth.
5. Season with salt and pepper. Adjust with more if needed.
6. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Suggested pairing: Toasted baguette slices, grapes and peaches. Serves 10-14 people, depending on portion sizes.
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