Chef Interviews

Gracias Madre's Chandra Gilbert on the Mysteries of Vegan Brunch

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Tue, Jun 10, 2014 at 5:00 AM
click to enlarge Gracias Madre's Chandra Gilbert - ANNE FISHBEIN
  • Anne Fishbein
  • Gracias Madre's Chandra Gilbert
As if you needed another reason to eat at Gracias Madre  as of June 1, the West Hollywood vegan restaurant now serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. The menu includes Mexican plates such as chilaquiles, tofu ranchero scramble, breakfast torta and chimichangas and traditional brunch fare such as French toast, homemade biscuits, warm lemon scone and house Madre granola. 

The term "vegan brunch" is enough to get some of us out of bed early, but just to make sure we weren't missing any much-needed REM, we asked Gracias Madre chef Chandra Gilbert what this brunch thing is all about. Here's what she had to say.
click to enlarge French toast - PHOTO COURTESY OF GRACIAS MADRE
  • Photo courtesy of Gracias Madre
  • French toast
Squid Ink: In your opinion, what's the difference between breakfast and brunch?

Chanda Gilbert: To me, breakfast is a little bit more solitary, like, "get the job done." You're starting the day, maybe you're having yogurt and granola and hitting the door. Brunch, to me, feels more leisurely. It feels later in the day. I don't have a lot of people showing up for brunch at 8 a.m. on a Sunday. It feels like it might include cocktails and has more festivity to it. It lingers a little longer into the day and you might eat items that are a little richer, something heavier or creamier. You can have brunch at 1, but you're not having breakfast at 1.

SI: I always assumed brunch was just something you did when you were hungover, but you're saying people have brunch without being hungover?

CG: Exactly.

SI: Some of your brunch items are very much Mexican food, but some are more "Mexican-inspired." Why is that?

CG: To meet the need of people who are coming in really wanting pretty traditional vegan brunch items. Not necessarily wanting enchiladas but French toast and biscuits and gravy. We took these classical brunch items that our clients were demanding - which is great because I love to meet the demands of my clients.

SI: Was adding a brunch menu always something you wanted to do or did it come about because the restaurant was doing well?

CG: We'd always thought about it. It's fun and the patio calls for it, so we knew we'd do it but we didn't know when. More and more people were saying, "You don't have any French toast. You don't have any vegan pancakes. Come on." So it was like, "Okay, it's time."

SI: Did you expect to add brunch so soon after opening?

CG: Whether or not I expected that, the timing was perfect. I can't say if I was even thinking about it until the call came.

SI: Who's call was that?

CG: The clients' call. People wanting it. The serving staff came and said people really wanted French toast, so I said, "Ok, I'm ready." It helped that we'd already done this model in the Bay Area, so we didn't open necessarily with anything extraordinarily new, which gave us a lot of room to feel comfortable.

SI: Is there brunch in Mexico?

CG: I just got back from Oaxaca and I'd say they're eating all the time. I didn't feel like there was one [brunch] necessarily. It's a little bit more like traditional breakfast, but I didn't see traditional brunch. I saw plenty of fresh fruit and fresh juice, all kinds of smoothies, happening early in the morning.

SI: You're not Mexican, so tell me about cooking a cuisine that is not, for lack of a better term, whatever ethnicity you are. 

CG: I was born in San Diego, I moved to Arizona and then I moved back to California. Being in the restaurant industry in Arizona and California, it's all I've been around, pretty much. For years in Arizona, I worked at a large chain. What I rely on are my friends and co-workers - who are from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras - for ideas and inspiration. 

SI: One thing I enjoy about your menu is it's not a bunch of tofu-based dishes. Is that intentional?

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