When Chef Tal Ronnen opened his high-end, plant-based Crossroads Kitchen in March of 2013 at the corner of Melrose and Sweetzer in West Hollywood, he knew he had a good thing. While there were plenty of casual vegan restaurants in L.A., he opened with a full bar in a romantic, dimly lit setting. Never did he imagine it would mushroom into a plant-based empire that would change the way we approach food.

On Saturday, May 28, he will open the first fine-dining vegan restaurant on the Vegas strip inside Resorts World Las Vegas, as well as CB Burgers, a plant-based hamburger joint next door that will feature hoagie rolls stuffed with vegan Italian sausage or hot dogs. The Crossroads Kitchen kale Caesar and brownie sundae also will be available at the grab-and-go. This fall, an outpost within The Commons in Calabasas will open and bring classic dishes like tagliatelle Bolognese, spaghetti carbonara, stuffed zucchini blossoms and beet tartare, to the San Fernando Valley.

“I’ve been cooking exclusively plant-based for more than 20 years,” Ronnen, who authored the New York Times Bestseller, “The Conscious Cook,” tells L.A. Weekly on the Crossroads patio. “So it’s really nice not to be the weirdo anymore and see other chefs elevate plant-based food to a different level. It’s an exciting time.”

Crossroads Kitchen

Chef Tal Ronnen (Courtesy Crossroads Kitchen)

In the almost 10 years since the original Crossroads Kitchen opened, awards shows and other events have shifted their menus to completely plant-based, and musicians and artists alike have especially sung the praises of the vegan lifestyle. It’s not an unusual sight to see Mick Jagger ushered in through the kitchen.

“Rod Stewart told me here when we first opened ‘I’ll get a lasagna to go because this is the kind of stuff I can eat before a show because dairy aggravates mucus.’” says the Israeli-born chef. “He’s not vegan, but he doesn’t eat dairy because it affects his voice.”

So is opening a plant-based restaurant in the middle of the desert with no nearby farms a challenge?

“Not at all,” says Ronnen, who is determined to shift America’s appetite for meat to a more environmentally friendly model. “All the produce that comes from LA., from our regular distributors and growers on a truck, is in Vegas in four hours, five times a day.”

“It was always strange to me that there always had to be animal protein in the center of the plate, because if you think about the way the rest of the world eats, they get their protein from plant-based sources – not that their cultures are vegan or vegetarian – it came out of necessity of feeding a lot of people. In India it’s lentils, in Asia it’s soy, Mexico it’s black beans, and in South America it’s quinoa. People are used to eating plant-based proteins. The word protein in America is synonymous with meat, and it’s not good for the planet.”

One of the chef’s tools for that transition has been Impossible meat, which he refers to as the “gateway drug” to help carnivores cross over. There always will be a couple of options on the menu, like the popular cigar appetizer with almond milk yogurt.

“They come kicking and screaming and there’s no way you’re feeding them our chickpeas or maitake mushrooms,” says Ronnen, as he oversees a packed and buzzing restaurant. “So when they have our homemade Italian sausage, which is made out of Impossible meat, which we season and stuff ourselves, they’re mind is blown and eventually that will lead them to eating a kale salad. It’s a good transitional food that solves a huge problem in the world. We don’t have enough protein to feed the world and animal protein is destroying the environment. Yeah, you can say that it’s made in a lab, but it’s food that is grown for people, being made in a format that’s familiar to them.”

 

Crossroads Kitchen

Stuffed zucchini blossoms (Courtesy Crossroads Kitchen)

Despite his successes and huge popularity, Ronnen is not the kind of chef you’ll ever see on TV. He’s a chef that simply loves to cook and stay behind the stove. He’s at the restaurant six nights a week, and if you eat there any Monday through Saturday, that’s where you’ll see him.

“My dad told me real early on, find something you love and make it your job because you’re going to be working for the rest of your life – and I did.”

 

LA Weekly