Since he took over the kitchen at Mohawk Bend last December, Erick Simmons has thrown out a few tools from his traditional chef's tool box. “I have no butter in my inventory. I haven't used it here for the last six months. If you told me that before I arrived last year, I would have thought you're crazy.”

In fact, one of Simmons' first orders of business was to get rid of 15 pounds of butter that had been languishing unused in the kitchen. Olive oil became the preferred oil instead; vegetable oil for the fryer. Chicken and beef stock were swapped for vegetable-based stock, beer for wine.

“At the restaurant, you can say, 'Can I have a short rib with no short rib?' My braised short rib dish is done with olive oil. All the purées, all the vegetables — everything is vegan. I don't put meat on there until the last minute,” he says. “All the little things in the kitchen are geared to be vegan.”

Cheese was another point of consideration. Simmons intended for all of the salads to be vegan-friendly. At the end of the salad menu, there are a few cheeses like feta and goat cheese that can be added for a small charge.

Pizzas required a different tack. “Cashew cheese is made in-house, using a short list of ingredients like raw cashew, garlic, and water. When we put that cashew cheese on our pizza, it spreads and browns nicely,” Simmons explains. “It mimics milk cheese better than what we've bought.”

The executive chef takes full advantage of the resources, including Golden Road beers on draft. “I ask what's the goal of the food. Do I envision it as more robust or lighter? What ingredients am I pairing it with?”

“With a risotto, I use a bright, citrus-y beer. Instead of deglazing with white wine, I used beer. It gives it a whole different dimension. That's part of how I'm trying to make pub fare, just by the cooking method itself. My style right now is more beer-forward cuisine.”

Simmons is used to cooking at a grand scale. He graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, then working at Water Grill (under both Michael Cimarusti and David LeFevre), Bradley Ogden in Vegas and mk in Chicago.

The experiences prepared him for the challenges waiting at Mohawk Bend, which has an ongoing seasonal “Meatless Monday” dinner series. “The last six months have been some of the busiest services I've had.”


Mole pizza; Credit: Mohawk Bend

Mole pizza; Credit: Mohawk Bend

Mole Pizza

From: Erick Simmons

Yields: 2 pizzas

Mole Sauce:

½ cup canola oil

3 medium onions, large dice

10 cloves garlic, sliced

2 carrots peeled, large dice

½ bunch celery, large dice

5 fresh pasilla peppers, large dice

5 red bell peppers, large dice

3 green peppers, large dice

4 tablespoons mole seasoning

5 dried pasilla peppers

2 quarts vegetable stock

1 ½ cup Guitard chocolate, chopped

1 ounce agave nectar

1 ounce sherry vinegar

Salt and black pepper to taste

1. In a large pot, heat oil until almost smoking, then add onions, garlic, carrots, celery and sweat for about five minutes. Add all peppers and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add mole seasoning and cook for an additional five minutes.

2. Add vegetable stock and dried peppers. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes, or until vegetables become really tender.

3. Remove dried peppers and pour all ingredients in a blender. Add agave and vinegar, then purée until smooth, adding a couple pieces of chocolate at a time. Season with salt and pepper.

Pizza Dough:

1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast

1 ½ cups room temperature water

2 Tablespoons olive oil

4 ¼ cups organic 00 flour

2-3 teaspoons salt

1. Place yeast in medium bowl and add water to dissolve the yeast. Allow the yeast to rest for about 5 minutes, until it turns creamy.

2. Stir in olive oil and gradually add 2 ¼ cups of flour mixing until well incorporated. Scrape down bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in volume.

3. Use rubber spatula to deflate the sponge, or dough mixture, which will be sticky. Place in a kitchen mixer with large mixing bowl and dough hook attachment.

4. Add two cups of flour and salt to the sponge and mix on low speed for three minutes. Increase speed to medium and bring dough together adding more flour if needed.

5. Once done, the dough may be a little sticky, but you should be able to grip it without having it stick uncomfortably to your finger. Drizzle a little olive oil on top of the dough, cover, and allow to rest for another hour in a warm place, or until its doubled in size.

Pizza assembly:

2 batches fresh pizza dough

2 cups mole sauce

1 avocado, cubed

½ cup cilantro, de-stemmed

½ cup radish slices

1. Preheat oven to 500º F. On a lightly floured surface cut dough ball in half and shape into 2 small ball shapes. With your hands stretch dough balls into the desired pizza shape about a ¼ inch thick.

2. Top with mole sauce and bake until golden brown, then garnish with avocado cubes, cilantro leaves and radish slices.

And in related news:

Meatless Mondays: Olive & Thyme's Roasted Beet Farro Salad Recipe

Meatless Mondays: Karen Hatfield + A Recipe for Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad

Meatless Mondays: Maximiliano Chef Andre Guerrero + A Recipe for Lemon Rapini Linguine

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