Do you remember what the plant-based food movement was like ten years ago? We do — and so does chef Tal Ronnen. We first sat down with the plant-based pioneer and founder of Crossroads Kitchen when the restaurant opened their first location on Melrose in 2013. The restaurant became an instant hit and is still an iconic destination on the L.A. food map.
Tal is also the founder of culty plant-based brand Kite Hill Foods and the author of NYT-bestseller The Conscious Cook. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of Crossroads Kitchen, which now has locations in Calabasas and Las Vegas, we asked Chef Tal for his take on the vegan revolution, his daily kitchen staples, and the plant-based meals that never fail to impress…
In The Kitchen With Chef Tal Ronnen Of Crossroads Kitchen
Food philosophy in one sentence… Do what your mom always said: eat your vegetables.
What are you most proud of with Crossroads? When we opened in 2013 there were no plant-based restaurants in the city that had a full liquor license. We designed it to look like a cozy Upper West Side steakhouse and 10 years later it still is stunning. I’m really proud of the fact that our guests are a mix of vegetarians, vegans and carnivores and that it’s a place where everyone can share a great meal together.
Favorite dish on the menu lately? The Eggplant Skirt Steak on our spring menu. We dehydrate eggplant filets for 2 days before marinating them in a house-made beet ponzu for another 48 hours. We serve it with steakhouse-inspired sides like mashed potatoes, hollandaise and a brandy cream sauce. It’s become a fast favorite with guests, so we may keep it on the menu through summer.
Staples always on hand… Not too many staples, I don’t do a lot of cooking at home just like a lawyer or a doctor doesn’t like to take their work home.
Favorite ingredient lately… This always changes with each season, but right now we are getting beautiful fava beans and are about to get our first mulberries of the season.
How it started vs. How it’s going: How has Crossroads Kitchen evolved? We’re very fortunate that year over year we have grown. I know that personally the menu has changed a lot for me, but there are still items that have been on the menu since day one like our artichoke oysters. Today I try to cook food that our guests will like as opposed to something that will satisfy my ego, so the menu is very familiar.
Ingredient that makes everything taste better… Chili garlic crisp.
Best food memory… A 12-course Shojin Ryori tasting menu in Tokyo nine years ago.
Kite Hill has become a gold standard. What products are you dropping next? We have some great new cream cheese flavors coming as well as yogurt. Last year we put out some of our best products including sour cream and queso.
Most under-rated ingredient… Miso.
Essential cookbooks… The Flavor Bible.
What excites you about the plant-based food scene now? The breadth and depth of plant-based products and chefs in restaurants who are now interested in this category is mind blowing.
How do you see the plant-based food space evolving? Every day, I think chefs who are not even close to being vegans in their personal lives are including more plant-based foods at their restaurants and that is definitely the future.
Food you love to eat with zero prep/additions… Any fruit or vegetable that is in season.
Vegan dish that’ll impress anyone… Our stuffed squash blossoms.
Fave condiments… Hot sauce for sure, and I’m a fan of different mustards as well.
Other favorite food cities/destinations… New York and Tokyo.
Craziest thing I buy at the market… Instant Ramen noodles.
Favorite splurge… Truffles.
Your idea of an ideal dinner setting… I like old school dining rooms that have a great vibe, feel cozy and play great music.
For last minute entertaining… My wife and I like to make rice bowls with natto.
Signature cocktail… Negroni.
Simple go-to recipe… Peanut butter and jelly, 100%.