There are a lot of rational reasons to eat more veggies: it’s better for you, it’s better for the earth, it'll make your mother happy ...
But the most compelling is that they’re really delicious. Especially in the hands of Chef Jeremy Fox, chef at one of L.A.’s most notable restaurants, Rustic Canyon, and part of the team behind Esters Wine Bar. Fox, like most men in their forties, doesn't have the metabolism he once did. “Things ache more than they used to,” he says. “I'm a lot more conscious of the ingredients in terms of fat and gluten, and there is no reason to use that much butter.”
His menus at Rustic Canyon are centered around the local farmer's market, so the veggies always shine. “I want you to feel good,” says Fox. “I don't want you to have a food hangover.” Pass by the tables and you'll see that meat is at the center of the table, but circumscribing that dish are a lot of mouthwatering greens: brightly colored peas with morsels of peccorino, stalks of asparagus with a farm egg, sautéed leaf veggies piled high on thick toast.
You'll find all these dishes in his first cookbook, On Vegetables, a gorgeous tome that isn’t so much a book for vegetarians as it is an ode to plant matter, packed with delicious recipes that pair great with meat and help the aging gentledude keep an eye on his figure. We've been huge fans of Chef Fox for a while, and we recently asked him some questions about the cookbook, his decision to focus on vegetables and how to recreate his expertise at home.
InsideHook: How should men look at vegetables differently?
Jeremy Fox: It's not about meat not being the center, or not being an integral part of the meal. It totally can be. It's good to have more lean proteins and vegetables. That's kind of how I've started to eat. So just because you're eating a piece of meat doesn't mean you can't have a nice bright vegetable component. Like a nice spicy arugula salad with your steak — that's one of my favorite things to eat. Take a bite of steak and scoop up some of that lemony, bitter arugula with it. Those things make the meat taste better, because that fattiness and saltiness is bringing in a different texture and flavor profile. It highlights everything and makes everything taste better.
IH: What three things can a man do to up his vegetable game?
JF: One: this may sound like a strange technique, but I did a weeklong, 10-day juice cleanse at the beginning of the year. I had sort of gotten to where I just wanted meat all the time, I didn't really care about the vegetables. All of a sudden when that was done, caramelized cabbage with lots of salt was decadent; it really made me appreciate vegetables again. We've continued to this healthy eating for this year and I just feel so much better. The vegetables taste better, things just taste better.
Two: I think you can't be afraid of salt, that just makes everything taste better. Salt and lemon is really all I can rely on. Garlic is great too. So even if you're just braising down some kale, lots of garlic, some chili flake, olive oil, finish with lemon — I could just eat a whole bowl of that.
Three: Go to the farmer's market and push yourself to prepare something you wouldn't normally get. Don't be afraid of screwing things up. That's kind of how you're going to learn. Any chef, in order to become decent at what you do, has screwed up a lot of things. I have screwed up a lot of things, but as long as you're paying attention to those mistakes as you go, you'll eventually not make those mistakes and you'll start making some good stuff.
IH: What’s an everyday veggie dish that’s easy to make at home?
JF: I'll tell you a recipe that's not necessarily going to take 20 minutes, but you can make it big: a retro bean stew. You can make a big pot of it and then it's there all week and all you do is put it on the stove, heat up a little of it or even put it in the microwave, but that's one of the favorite things I've ever made. It's spicy, it's brothy. I like a brothy bean stew, not a puréed bean soup. Lot's of vegetables, braised greens, it's garlicky, it's spicy, a lot of rosemary, tomato-ey ... It's one of those perfect foods, I think.
IH: How do take the labor out of peas?
JF: That's a very Zen thing for me. If I needed to, I can rip through a case of peas quick by obliterating them, but I like to take my bird's beak knife, my tourne knife, and I have a game where I try to remove each side of the stem and the veins and strings all in one cut. I start at the top and then snip that off, carry that vein around, flip it, carry it around ... so basically I have the stems and both strings. That's kind of a running contest. And when you do that, there's really nothing holding it together, and then it just comes apart. So it's really not the fastest way, but it's the way I do it.