A good chef asks himself, ‘What could I take away from this dish?’” and sometimes it’s the meat, says Chef Jason Blair of the Red Stag Supperclub in Minneapolis.
The world is no longer divided into two camps: strict vegetarians and die-hard carnivores. New York Times food writer Mark Bittman famously eats “vegan until dinner.” Whatever compromise they strike, the folks in the middle—“flexitarians,” some call them—see meat as no longer mandatory for a good meal; it’s an indulgence, a condiment, or a flavor builder that’s optional. The National Restaurant Association reports that 54 percent of chefs named meatless entrées a “hot trend” for 2011.
“‘Flexitarian’? That’s the first time I’ve heard it,” Blair laughs at the term. But the concept “is very much in the forefront of my mind.” He estimates that about half his customers are ordering this way, making meat an occasional choice or avoiding it all together. They’re happily filling up on an impossibly fluffy ricotta and egg scramble at lunch, and at dinner, an indulgent celery-root ravioli.
Blair says he loves to use fava beans and farro, a nutty, protein-rich species of wheat that’s enjoying a resurgence now. It pops up on menus around town: in Alma’s beet and farro risotto, in ravioli at Bacio, and alongside a grilled pork tenderloin at Kings Wine Bar. Blair laces the ancient grain with sage and parmesan to complement a delicate grilled lamb, but he also lets its flavor sing nearly unadorned, piled high on a roasted squash.
“It’s so great to come up with a good dish that just happens to be vegetarian or vegan,” he says. “That’s really what it’s all about.”
Red Stag Supperclub
509 First Ave. NE, Minneapolis