Los Angeles is one of the top-ranked cities for vegans due to its dense plant population and large number of vegan restaurants and vegan menu endorsements; however, the LA hospitality industry has some catching up to do. The Belvedere, the Peninsula Beverly Hills’ first restaurant, is leading the way with its new five-course vegan menu, curated by Chef Ralf Schlegel. The elaborate dinner option is part of the host group vacation packages that include all the comfy amenities, from your own set of plush pajamas to a private poolside cabana. While a stay at this luxury resort sounds fabulous, we’re really here for the food. VegNews spoke with Chef Schlegel to learn more about his fascination with plant-based cuisine and how he uses his 20 years of Michelin-starred experience to elevate the Belvedere tasting menu.
European-inspired California cuisine
Chef Schlegel is an Austrian-born professional with over two decades of cooking experience under his belt. He graduated from the Steigenberger Akademie in Germany where he obtained his BA in Deutscher Kitchenmeister (culinary arts). He moved to the United States and worked for 10 years in Washington, DC before living in Los Angeles. The Belvedere’s vibe is that of the California coast with European influences, just down the alley from Schlegel. Its formation is most evident in the Mushroom and Walnut Coulibiac, a Russian-style Wellington of puff pastry and savory filling. The Californian concept is rooted in seasonal produce, which is why you won’t find Beyond or Impossible Burger on the menu.
“California cuisine is extremely product-driven, especially since the seasons allow for fresh ingredients year-round. At Belvédère, we innovate by incorporating these fresh seasonal ingredients into more traditional European recipes,” says Schlegel.
The current menu is only available for a short time, as each item is subject to the season. Schlegel told us to expect a new menu every two months. He always seeks to highlight the best products of the moment. Right now it’s summer tomatoes, but he’s also looking forward to the harvest that fall will bring.
The Vegan Necessity
Pressured by the ever-increasing demand for vegan options, many omnivorous chefs will simply throw a plant-based burger on the menu, top it with caramelized shallots or a dairy-free aioli, and call it a day. . This is not an option for Schlegel. “Do it right or don’t do it,” Schlegel says. Having only one or two herbal options does not meet his standards. “The effort you put in has to pay off. At The Peninsula, guests come first… We want to make sure everyone has the best possible experience, vegan or not,” he continues. We certainly agree – a tasting menu of five courses is a much more pleasant experience than devouring another basic burger in a white tablecloth restaurant.
This isn’t the first time Schlegel has toyed with a meatless menu. “For the past six years, I’ve always made sure to have both a vegetarian tasting menu and a regular tasting menu,” he tells us. “This idea was born out of the challenge of special holidays with large family dinners and some guests with dietary restrictions. Once I committed to having many options for all eaters, I realized how much it was a success and how much my guests enjoyed the accommodation.”
These days, it’s not just vegans who are asking for the plant-based menu. Schlegel has noticed that flexitarian eaters are increasingly interested in plant-based options, and menus are no longer targeting just vegans to a wider audience of mixed eaters. Chefs are also enthusiastic about vegan cooking rather than seeing it as a hassle or a chore. “In the kitchen, it was about removing ingredients and there were several shortcuts used to accommodate a vegan. Now it has evolved into creativity and excitement,” says Schlegel. “The most enjoyable thing is the research and science that create the delicious dishes. For example, we discovered a leaf that grows at the edge of the ocean that mimics the flavor of an oyster.
Due to the seasonality of the menu, what you read here may not be what you get when you sit down to dinner at Le Belvédère. However, you can use this section to get an idea of Schlegel’s culinary style. Summer 2022 featured incredible menu items such as yellow corn soufflé, braised West Coast morels and tomato tartare. Unlike many vegan tasting menus at omnivorous restaurants, the selection doesn’t skip dessert. Mission Figs & Sangria with fennel sorbet and cashew yogurt cream as well as a luxurious raspberry and almond panna cotta have previously graced the menu. As the selection changes, you are very likely to come across some sort of mushroom dish. Schlegel is a huge fan, recalling his days in Austria. “Growing up in the Austrian mountains, I always enjoyed simple pasta with roasted mushrooms and olive oil,” he recalls.
Clark and Peter
As we wrapped up our time with the chef and packed our bags for the poolside cabana, we asked Schlegel another question: Why should a flexitarian opt for the plant-based menu at Belvedere? He posed his answer as both a question and a challenge, superbly confident in his menu. He simply asked, “Are you afraid you like it?”
For more on interviewing vegan chefs, read:
Getting to Know Chrissy Tracy, Bon Appétit’s First Vegan Chef
Interview with vegan chef Bryant Tracy
Q&A with Celebrity Chef Matthew Kenney
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