STREET Food Chef Shines a Light on Healthier Eating

September 24th, 2012

Interview courtesy of LAist.

Susan Feniger is a Top Chef Masters alum and the proprietor of STREET, a global street food restaurant which has been serving Los Angeles since 2009. The high-end eatery is one of the few in L.A. that doesn’t make plant-based items an afterthought: the menu is filled with enticing dishes like Turkish Zucchini Cakes, Rickshaw Noodles, and Spicy Black Bean Veggie Burgers. Chef Feniger herself is an environmentalist and avid supporter of Meatless Monday, offering weekly specials at STREET and sharing many meatless dinner ideas in her latest cookbook, Susan Feniger’s Street Food.

Krista Simmons of LAist had a chance to speak with Chef Feniger about the rise in vegetarian diners, the unique menu at STREET, and why she embraces the Meatless Monday movement.

You have an excellent Meatless Monday menu at STREET. Tell us about how you researched these plant-based items, and any challenges that you faced along the way.

Because of the nature of ethnic food, much of the menu is vegetarian/vegan anyways. We do Meatless Mondays to make meat eaters more aware of vegetarian options. We are constantly researching ethnic foods. When we were testing recipes, we noticed that most of the menu was meatless by design, so it was easy. I would say that the main challenge is reading labels that aren’t in English.

Do you practice Meatless Mondays yourself, or have you implemented meat-free living into your own personal diet at home?

You can get so much amazing produce & fruit at the farmer’s market and this is where I do the majority of my shopping. Because it’s so easy to have meatless items on hand, I tend to eat meatless the majority of the time. I definitely lean towards vegetarianism. When I was in [culinary] school, my final study was to design a vegetarian restaurant. I think this is why STREET leans towards being heavily vegetarian based. And don’t even get me started on the health benefits of eating meatless!

As a traveler, what are the best places to explore if you are living a meatless lifestyle?

Truly, the produce markets or street markets are a great place for vegetarians. The stalls oftentimes have fantastic, interesting options. Vegetarian or not, that’s where I go. I hit the streets.

Have you noticed an increase in diners at your restaurant looking for meat-free options? How has that helped you evolve as a chef?

Yes, absolutely. I’ve seen a huge increase. When we were playing with the menu at STREET before opening we realized, my gosh, we don’t have any meat on the menu to speak of. As a chef, I’ve always been drawn to a vegetarian menu. At the CIA [where I studied years ago] my graduation project was to design a vegetarian restaurant. I think spending all that time in India early on really shifted my tastes and interests, leaning me towards that direction.

Any advice for folks looking to adopt a more meat-free life in Los Angeles? Any good substitutes that you could recommend for some of the city’s favorite foods, like tacos or burgers?

Well, our crispy seeded avocado tacos and potato rajas at Border Grill are absolutely my favorite food we do. And our veggie burger was voted first at the Veggie Burger Showdown. You really can eat like an Angeleno without having meat.