The OpenTable Blog

#NYCWFF Dinner Series: Chefs Ashley Christensen + Alex Raij Talk Collaborating, Kinship + More

The New York City Wine & Food Festival (NYCWFF) kicks off on October 15 to pay homage to one of the greatest dining cities in the world while fighting to end hunger. One hundred percent of the net proceeds benefit Food Bank For New York City and No Kid Hungry. To date, NYCWFF has raised $8.5 million to help fight hunger. Some of the most exciting events are the intimate dinners series, which feature the nation’s best chefs joining forces to create one-of-a-kind dinners together. We’re highlighting two of these events. First up, chefs Alex Raij of La Vara and Ashley Christensen talk about working together on “A Dinner with Ashley Christensen, Alex Raij, and Gabrielle Hamilton.”

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The event is billed as “Dine with Three Female Powerhouse Chefs!” Do you feel a special kinship with other female chefs?

Alex: I actually had no idea the event was billed that way. I could actually find so many other ways to draw parallels between us. I don’t feel a random kinship or obligation to all women who cook, but I like to pay special attention to what women are doing and try to be helpful to them when I like what they are doing. So there is a kinship born of being interested in what others are doing in my profession and trying to catch the contributions of people who may not be getting the attention they deserve. I think I always feel a little like an outsider, and I like to support other outsiders. Those people are often making bigger contributions with less noise and really inspire me.

Ashley: I feel a connection anytime I’m cooking with friends in the kitchen, regardless of if they are women or men. That said, I think friendships between women are unique from those between women and men. Not to say that they are closer or stronger; they’re just unique. For that, I think there is something uniquely special about the opportunity to cook with two female chefs with whom I share a friendship.

Did the three of you know each other prior to this? Have you ever worked together previously?

Alex: I have a personal history with these two chefs because Ashely is one of my best friends, and Gabrielle was “my” chef/employer. And while I know our priorities in cooking are deliciously aligned, I’ve never been in one room with these two women before. Ashley and I overlap a lot, cooking at each others’ restaurants and socializing. I love all her places. And Gabrielle I see at one or two events a year, but I’m happy to be collaborating. I don’t think that has happened in like twelve years. Gabrielle even cooked at my sister’s wedding!

Ashley: Alex and I go way back, and we have cooked together and traveled together several times. I love Alex’s food, and all of her restaurants. I met Gabrielle just a few years back, but I have been eating at Prune for years and years. I find great inspiration from each of their work.

What are some of the challenges around working with two other chefs at this level? Continue Reading

Waste Not, Want Not: 6 Dishes + Drinks for Root to Shoot Dining #vegforward

Chefs dream of an ideal kitchen in which there is zero waste. Every part of every ingredient is utilized in some fashion. This lowers food costs, reduces environmental strain, and forces them to get creative with those remainders and byproducts. It’s a boon for diners, too, by exposing them to palate-expanding flavors and creative textural components that elevate dishes in unexpected new ways.

In the last decade, the tip-to-tail movement has seen a huge resurgence, as chefs have turned offal and offcuts into menu stars. Now they’re taking the same approach to vegetables. Call it root to shoot. No longer are pea shells, tomato skins, or potato peels merely going into the stockpot, on the compost pile, or, worse yet, the trash. Now they’re playing key roles in some of the chefs’ most memorable creations. Here are six dishes and drinks for root to shoot dining.

Garrison, Washington, D.C. 
Tomato skins are full of flavor and nutrient dense. But oftentimes they end up on the proverbial cutting room floor. Chef-owner Rob Weland is a longtime admirer of what our grandma used to call love apples. While heading up the kitchen at Poste years ago, he offered a 20-course, tomato-centric tasting menu. At his latest venture, he dries the skins of various heirloom varietals and uses them to garnish his colorful tomato salad.

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Rustic Canyon, Santa Monica, California
Dehydrated beets create the “soil” in executive chef Jeremy Fox’s signature Beets and Berries dish. Not wanting to throw out the resulting juice, he infuses it with rose geranium and turns it over to bar manager Aaron Ranf. Ranf devised the Beet Royale, a play on the Kir Royale with beet juice, prosecco, gin, and lemon. Waste reduction has never tasted so good. [Photo by Aaron Ranf]

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Ribelle, Brookline, Massachusetts
Chefs Tim Maslow and Brandon Baltzley wouldn’t dream of tossing out a single scrap of tomato. The skin is dehydrated and ground into powder. The excess juice is transformed into smoked tomato vinegar. And the seeds are mixed with chia seeds to create mock caviar. The whole tomato is then compressed in the vinegar and speckled with the “caviar” and powder, as well as fresh cheese, burnt shishito oil, brined horseradish leaves, and fresh grated horseradish. [Photo by Brandon Baltzley]

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I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter: 17 To-Die-For Vegan Dishes #vegforward #chooseveg

Ask any chef or vegan eater and they will tell you that what you’ll experience at today’s #vegforward restaurants is not your grandmother’s vegan diet. The plant-based food culture has evolved exponentially beyond bean sprouts and garden burgers. The cuisine at the 52 Best Restaurants for Vegetarians in America is thoughtful and progressive — and playful, too, as you’ll see below. And while the chefs may have decided to skip the dairy, among other things, the fact that the dishes are vegan is, in a way, a happy (and sustainable) by-product of their creativity.

You see, these forward-thinking culinary pros are simply smitten with plants — the idea of plants, the texture of plants, the colors of plants, the flavors of plants. We could go on, but you probably get the picture. The possibilities and combinations are endless, and the results, whether rustically simple or elegantly elaborate, are delicious. Check out these 17 to-die-for vegan dishes from some of our 52 #vegforward restaurants.

Langos at V Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
This Hungarian fried potato bread gets a vegan twist when topped with smoked beets and a lush sauerkraut remoulade from chefs Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby. Take our advice and order one for everyone at the table. You will not want to share this divine savory doughnut of a dish.

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Artichoke Oysters at Crossroads, Los Angeles, California
The land trumps the sea in chef Tal Ronnen’s presentation of this delicate jewel of a dish. It includes artichoke purée, crispy oyster mushroom, a yellow tomato béarnaise, and kelp caviar.

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Kale, Corn, and Sweet Onion Pakora at The Herb Box-DC Ranch, Scottsdale, Arizona
These gluten-free bites from executive chef Becky Windels are made up of kale, fresh corn, and sweet onion coated in a chickpea batter with crushed fennel seed and turmeric and fried crisp in rice oil. Plated with a roasted yellow pepper aïoli and a sweet hot Serrano garlic glaze, Martha Stewart loved these so much that so much she asked, “How is this made?”

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Savoy Cabbage at Natural Selection, Portland, Oregon
Stuffed cabbage finally gets the filling it deserves. Emerald Savoy cabbage envelopes a harmonious trio of quinoa, sweet peppers, and sultanas in chef Aaron Woo’s exquisite version.


Deviled Turnips at Encantada, Baltimore, Maryland
Who needs eggs when you’ve got turnips bedeviled by tofu, chickpeas, Dijon mustard, turmeric, and other savory spices from executive chef Melanie Molinaro? These are fun enough for a picnic and still sophisticated enough to accompany an ice-cold martini.

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Papillote at Equinox, Washington, D.C.
Chef Todd Gray’s papillote expertly combines cauliflower mushroom and Brussels petals with curried kabocha squash, artichoke hearts, and gently sweet quince vinegar. It’s almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.

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Zen Salad at French Meadow Café & Bluestem Bar, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Power up with this goodness-on-a-plate salad. Steamed organic brown rice is covered with organic blanched kale and fresh housemade hummus and guacamole. It is appointed with crispy radish, cucumber, scallion, and organic micro greens, and then studded with roasted tomatoes, kalamata olives, and toasted sunflower seeds. A roasty Harissa vinaigrette brings it all together.

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Tomato. Parsley. Onion. at The Gadarene Swine, Studio City, California
Chef Phillip Frankland Lee keeps it simple when tomatoes take the plate. This seasonal stunner stars marinated raw tomato, parsley, and onion. They sit atop a throne of sweet corn pudding and are crowned with crispy tomato, parsley, and onion.

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PLANT FORWARD: A Connected Event at Plant Food + Wine, Venice Beach

Plant Forward“There are seafood restaurants, there are burger restaurants, and there are steak restaurants,” says punk rocker gone vegan chef Scott Winegard of Plant Food + Wine in Venice, California. Don’t let the sleeve of tattoos deceive you — “We’re a vegetable restaurant.”


Last night, under the lights draped through fig and olive trees in the back patio of Plant Food + Wine on happening Abbot Kinney Boulevard, we gathered a group of Los Angeles’s most influential vegans to celebrate the launch of our campaign for vegetarian and vegan-friendly dining. The dinner was part of Connected, our series of talks and gatherings that bring together the restaurant and tech worlds with food, drink, and local culture.

Around the table

Over zucchine cacio e pepe washed down with organic syrah, we honored the eve of Vegetarian Awareness Month and forged connections around the table with guests vegan and non-vegan alike, including local restaurateurs, chefs, writers, farmers, fitness and fashion experts, and social activists.  


So, why veganism? “I just liked the food,” Winegard says. “I felt better when I ate it and I felt better connected to what I was eating.”Continue Reading