Deneen Shadakofsky grew up on a ranch outside of Newcastle, where beef, pork or some other kind of meat generally made a command appearance on her plate.
Yet the self-professed carnivore was among the curious at a seven-course, veggie-forward pop-up restaurant recently put on by Wyoming chef Petrina Peart in the Paramount Ballroom in Cheyenne.
A pop-up refers to a fleeting event or store that lasts a short period of time before vanishing. Guests at the pop-up could buy the entire seven course dinner, or they could go a la carte, ordering single dishes for a more tailored experience.
Peart gained a lot of recognition a couple of years ago when she appeared on “Beat Bobby Flay” on the Food Network, where she was just one vote away from beating the celebrity chef with a twist on a family favorite, a Jamaican-style goat curry.
All of which is to say Peart not only has flair, but she can bring the flavor to a plate of just about anything.
So, when Shadokofsky joined in on the fun of the two-night pop-up in the Paramount Ballroom, she didn’t worry too much about not knowing what’s on the menu ahead of time. The reveal would all be part of the experience.
The fact the meal turned out to be all vegetables?
Ultimately, it wasn’t as disappointing as Shadakofsky would have thought. In fact, she wasn’t disappointed at all.
“It was a blessing and a treat to get out of our box and try this thing that’s all so new to us,” she told Cowboy State Daily over the dinner’s final course, a chocolate affogato with hot, whiskey-spiked espresso.
An affogato has two parts. One is steaming hot liquid poured over a dish of cold ice cream. In this case, hazelnut ice cream was hiding beneath a smooth chocolate shell. Hidden one more layer down, amidst crunchy hazelnuts, was the last surprise of the night — Pop Rocks.
That turned the dessert into a unique experience, one that had everyone in the packed Paramount Ballroom smiling.
Shadakofsky said she has no plans to give up meat. But her perception of vegetables has been forever changed by the unique creations chef Peart put on her plate that night.
And that was exactly the reaction chef Peart had in mind when she planned her veggie-forward, seven-course meal in Wyoming. She wanted everyone to see their vegetables in a brand new light.
“The first of the year, you know, is when people are encouraged to try a new diet or try a new lifestyle,” Peart told Cowboy State Daily. “And especially on Instagram, if you follow certain content creators or food pages, January is vegan month, so I thought, why not do something with that?”
How many mothers have lamented a child’s habits of pushing away all the green vegetables, ignoring that healthy serving of green beans or broccoli or peas in favor of, well, just about anything else?
There was none of that during Peart’s vegetable tour de force.
Instead, there were golden roasted winter vegetables lounging delicately on a delicious smear of parsnip cream, topped with an impossibly lacy green garnish called tuille.
The preparation of tuille is, in and of itself, a bit like fairy magic.
It’s a French confection made with a batter of flour, egg, an oil of choice and water. The batter is poured into a pan, similar to a thin pancake. As the pancake cooks to crispy perfection, water evaporates out and holes begin to appear. That creates a fragile piece of edible lace.
Peart uses natural food colorings, like chlorophyll, to give the lace a rich green color.
The plate was a beautiful dish, looking for all the world like something only a fairy princess could dream up.
That otherworldly experience continued throughout the night, with pillowy sweet potato gnocchi plated next to dollops of impossibly tasty cashew cream and butternut puree, drizzled with what looked to be browned butter and flecks of dark green sage.
There were cabbage packets stuffed with mushroom bordelaise, coconut curried tofu, and fresh bitter greens tossed with focaccia cubes and just the right amount of mignonette dressing.
And then there was Peart’s favorite. A fool-the-eye deviled “egg” course, where the eggs on the plate were actually made from potato. It tasted like a delicious deviled-egg potato salad, but it looked identical to two, upscale deviled eggs.
Peart used agar-agar, a plant-based gelatin, to mold creamy mashed potato into the shape of an egg. Rare spices like asafoetida and black salt, meanwhile, gave the potato “yolks” just the right amount of egginess. A perky little red pepper, sourced from a Fort Collins market, added a bright burst of flavor that tied it all together.
Diners might not believe it, but the delightful egg course wasn’t practiced at all beforehand. Peart simply dreamed it up in her head, then executed it on a plate for the first time during the pop-up.
It proved one of the more popular dishes in the end. Peart actually ran out of the ingredients to make it the second night of what was a completely full house.
No Restaurant Yet
Many of the guests at the second night of Peart’s pop-up by then knew full well that it would be all vegetables, but they wanted to have their favorites one more time before the pop-up disappeared. There were so many guests that second night that some had to be turned away because there was no seating left.
That unexpected popularity of Peart’s seven-course vegetable showcase in Wyoming, where meat so often stars, was the big surprise of the two-night event — sometimes with the diners themselves.
Shadakofsky, for example, said even though she’s not about to give up meat, she’s rethinking her vegetables, realizing that they can be so much more on a plate than a can of green beans.
That was exactly the sort of eye-opening experience Peart was hoping for.
“Growing up, I hated green beans,” Peart said. “Until I had them fresh. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good, especially for like a casserole. But when you have them fresh, they just, like, pop in your mouth. They actually have a bite to them. It’s like experiencing a new vegetable.”
As for whether her veggie-forward popup was a practice run for a restaurant, Peart demurred.
“I don’t have an end goal for a typical restaurant,” she said. “But there are ideas of a (cooking) studio in my mind, so that’s always, everything I do is practice to lead up to that. But this wasn’t specifically for anything in particular. It was really just for vegan month, which January, they call it like Veganuary around the country.”
A cooking studio typically is a space that offers classes.
Peart added that if she did do a restaurant, it wouldn’t be all vegetables like the Veganuary dinner. For one thing, she’s in Wyoming, Peart acknowledged, and given her own experiences in restaurants as a vegetarian, she doesn’t like to do anything that wouldn’t be inclusive of everyone’s tastes and dietary needs at the dinner table.
“I would want both the meat eaters and the non-meat eaters to be able to come and enjoy,” she said. “But it wouldn’t be like steak and pasta. I’d leave that to the other chefs who are really into that.”
Peart might not be convinced when it comes to running a full-time restaurant, but many of her guests were squarely convinced by her Cinderella performance in the Paramount Ballroom. The question about a restaurant was mentioned more than once during the two-night event by guests who had really enjoyed their experience.
Whether she does a restaurant or not, those guests told Cowboy State Daily they are hoping Peart stays in Wyoming and continues to offer amazing foodie experiences.
“This was such amazing food, and we just need her to stay here in Cheyenne,” Kristy VanKirk said. “We want to keep her here to keep experiencing something incredible.”
Chef Peart's Faux Deviled 'Eggs'
Silicone egg mold
Food processor or blender
For the egg whites:
14 g agar/agar or carrageenan (I used agar/agar, but recommend carrageenan for a firmer texture)
1 tsp black salt (Kala Namak)
1 tsp asafoetida
600 g potatoes (or tofu if preferred)
Egg white method:
Boil the potatoes to soften. Reserve 1 cup of the potato water. Return the potato water and the agar agar or carrageenan to a boil. Heating activates the thickening agent, so the mixture will thicken. Blend cooked potatoes, black salt, asafoetida, and agar agar mixture in a food processor or blender.
Fill the cavities of the silicone mold using inverted spatula or piping bag. Remove any extra filling from the top, and press the mixture in the mold to avoid air pockets. Refrigerate at least 1 hour, or until ready to use.
For the yolk:
300 g potatoes (boiled)
1/2 tsp turmeric
100 g butternut squash
1 tsp black salt (or as needed to season)
1 tsp asafoetida
3 T butter or olive oil
Egg yolk method:
Because turmeric can change the flavor profile, only add just enough for the desired yolk coloring. Blend all the ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth and season to taste. Refrigerate the mixture until it’s cooled. Once cooled, put the mixture in a piping bag with a star nozzle.
Gently remove the egg whites from their molds. Using a melon baller, scoop out the center of each egg white to make a whole where the yolk will be. Pipe the cooled egg. Yolk mixture int the center. Repeat for all of the eggs.
For toppings, use any of the ingredients traditional for boiled eggs — chives, relish, pickled peppers, smoked paprika, etc.
For this recipe, I chose fresh dill and fresh chives, dill oil, pickled peppers, smoked paprika, crispy garlic chips, sliced truffles, and truffle oil. It was finished with black Hawaiian salt.
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.