Her tasty menu defies convention, her imaginative style thwarts assumptions – and she’s bringing all of that to the Culinary Vegetable Institute on Saturday, August 6th. Her restaurant is the first vegetarian one in 17 years to receive two stars from the New York Times. She has won awards from Gourmet Magazine, the Village Voice and more. Michelin Guide has recognized her five years in a row – and she was the first vegetarian chef to compete on Iron Chef America (more about that last one later!).

Talk to Amanda Cohen, the chef and owner of New York City’s award-winning Dirt Candy restaurant, and you’ll never look at vegetables the same way again. Creative and playful in her approach, she considers Dirt Candy to be an all-vegetable restaurant, rather than a vegetarian one.

Photograph: Daniel Krieger

“Right or wrong,” she says, “the term ‘vegetarian’ has taken on a political context and often describes a lifestyle. It can be more about rejecting meat than embracing the vegetable. And, even though I’m not a vegetarian myself, I love to celebrate vegetables.”

The name of her restaurant comes from the notion that vegetables are candy dug up from the dirt. Her menu, meanwhile, laser-focuses on bringing out the flavor of a particular vegetable – so you won’t find her cooking a mish-mash of multiple veggies together. “My theory,” she says, “is that you need to work a bit harder to get people to eat vegetables. So, I bring a fresh eye to the process. I play around with the flavor, and change what you associate as a specific vegetable’s flavor, texture and look. In that way, the humble vegetable becomes new all over again.”

More about the CVI Event

On Saturday, August 6th at 6:30 p.m., you can enjoy Amanda’s unique brand of cooking. There, she will demonstrate her playful mastery of all elements of the plant with flavors, textures, and creative interpretations that are distinctly her own. She will prepare foods off her restaurant’s summer menu, most likely her tomato tarts, mushroom mousse, pea soup, carrot sliders – and, of course, her renowned popcorn pudding.

This multi-course dinner will cost $90 per person, plus tax and gratuity. Beverage pairings and a full bar are available, in addition. Photography is permitted, sharing is encouraged. Please, no audio or video recordings. Purchase tickets today or for more information, please contact the CVI at 419-499-7500 or atinfo@culinaryvegetableinstitute.com

More about Amanda

She first learned about CVI when she began buying vegetables from The Chef’s Garden. “These vegetables are just amazing,” she says, “and we began talking about how I could make my way to the CVI. I finally had free time this summer, so I’m on my way.”

She has no one particular favorite vegetable from The Chef’s Garden, but she loves the baby versions. “They are teeny, tiny, and so cute that you want to snuggle up with them,” she says, adding that she imagines the miniature vegetables being harvested by adorable, magical elves.

And, even though it’s been several years since Amanda was the first vegetarian chef on Iron Chef America, where she went up against Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto (the secret ingredient was broccoli, by the way!), she will probably always be remembered in that way. In preparation, she closed her restaurant every Tuesday for four weeks, so she could practice. Then, when the episode didn’t air for several months, she worried that it turned out badly. But, that wasn’t the case. In fact, she did so well that she had an opportunity to compete on the Next Iron Chef – but turned it down.

When asked about the experience, Amanda told The Chef’s Garden the experience was a total blast, great for her personally and for her restaurant. But, it was also nerve-wracking and she doubts she’d ever repeat the experience. Why? “Ultimately,” she told us, “I’m just not a competitive person. It’s not my thing. Some chefs are really good under pressure and love cooking competitions. I like, instead, to really take my time.”

And, in case you’re wondering where Amanda got her sense of fun, an article about her Iron Chef Experience shares this tidbit: “the Chairman, aka Mark Dacascos, flirted with and entertained her mom who was in the audience, and eventually was goaded into doing a back flip at the disapproval of producers.” Like mother, like daughter?

She has published a graphic novel cookbook, the first of its kind in North America: Dirt Candy: A Cookbook. It is currently in its fifth printing, and here is a description: “Amanda Cohen does not play by the rules. Her vegetable recipes are sophisticated and daring, beloved by omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan diners alike. Dirt Candy: A Cookbook shares the secrets to making her flavorful dishes—from indulgent Stone-Ground Grits with Pickled Shiitakes and Tempura Poached Egg, to hearty Smoked Cauliflower and Waffles with Horseradish Cream Sauce, to playfully addictive Popcorn Pudding with Caramel Popcorn.”

Wondering What’s Next?

As for her next “great adventure,” Amanda says it will be when she’s cooking in the CVI kitchen using The Chef’s Garden wonderful vegetables! We hope to see you there. For more information, please contact the CVI at 419-499-7500 or at info@culinaryvegetableinstitute.com

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