Plants, elevated

New vegan culinary academy in Boulder seeks to train chefs for a new dining landscape

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When in Paris, I had the chance to dine at Chef Alain Passard’s L’Arpege, an internationally renowned restaurant that at the time (2015) was seen as cutting edge for its rooftop garden and transition to a plant-based menu. Passard picked veggies, herbs, fruits and more from the garden in the morning, and he and his team of chefs prepared them for a multi-course plant-forward menu in the evening. In that dinner service, I tasted things I’ve never tasted before, and haven’t since. A stinging nettle soup — spicy, herbaceous and cut with a dollop of sour cream (it wasn’t vegan) — still reigns in the top five bites of food I’ve ever eaten; all based in the flavor of a glorified weed.

But it all still was, truly, new and bold to focus on the plant, and not construct every dish around a hulking piece of meat. Since, of course, restaurants and chefs have caught up to the changing dietary preferences of diners. The esteemed Eleven Madison Park, in New York, recently announced it would switch to a meatless menu.

So if the world’s best restaurants are switching away from planet-harming meat, are there chefs ready to work in those kitchens and usher in a new, healthier, more Earth-friendly way to do fine dining?

Enter the Vegan Fusion Culinary Academy, which opened in March right here in Boulder.

Co-founded by Chef Mark Reinfeld, the Academy offers the Aspiring Chef professional career training program as well as classes for home cooks. Everything’s focused on getting people to cook vegan cuisine, using the latest skills, techniques and equipment (in concert with traditional cooking methods) to create the next wave of vegan food.

Participants of the Aspiring Chef program (which is approved by the Colorado Department of Higher Education) complete four months of in-person professional chef training and leave with a diploma in Vegan Culinary Arts — and the knowledge of how to turn plants into elevated culinary offerings. The curriculum hits on culinary skills, business insights, integration of food as medicine and vegan philosophy.

The Academy is launching its summer home cook classes in June, including courses that introduce students to vegan cuisine, culinary fusions and desserts.

All of this takes place in a brand new facility under the direction of Reinfeld — an award-winning author, chef and inductee into the Vegetarian Hall of Fame — and his team of chef-instructors.

For more info on the Academy, head to veganfusionculinaryacademy.com.