Not to brag or anything, but I may have been the one to convince Chef Ryan Barnett to make his fourth and last pop-up dinner on August 24 completely vegan. It all began when I cornered Barnett for a photo in the kitchen during his second pop-up dinner. (See photo to the right.) As he told me his plans to make his last pop-up completely vegetarian, I asked, “Why not make it vegan?” Vegan cooking for a French-trained chef like Barnett is quite a challenge, you see, but I’m sure he’ll make it look like a piece of cake. This young fella first started his culinary training at L & M Kitchen & Salumeria in Oxford, MS, and then went on to work at Neighborhood Services, Bistro 31, and Ormsby Catering.
Jump to the bottom of this post for reservation info or continue reading an interview with Ryan Barnett, where we discuss bonsai trees, Alice Waters, and all things random under the sun.
Carol: What made you actually listen to me?
Ryan: I looked at it as a challenge. I hate when people come in, especially when I worked at a steakhouse, and we had no other options other than sides. Vegans want to eat a full start-to-finish meal just like everyone else. It became more of a challenge. How do I pair all these ideas down? How do I make this into a flowing meal? Finally I sat down and tied it all together.
C: So tell me what your dream restaurant looks like? I know you’re hoping to open one yourself one day.
R: Somewhere in the vicinity of 50-65 seats. Nothing huge. Big enough you can go and talk to your tables and get to know your customers on a regular basis. As far as a space for myself… I like changing every day. I love daily printed menus… very similar to Chez Panisse or Nonna here.
C: Wait, wait did you say something about Chez Panisse? I just found an Alice Waters book at Half Price Bookstore with a signed autograph addressed “To Carol.”
R: That’s awesome. I love Half Price Books; you can find so many books there. I have a first edition of Jacque Pepin’s La Technique. Found it at the Half Price at Campbell and 75.
C: How much would it take for me to buy that book off of you?
R: Nah, so many of my books are not for sale. I can’t even read half the books I have because they’re in French. I can glean the recipes, but the personal anecdotes and stuff, I’m sitting there typing them into Google translator. I’ll be going through the book, thinking, “This paragraph has got to be great, what is he trying to tell me?”
C: So that’s what you do with your free time?
R: One of the many things. I also like gardening. It’s going to sound really weird, but I also like sculpting trees.
C: Do you have your own little bonsai tree?
R: I did..
C: … Wait, are you serious? I was half-joking.
R: I had a bonsai tree for years, and then I went out of town for a couple of weeks and it died. I was pretty sad.
C: Tell me, what is your plan for this vegan dinner? What are you going to make?
R: For the first course, chilled melon soup. The second course I’m going to revisit the cassoulet that I did at the second pop-up dinner…Instead of using that duck flavor to resonate through, I’m going to add some more herbs, play with that.
C: That sounds healthy.
R: That’s one of the great things. Looking at the dinner, you know, it’s not that huge gut-bomb, especially with the Texas heat and everything. This is not going to leave you going, “Oh, I want to take a nap.” You can still enjoy the whole evening.
C: What else do you have going on with that menu?
R: We have an egg free pasta stuffed with lots of vegetables – turnips, eggplants, squash, golden zucchini, all of that stuff for the third course. For a fourth course, Texas berries financier. The reason why I was drawn to it is because it is made with almond flour, so between using semolina for the pasta and almond flour for the dessert, I am going to be able to not only go vegan, but it will be completely gluten-free as well.
To reserve your spot at this four-course dinner, email [email protected] or call 214-707-6986. The dinner will be located at My Private Chef on 2901 Elm Street. Check-in begins at 6:30 p.m., dinner starts at 7:00 p.m., and the cost is $45 per person. What a steal.