June 16, 2015 / 12:12 PM / 2 years ago

World Chefs: Amanda Cohen's bet on vegetable restaurant pays off

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Chef Amanda Cohen took a gamble in 2008 when she opened a tiny restaurant in New York City called Dirt Candy which focused on vegetables at a time when bacon was the rage among food enthusiasts.

Chef Amanda Cohen sits inside her restaurant Dirt Candy in this handout picture taken by Stephen Elledge in New York City, in 2009. REUTERS/Stephen Elledge/Handout via Reuters

Cohen moved the original 18-seat restaurant to a new location on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in February that tripled the seating so she could accommodate more diners eager to try edible farmed and wild plants, which critics have praised.

The 41-year-old who hails from Canada’s capital, Ottawa, spoke to Reuters about Dirt Candy’s expansion and why, despite serving vegetable dishes, she does not consider herself a vegetarian chef.

Q: What is the challenge of a bigger Dirt Candy?

A: We have a whole new staff to deal with and a bigger menu. We have a lot more people coming through the door so we have a lot more customer expectations to manage.

Q: How tough is it meet those expectations?

A: We do what we do. I cook the way I cook. So it’s about finding that balance. I don’t have any answers yet. We do have a much more diverse crowd, coming from all over the city and all over the world.

Q: Describe your cooking?

A: My goal is make happy food and to make customers smile. We want to be very creative and challenge the idea of what a dish could be. We use big, bold flavors, a lot of things in a dish are sort of like a treasure chest, so every bite tastes a little different.

Q: Why do you maintain Dirt Candy is not a vegetarian restaurant?

A: It pigeonholes you in a category. That’s one problem with it. Our type of cuisine is not what you see in most vegetarian restaurants. I think our cooking and our food are accessible to everybody. A lot of vegetarian restaurants tend to be vegan. We use eggs and cream in our restaurant.

In general, most vegetarian restaurants tend to be lifestyle-focused. We are more about food ... Actually, now a lot of vegetarian restaurants are about food too.

Q: What tips do you have for home cooks?

A: You could roast the carrot in carrot juice and make a sauce out of it. Juice that you have left over you could put in over rice or toss it in a pasta. With a carrot or a beet, you could use the top. The greens have tons of nutrients.

Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Alan Crosby

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