Whether he’s doing a remixed BLT or a Tree of Life sandwich, this chef is
mixing up the menu
For many people, going vegan is motivated by a passion for animal rights, better health or saving the earth. For Peter Bastien, executive chef of Bronze Café at The Center, making some of the valley’s best-tasting and most satisfying vegan and vegetarian food is the result of neither fad nor philosophical perspective. Rather, it’s the natural outcome of his upbringing. Bastien grew up in Seventh-day Adventist churches and schools, and was thus introduced early on to vegetarian food. “They weren’t very strict about it, but they did encourage a plant-based diet,” he says. “So I picked up eating legumes and beans, and learned how to combine my grains and nuts so I was getting the proper combinations of amino acids.” Those self-taught Veggie 101 lessons paid off. Today, at the Bronze Café (401 S. Maryland Parkway, 202-3100), his inspired culinary creations are quickly becoming a favorite of area tastemakers and trendsetters of the new downtown.
“It’s not a fetish or a trend for him,” says David Mozes, Bastien’s longtime partner and general manager of Bronze Café. “But it is an interesting way to set himself apart as a chef. How can he make plant-based foods amazing and so good that you don’t even miss meat?”
Take Bastien’s seitan — a wheat-derived protein that serves as a meat substitute. Made from wheat gluten, it takes on texture not unlike chicken when cooked. Bastien’s homemade seitan is far and away the best I’ve ever had. He flavors the protein with garlic, onions, cumin, cilantro and a sprinkling of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. To achieve the right density and texture, he steams the seitan, then cools it before chopping it into bite-sized cubes. This isn’t a concoction he found in a hipster vegan cookbook; Bastien’s recipe has humble origins. “We had it every Saturday after the Sabbath,” he says. “We would have a potluck and whoever was cooking would always bring this dish with seitan. I grew up eating it not knowing what it was until I had it as an adult.” After years of experimentation, the seitan he now serves was developed at the kitchen of Bronze Café. For fans of more traditional faux meats, he’s also got killer tofu hot dogs and soy breakfast sausages.
To be sure, there’s more than just inventive vegan dishes at Bronze Café. The eatery offers chicken, turkey and bacon on its menu to account for what they call “inter-eaters”: vegans and vegetarians who go out to eat with meat-eaters. They didn’t want to leave anyone out, so they made certain any meat on the menu would sate even the most discerning carnivore’s palate. Bastien’s version of the BLT is appropriately named the LGBTQ: lettuce, greens, maple-glazed bacon, tomato and “q-cumber.” “It has oven-cooked strips of bacon and is made with a bacon jam cooked down with onions, garlic, herbs and spices,” he says. “We purée that and use it as a spread. It’s a bacon sandwich with bacon in every bite.” (Don’t worry, meatless ones: They’re hoping to develop a vegan version soon.)
For sweets, the café has a full range of both vegan and non-vegan baked goods as well as a variety of gluten-free, raw vegan “cheese” cakes every bit as indulgent in taste and texture as their dairy counterparts. Its beverage program includes cold-brewed iced coffee and blended drinks with ingredients such as pure matcha (powdered green tea), maca (Peruvian root) powder and chia seed.
“If you can come up with something that tastes good and is good for you, then why not?” Bastien says. “Isn’t that what everybody wants?”