We sat down with our very own Executive Chef, Nikki King Bennett, to talk all things food and plant-based cuisine. Read on to find out Nikki's food philosophy, her favorite Plantable menu item and her go-to NYC veggie-based restaurants.
Could you tell us about your background and what inspired you to become a chef?
I’ve always loved food. I was inspired in my youth, watching my dad tend the veggie garden and my mom preparing southern, family-style meals from the harvest. In my teens, I became a strict vegan as I learned how much my decisions around food altered my health and happiness. As an adult, I craved more: I attended the Natural Gourmet Institute – the country’s foremost health-supportive culinary school – with the intention becoming a chef. 4 years later, I was promoted to Executive Chef of Pure Food & Wine – a Michelin recommended fine-dining vegan restaurant in NYC.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve cooked for?
Pure Food & Wine was a bit of a hotspot, so there was a rotating cast of celebrities – including Janet Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Tom Brady & Gisele Bündchen. But my favorite was Bill Clinton. He came in after he had just gone (mostly) vegan and lost a ton of weight in the process. After dinner he came back to the kitchen to thank us. It was really sweet – and little surreal!
What is your personal cooking and food philosophy? How does this translate to the Plantable menu?
As much as I love the creativity and energy that goes into fine-dining, the reality is that food has to taste good and be simple in order for all people to enjoy the health benefits that come along with a plant-based diet. My philosophy: Keep it simple. Keep it clean. And don’t forget the seasoning!
What is your favorite Plantable menu item?
I love the Saag No Paneer created by our Chef de Cuisine, Rachel. A close second is the Creamy Broccoli Soup. I’m a sucker for cruciferous veggies!
What are some of your favorite trends in the culinary world right now?
The introduction of grains outside the rice family have been a welcome change. Matcha is having a moment (although I don’t do caffeine myself). Veggie-centric restaurants are doing very well (some of my NYC favorites are ABCV, Nix, Kajitsu and Hangawi) and I’m happy to see chefs and foodies finally taking veggie food seriously.
Plant-based eating is becoming increasingly more popular – do you foresee this trend sticking around?
Absolutely. I’ve been immersed in plant-based cuisine for the last decade, and the recent shift in consumer perception and acceptance is incredible. More and more I see people who are open to trying a vegetable-centric diet. It’s good for us as people, it’s good for animals, and it’s good for the planet. I think it’s more than a trend, it’s a paradigm shift in how we perceive what goes in our bodies.
What are some of your favorite benefits of plant-based eating?
When done properly, a plant-based diet can help lower risk of disease, regulate blood sugar and reverse obesity.
What’s your favorite seasonal ingredient to cook with this winter?
Butternut squash. Toss it in smoked paprika with a little sea salt and roast it until it’s caramelized. It practically melts in your mouth! You can find this exact roasted squash in our Puy Lentil and Butternut Squash salad. Simple. Clean. Delicious.