Chef Ronnen's baby beet salad is a fan-favorite. Chef Ronnen's baby beet salad is a fan-favorite. Chef Ronnen's baby beet salad is a fan-favorite. (Photo: Lisa Romerein)

Vegan chef to the stars gives meatless cuisine a makeover

Tal Ronnen created Oprah’s 21-day cleanse and catered Ellen DeGeneres’ wedding. Now with a restaurant and a cookbook, you can also enjoy his dishes.

There are many vegan restaurants in Los Angeles, most of them casual places offering a mishmash of unrelated international dishes not made with meat or dairy, but with lots of tempeh and tofu. The Crossroads restaurant takes a decidedly different approach, providing an upscale dining experience with a gourmet plant-based menu of Mediterranean fare in which elegantly prepared vegetables are the shining stars.

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Opened in 2013, it’s the brainchild of Israeli chef and owner Tal Ronnen, the bestselling author of “The Conscious Cook” who created Oprah’s 21-day vegan cleanse and catered Ellen DeGeneres’ wedding and a vegan dinner for the U.S Senate. He became a vegetarian as a teenager and went vegan in his twenties, and has since become obsessed with creating plant-based dishes as delicious as anything he’d tasted as a meat eater.

Chef Tal Ronnen has cooked for both Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres.Chef Tal Ronnen has cooked for both Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. (Photo: Lisa Romerein)

With executive chef Scot Jones, a friend since they collaborated at Ohio’s VegiTerranean restaurant 10 years ago, Ronnen created Crossroads and the newly published cookbook “Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes from the Restaurant That is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine.” Its dazzling array of dishes includes everything from spanakopita, grilled vegetable lasagna and hearts of palm "calamari" to decadent non-dairy deserts by Serafina Magnussen, accompanied by exquisite, mouthwatering photographs.

“The challenge in vegan cooking lies in not cheapening the food by making it feel like it’s a knockoff of itself or a shadow of the original, but rather in making vegetables shine in their own right while still satisfying those cravings,” Ronnen wrote in the book’s introduction. “By refocusing on what makes food rich and pleasurable to begin with, I realized I could create plant-based dishes that appeal to everyone, not just vegans.”

At the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books held at the University of Southern California earlier this month, Ronnen and Jones conducted a cooking demonstration, preparing balsamic-roasted mushrooms with shallots and toasted maracona almonds, great for a main dish or a side, Ronnen suggested. “We take really simple plant-based ingredients and make them interesting by the way we cook with them," he told the audience.

We asked Ronnen how growing up in Israel influenced his culinary endeavors. He replied that, “for the first part of my professional cooking career, it didn’t, but as a kid it did. And I keep going back to those familiar flavors. Now, in the 'Crossroads’ book, there’s a ton of references to things I grew up with, whether it’s fruit trees or herbs and spices.”

The influence can be found throughout the book in dishes like smoked white bean hummus and baba ghanoush, salads like Israeli couscous with grapes, green beans and almonds; tagine flatbread with eggplant; and spiced chickpeas. As Ronnen emphasized, “The food at Crossroads is Mediterranean first and vegan second.”

Tal Ronnen's vegetarian dishes, like this oven roasted Brussels sprouts, pack a flavorful punch for all food lovers.Tal Ronnen's vegetarian dishes, like this oven roasted Brussels sprouts, pack a flavorful punch for all food lovers. (Photo: Lisa Romerein)

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