Ask a Chef: Shawain Jay of Cafe Blossom
Café Blossom on Carmine Street in New York City is the sort of restaurant that anyone who cares about health, animal welfare, and the environment would go for a delicious meal that’s in line with their values. The totally vegan cafe is known for its creative dishes that use organic, seasonal ingredients. I recently sat down with the head chef, Shawain Jay (he goes by Jay). During our chat, I got the dish on Jay’s latest ingredient obsessions, his favorite meal to serve omnivores, and more. If trumpet mushroom scallops with sweet onion jam and potato crisps or slow roasted rutabaga and quinoa with sautéed kale sound good to you, read on.
What are a few of your latest ingredient obsessions?
I love using fresh herbs and spices, such as cloves, cumin, thyme, and oregano and making my own blends from what’s in season. Those herbs bring out the flavor of whatever dish I am preparing, such as our spicy tofu scramble, beet carpaccio with herbed cashew ricotta, or spicy guacamole with corn chips—all which are made with fresh herbs and spices delivered to the restaurant.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Knowing that I am cooking meals that are healthy for people, rather than disease-promoting, is certainly one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. I also appreciate that I am preserving the lives of animals by serving meatless meals. There is a tremendous satisfaction that comes from realizing that we can all do our part to make the world a better place, and I am walking the talk with my job every day.
Do you have a favorite meal to prepare that gets the approval of omnivores?
Our seitan and mushroom sliders are popular with people used to eating meat. The sliders are topped with caramelized onions, pesto mayo, housemade tomato sauce, and vegan mozzarella—heaven on a plate!
What are a few unexpected ingredients you use to add more pizzazz to salads and vegetable dishes?
Avocado kiwi salad dressing is an oil-free dressing that is sweet and tastes light and creamy with salad greens. I love avocado in salad dressings, and it’s surprisingly versatile as far as salad dressings go. You can blend it with fruit to make it sweet or add spices to make it spicy. To spice vegetables, I favor paprika, grilled poblano peppers, shallots, and garlic these days.
What is your favorite restaurant dish to eat?
The Seitan Marsala is the best. It’s cooked in a thick sweet sauce with a bunch of spices. It’s sweet and spicy at the same time—very flavorful in a good way. I also really enjoy Blossom’s Spaghetti and Wheatballs. I love how the wheatballs and broccoli rabe complement our housemade basil marinara sauce. It’s filling but doesn’t weigh you down.
Why did you choose to become a chef?
I was in the kitchen cooking with my mom as long as I remember. I’m from Jamaica. Growing up, my family did big Sunday meals, and I’d help my mom with the preparation. When I was 10 years old, my mom got sick and that’s when I took over the cooking. I come from a diabetic family, which is why cooking healthy meals is especially important to me. I cook with a purpose. I cook for my health and the health of others. I lost 35 pounds since working at Café Blossom, not because I’m eating less, I’m just eating healthier. This way of life is satisfying physically, mentally, and emotionally.
About Talia Fuhrman
Talia Fuhrman has a B.A. in Nutritional Sciences from Cornell University and is a freelance body image and nutrition writer and chef. She’s on a mission to help people understand that eating healthfully and feeling fantastic can be fun, delicious, and easy. She has written for numerous websites and magazines including Psychology Today, Positive Impact Magazine, VegNews, CrazySexyLife.com, GirlieGirlArmy.com, and DiseaseProof.com. You can find her at www.taliafuhrman.com.