Sunday night, as festival-goers are winding down the Fun Fun Fun at Auditorium Shores, the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar will just be heating up as New York chef Amanda Cohen takes over the kitchen for a night, serving dynamic food from her award-winning vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy while screening Stephen Chow’s wild and wacky food comedy GOD OF COOKERY!
“I spent my university years haunting a Chinatown movie theater on the Bowery,” remembers Cohen, “and the first movie I saw there that opened my eyes was a Stephen Chow film, LOVE ON DELIVERY.”
Intrigued, she and her husband moved to Hong Kong after graduation.
“Hong Kong is the greatest food city on the planet,” she raves, “and it was where I learned just how amazing food could be. There were so many great vegetarian restaurants that were a revelation to me. I had no idea you could do so much with vegetables. When we moved back to the U.S. I enrolled in cooking school right away so, in a way, you could say my entire career is Stephen Chow’s fault.”
After graduating from New York’s Natural Gourmet Institute, Cohen went on to gain experience at many of New York’s vegetarian restaurants, such as Other Foods, Angelica Kitchen, Pure Food and Wine, and Heirloom, before opening Dirty Candy in 2008.
"Dirt Candy" refers to the flavorful, colorful bounty that comes from the ground and makes up most of the menu: vegetables!
“At Dirt Candy, I don’t care about your health, your politics, or whether you’re a vegetarian or not — I just want to make vegetables taste great,” explains Cohen. “The restaurant is like a lab and every day I’m experimenting to see what I can do with vegetables that hasn’t been done before.”
As the first vegetarian chef to compete on Iron Chef, Cohen believes things are constantly looking up for the meatless.
“People have been conditioned to be disappointed by a lot of vegetarian food…and I think that’s partly our own fault. We’ve been content to serve a captive audience and not engage with the mainstream food world. But I think it’s time for us to step up our game. We have to try harder. Vegetarian food needs to become less about what we can’t eat — meat — and more about what we can eat — everything else.”
Sunday night’s menu will feature dishes currently on Dirt Candy’s seasonal menu: hush puppies with maple butter, portobello mousse, smoked cauliflower and waffles, and popcorn pudding. Each dish will be paired with drinks by the Alamo’s beverage director Bill Norris.
Cohen will also be selling and signing her cookbook, which is the first ever to portray recipes in the form of a comic book, a medium Cohen describes as “a perfect way to capture the insanity and chaos of running a restaurant, and a great way to show people techniques that I’m talking about. And it’s fun. So many chefs take food so seriously you feel like you’re at a funeral parlor when you eat at their restaurants, but I feel like food should be fun, and going out to eat should be exciting.”