Cooking show fans know Marcel Vigneron as the molecular gastronomist with the Wolverine-like hair who made it the finals as runner-up in Top Chef Season 2 and reappeared on Top Chef All Stars. A lot has happened for the chef since then, including his own show on the SyFy channel, Quantum Kitchen, along with appearances on several Iron Chef episodes, Guy’s Grocery Games and Cutthroat Kitchen.
Most recently and perhaps most excitingly, Vigneron has opened his own restaurant, Wolf, in Los Angeles. Wolf is a rustically upscale establishment focused on “no waste cooking” that is heavy on fresh, whole foods. The small space on Melrose is both lively and elegant, buzzing with conversation and culinary appreciation. Service is top-notch while down-to-earth and the food lives up to the hype.
Stand-out vegan dishes on the Wolf menu include mushroom risotto, burnt carrots, beet and citrus salad, and crispy potatoes with chive aioli, rosemary and shredded horseradish. Vigneron, meanwhile, is there behind the line, six nights a week, demonstrating the work ethic that made him the headline-worthy chef that he is.
Vigneron will also be cooking at the LA Vegan Beer & Food Festival this weekend at the Pasadena Rosebowl. This year’s line-up for the fest includes craft brews from many breweries including Allagash and Wolf Creek Brewing, a bevy of kombucha and craft soda makers, cuts from vegan meat pioneer The Herbivorous Butcher (all the way from Minneapolis), snacks from Moby’s newest venture, Little Pine, tacos from beloved local truck Plant Food for Plant People, delectable sweets by The Shugah Mama, and much more.
Vigneron was kind enough to sit down with Paste for a few quick questions.
Paste: I love that Wolf is focusing on seasonal foods. Is that pretty easy to do, being in Los Angeles? (The burnt carrots are amazing, by the way).
Marcel Vigneron: Thank you! Yes, we are extremely blessed to be living in California but it’s no coincidence that my first restaurant is in LA. I felt as though doing a restaurant in another city would have been like a painter moving away from his palate.
Paste: How do you incorporate veganism into your cooking? What is your approach?
MV: I incorporate veganism into my cooking every day as my food is primarily plant based. I oftentimes use meat as a way to flavor ingredients or vegetables. I don’t consider it a pain but welcome making healthy tasty vegan dishes and a challenge and a way of life.
Paste: Do you get recognized on the street a lot after all of the TV shows you’ve done? What’s that like? Any interesting hate or fan mail?
MV: All the time! I actually got fan mail this week from someone who sent me a The Life Aquatic shirt and quoted Steve Zissou by saying, “This is an adventure.”
Paste: What will you be presenting at the LA Vegan Beer & Food Festival?
MV: Potachos with jack fruit carnitas, carrot queso, cashew crema, refried beans; beet jerky with almond cream; fried avocado ice cream with corn chips.
Paste: What’s your favorite thing to cook at home for yourself or friends? Or do you ever just get tired of cooking and order out?
MV: I cook six days a week so on the seventh I order Postmates and watch Game of Thrones.
Paste: Are you and Spike Mendelsohn still friends?
MV: Yes, just talked with him, he is actually having a baby tonight. I’m so excited for him.
Paste: I recently re-discovered beets and wondered why I used to hate them—now I can’t get enough (especially raw and shredded on salads). Is there an underrated food that you feel deserves a ‘second look’ of sorts?
MV: Yes! You must try my beet jerky! They are the tastiest beets ever!
Paste: How do you feel about avocado toast?
MV: It’s delicious but kind of played out. I think restaurants and chefs should try to add a little something to it to make it their own. We use Lodge Bread and add spinach cooked in black pepper turmeric oil with freshly grated horseradish on top.
Shawna Kenney is a writer and snack connoisseur living in Los Angeles.