DC Chef ‘Veganizes’ Celebrity Chef’s Signature Dishes

veggie burger

FLOTUS Burger (made with Quinoa & Black Beans; topped with a Red Onion Marmalade, tangy “Blue Cheese” topping and Mushroom “Bacon”) – inspired by Chef Spike Mendelsohn’s burger


The temperatures are going up and a food challenge is going down in the culinary arena of Washington, DC. Equinox restaurant Chef/Owner Todd Gray has invited select chefs from the District to participate in his Vegan Smackdown Challenge by providing one of their signature meaty dishes for him to envision into a vegan dish.

The thriving vegan and “vegan-curious” community inspired Chef Gray to take on this series of meal makeovers, wanting to make DC’s most popular dishes accessible to them. Chef Spike Mendelsohn’s Obama Burger kicked off the monthly challenge in April, followed by Jamie Leeds’ BBQ’d Oysters “Hog Island Style” and Cat Cora’s Artichoke and Sun Dried Tomato Fritatta. July will see Chef José Andrés’ Chicken and Mushroom Paella recreated with Piquillo Pepper Sofrito, Sautéed Fava Beans and Saffron Garlic Aioli, which will also be featured on Equinox’s menu the entire month.


BBQ’d Oyster Mushrooms “Roosevelt Island Style” (Black Crispy Nori Shells w/ glazed Oyster Root and Siracha) – inspired by Chef Jamie Leeds’ BBQ’d Oysters “Hog Island Style”


A vegan diet isn’t new for Chef Gray and his wife/business partner Ellen Kassoff Gray – they both consider themselves “veganish” as they adhere to what they call an 80/20 split (about 80% of the time they choose a vegan lifestyle, while enjoying meat and dairy dishes the other 20% of the time.) Their popular restaurant Equinox offers a vegan tasting menu and a vegan Sunday brunch in addition to the more traditional lunch, dinner and tasting menus. Kassoff-Gray says she has seen the popularity of vegan dining increase 250% since introducing a vegan brunch at their café at the now closed Corcoran Gallery of Art in 2004.

“We spent a lot of time just talking to people and finding out why they were there [at the vegan brunch],” Ellen says. “Some people were actually vegetarian or vegan, but others were their non-vegan spouses or people who were health- or environmentally conscious and wanted to try it out.”

Always the culinary trailblazers, Gray and Kassoff are enjoying the creative competition with their peers while pushing their own boundaries and reinvigorating the perception of the Washington DC area – and the country – of how a vegan dish should taste and feel.

Equinox is located at 818 Connecticut Ave, NW in Washington DC. For more information please visit www.equinoxrestaurant.com or call (202) 331-8118.

Comments are closed.