Arts & Culture

Lukas Volger discusses latest cookbook on vegetarian bowl meals

‘Bowl’ provides recipes for meatless takes on classic Asian dishes ranging from pho to bibimbap

By
staff writer
Wednesday, December 7, 2016

In the Portrait Room of the Faculty Club, with the likeness of Professor S.S. Greene overlooking a small audience of about 15 people, author Lukas Volger spoke at length about bowls. The evening was part of a series of talks organized jointly by the Faculty Club and the Brown Bookstore entitled “Authors Who Cook.” The program invites cookbook authors to come to Brown to speak about their process, creative visions and culinary techniques.

Volger is the author of “Bowl,” a cookbook dealing entirely with a formerly hipster but increasingly mainstream trend: food bowls. From ramen to pho to bibimbap, the book provides vegetarian takes on classic Asian fare.

The idea for the book came “on a snowy Brooklyn night,” Volger said. “I was torn between staying in and playing Scrabble and attempting to get a table at one of those snooty restaurants.” He chose the latter and proceeded to consume an indelible bowl of vegetarian ramen that would start him on the path to writing “Bowl.”

After venturing to recreate that vegetarian ramen at home, Volger began expanding into other bowl-based meals, unaware of the emerging foodie trend. “I love bowl-style foods because they are fun to make and comforting to eat,” Volger said, emphasizing the dishes’ ease of preparation. “You can make the components ahead of time, freeze them and then throw it together for dinner in five or 10 minutes.”

A friend in the publishing business then approached him with an offer to write a cookbook, and thus “Bowl” came fully into fruition.

Mary Hogan, general manager of the Faculty Club, said that she was “thrilled” to see Volger’s name and background in the Providence Journal a few months ago. Together with Tova Beiser, an administrator at the Bookstore, and Emily Lynch, marketing and communications specialist at Brown Dining Services, Hogan arranged to have Volger come out and participate in the series, she said.

Volger, wiry and soft-spoken, did not command the head of the room as expected. Rather, he roamed throughout, chatting with the audience, exchanging cooking tips and cracking jokes about miso. Volger listened raptly as attendee Michelle Weiss shared her recipe for miso soup. He has never been classically trained in the culinary arts but has worked as a line cook, server and bartender, he said. Originally from Idaho, he transplanted to New York City, citing increasing political interests during college as an influence both in his choice to move and switch to vegetarianism.

Volger does not emphasize traditional practices when it comes to his recipes, but rather he puts great stock in accessibility, unique flavors and personal flair. During his talk, he served the audience Shumai dumplings — steamed, rose-shaped bundles with a bit of filling peeking out of the top. In lieu of traditional meat fillings, Volger used a combination of leeks and shiitake and cremini mushrooms. One did not miss the meat in his rendition of the savory dish.

Arthur Molz, a friend of Hogan’s, enjoyed the event. “It’s always hard to find protein when you go vegan,” he said, adding that he was pleased with the savory umami flavor of the dumplings.

The next recipe Volger presented was a bibimbap with butternut squash, mushrooms and broccoli served over long-grain white rice. “Normally I use short-grain brown rice,” Volger said. “But the Faculty Club did not have all the resources I would normally use.”

Volger topped the bibimbap with his signature gochujang sauce. Gochujang is a Korean chili paste aged in clay pots; Volger describes it as “a cross between miso and sriracha.” It added deep earthy and spicy flavors to the dish and served as both a marinade for the vegetables and as a sauce for the top.

With regards to his process, Volger said that he wrote the table of contents and all of his recipes before stepping foot in the kitchen. But when he makes food for himself, he likes to wing it based on whatever ingredients he has on hand.

Outside of writing, Volger also runs the queer food magazine “Jarry” and produces a line of fresh veggie burgers. Though he has faced difficulties penetrating the distribution supply chain for larger grocery stores, Volger enjoys filling his niche in the market. “One thing I’ve learned is that people have a real desire for real food,” he said, emphasizing that his burgers serve to let the vegetable flavors shine, rather than imitate beef’s taste and texture.

Looking ahead, Volger plans to focus on “Jarry” for now. While he hopes to write another cookbook at some point, he called the idea of opening a restaurant “very daunting.”

“I enjoy the challenge of vegetarian cooking,” he said. “It makes my body feel better.”

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