#2: Ravi DeRossi & Daphne Cheng: A Food Epiphany

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In this second episode, I talk to Ravi DeRossi and Daphne Cheng, while sitting in Ravi’s restaurant Mother of Pearl in the East Village. Ravi made a bold announcement at the end of 2015: to turn his 15 restaurants and bars 100% plant-based. He reached out to Daphne to make it happen.

Listen to Ravi and Daphne, and you’ll feel like you’re right there with us as the sounds of New York’s trucks, sirens and traffic outside the window and Ravi’s dog jumping up and down.

One of Ravi’s cocktail bars, Death & Co, found acclaim several years ago, winning awards for Best American Cocktail Bar and World's Best Cocktail Menu. And he’s modest about his accomplishments, but is clearly someone who is very comfortable working hard running multiple places in what might be the busiest city in the world.

“I know so many people who have one restaurant, and the AC breaks on a Friday night and they just flip out. You have to be able to handle pressure.”

Now Ravi owns 15 bars and restaurants in New York, including Avant Garden, launched last year as a completely plant-based restaurant created in collaboration with chef Alex Aparicio. However, while Ravi is a long-time vegetarian, most of the menus in his restaurants aren’t. 

We talk about the epiphany he had late last year, deciding to turn these restaurants 100% vegan, but with exactly the same eye on quality, attention to detail, and delight as before. 

“I realized as a restaurateur the amount of damage I might be doing to the world is so great”

This drive led him to connect with chef Daphne Cheng, and their first all plant-based menu they created together is here at Mother of Pearl.

The pair are also just launching Ladybird, a cool new tapas-style small-plates menu in the old location of Ravi’s Bourgeois Pig.

“It’s a very surreal phone call to get, for a restaurateur to say they will turn their place vegan.”

Listen to Daphne describe how she took a path from junk food (and pouring sugar packets in her mouth) to eating disorder, to eating healthfully, training at the Natural Gourmet Institute and becoming an accomplished plant-based chef, with projects including Exhibit C, a “plug and play” place for chefs in NYC to experiment with ideas in a short-term space, and now Society C, which will go further into wellness and community.

If you haven’t seen or tasted Daphne’s food before, you’re missing out. She has a talent for working with flavor and texture and presentation to elevate plant food beyond what you would normally expect. We talk in detail about how the menus for Mother of Pearl and Ladybird are developed, how she and Ravi come up with and taste specific dishes, the creative process between her and Ravi, and where we think plant food is going. 

"There are a lot of vegan restaurants in New York, but, without sounding like an asshole, most of them suck." -- Ravi

This is a super-fun episode as it’s a rare chance to hear a deeper, more honest conversation with people who are trying to do something unusual and interesting in New York’s fast-moving food scene.

Topics we discuss:

The pair are straightforward and honest, and really open up about what it’s like to work together, and share a little about what makes them successful.

  • How they started working on Mother of Pearl

  • The financial impact of turning a menu completely plant-based

  • Working under pressure

  • How to handle managing multiple busy locations

  • On food costs and how vegetable-centric dishes can be priced

  • How the costs of making a meal with meat are far beyond the dollar price 

  • The small-plate model versus traditional menus

  • The dramatic change in plant-based food over the past 12 years

  • Where Daphne gets her inspiration

  • Specific dishes at Mother of Pearl, like their green mango poke

  • The development of the new food and drink menu at Ladybird

  • The intriguing Kala Namak

  • ... and how to make the perfect plant-based deviled egg

Ravi’s Restaurants & Bars include...

Project BEAST (Benefits to End Animal Suffering Today) - fundraisers and events for animal rights.

Books: Cuban Cocktails (Ravi DeRossi, Jane Danger, Alla Lapushchik)

Find Daphne online:

If you like Plant Gourmet: