Very Vegan – Friday Night Nosh at the Natural Gourmet Institute

ngiSometimes low key and cool is the way to go when choosing your dining options in NYC. Sure there are a bevy of beautiful restaurants with fab fare, but every once in a while, you come across a hidden gem and it’s just as amazing an experience as anything else, if not better.

When a girlfriend of mine started posting picture perfect dishes on Facebook a few months ago, I was wondering where she had ordered from. I quickly came to discover, she was a student at the Natural Gourmet Institute – an institute leader in health-supportive culinary education since 1977.

Way before kale and quinoa were even cool, Dr. Annemarie Colbin founded the school, now in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, hoping to inspire culinary curious students to think about food, and the myriad things you could do with it, in a different light.IMG_3157

Now, nearly 40 years later, NGI is sharing its culinary creations (and quite frankly, masterpieces) with the masses through a program they like to call “Friday Dinner”. When my girlfriend told me I didn’t just have to wish I was eating the food she so perfectly prepared for these pictures, that I could actually sit and enjoy them, I turned to my tablet and made a reservation for two for the famous “Friday Dinner”. And although I knew what the menu was going to be, I really didn’t know what to expect.

When I showed up with my other guest at 6:30, we were ushered into a room with four tables or so, each with place settings, floral arrangements, and a beautifully printed menu card. The night’s dishes, all vegan, were a homage to the Lebanese culture, and each dish really reflected the tastes and profile flavors of commonly cooked food in the region.IMG_3154

For the appetizer, we were treated to deconstructed Baba Ganoush with Tahini Sauce, Spiced Fried Chickpeas served with Grilled “Khebez” Flatbread. The flavors were bold and beautiful and I couldn’t get enough of my first course.IMG_3155

Next, the student chefs filed out of the kitchen with another delectable dish in hand – Kibbeh with Mixed Vegetables, Seitan and Pinenut “Hashweh” served with Labneh Yogurt and Pickled Vegetable Slaw. The portions were decently distributed and although I wanted to eat the entire plate, I had to save room for dessert – an Orange Semolina Olive Oil Cake with Date-Orange Compote, dehydrated oranges, and to top it off, a Sweetened Tea Shooter. I was in healthy food heaven!IMG_3153IMG_3158

As we sat around the table talking about our new found fabulous fare, the chefs exited the kitchen and verbally walked us through the entire process – from the creation of the menu, to the challenges they faced, and finally, the components of each culinary creation. IMG_3161

The experience was not only something I’ve never done before, but everything we tasted was absolutely exquisite. And when you can BYOB, I’m all about it! Until the next Friday Dinner, NGI! Can’t wait to see what you’re brewing up next!

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