Food for Thought

One new restaurant's secret: Chef who went vegan continues to cook great meat dishes with a twist

One new restaurant's secret: Chef who went vegan continues to cook great meat dishes with a twist

News_Roots Bistro_chef_German Mosquera
“I cook by smell and texture,” says chef German Mosquera of Roots Bistro. Photo by Debora Smail/RealityPhotography.net
News_Roots Bistro_fiddle head fern_glazed baby carrots
An entire section of the menu is devoted to perfectly prepared veggies like the plate of fennel head ferns and glazed baby carrots, so tender and sweet, that they could tempt even the most carnivorous among us. Photo by Marene Gustin
News_Marene_Roots Bistro_Chocolate avocado mousse
Craving chocolate mousse? Go ahead and indulge at Roots Bistro. Photo by Marene Gustin
News_Roots Bistro_chef_German Mosquera
News_Roots Bistro_fiddle head fern_glazed baby carrots
News_Marene_Roots Bistro_Chocolate avocado mousse

One of those food related memories from years gone by recently bubbled up in my conscience so vividly I could almost taste it.

I was transported to a backyard in San Antonio where Dad was grilling filet mignons. These were not local, grass-fed steaks, but as a teen they were a real treat. Filets from the base commissary, pre-wrapped in bacon and frozen.

Not something I would crave today but back then? Boy, oh boy, they were a great summer weekend feast for a budding foodie.

 “It’s really changed my palate and my whole way of looking at food,” he says. “Anyone can buy a steak and salt and pepper it and grill it, but it’s harder to bring out the best in vegetables.” 

And the first bite was always the best because it came straight from the grill, hot and dripping with juice.

Dad would slice off a tiny corner of the filet while he was cooking and sample it to test for doneness. Obviously, not something you want to do when you’re cooking for company, but that’s the way he did it for family meals. And, of course, I would hover near the smoking grill waiting for a sample.

That may be, or may not be, the reason I always taste while I’m cooking. My kitchen noshing may have more to do with the fact that I’m either creating recipes or testing new recipes and am constantly wondering if they are turning out right. Or it may just be that I’m too freakin’ antsy to wait until the dish is done to eat it.

Professional chefs almost always taste their wares, particularly if they are working out new dishes. Which is why I was pretty shocked that chef German Mosquera hasn’t tasted all of the dishes on his menu at Roots Bistro, a new eatery in the old So Vino spot on the Westheimer Curve that made CultureMaps Last Chef Standing Restaurant Challenge finals.

And he has some incredible dishes. The menu rotates depending on what’s fresh and available that day but you can expect wood-fired pizzas (one was recently topped with Texas sausage), a wonderfully light and fragrant whole smoked trout with house cured lemons, Kobe beef pastrami, lamb and foie gras.

“The farmers market is my produce vendor,” the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) trained Mosquera says. “My food is all about being local and sustainable. I buy whole animals from heritage farmers and butcher them on site.”

The meat may be wonderful, but that still doesn’t mean he eats it. Or even tastes it.

“I’ve been a vegan for four years,” Mosquera says.

Not just vegetarian, but vegan. That means he doesn’t taste the wonderful meat and fish dishes that come out of his kitchen or even the scrumptious mac and cheese made with gluten free quinoa because of the truffle cheese from Houston Dairy Maids. No meat, no cheese, no eggs, no milk. No animal products. Period.

So how does he do it?

“I cook by smell and texture,” he says. “It’s not that hard.”

Veggie Power

Maybe not for him, but I doubt I could do that. Be around all that fresh meat and the smell of roasting steak and poultry and not even sneak a taste? Not me.

Obviously, Mosquera's not vegan because of ethical reasons. He still butchers animals and cooks them. For Mosquera, it’s more about health and just taste.

 The meat may be wonderful, but that still doesn’t mean he eats it. Or even tastes it. 

“It’s really changed my palate and my whole way of looking at food,” he says. “Anyone can buy a steak and salt and pepper it and grill it, but it’s harder to bring out the best in vegetables.”

And this is where Roots Bistro really shines. An entire section of the menu is devoted to perfectly prepared veggies like the plate of fennel head ferns and glazed baby carrots, so tender and sweet, that they could tempt even the most carnivorous among us. Or the fire roasted kale salad or the wild black trumpet mushrooms with Swiss chard.

Mosquera’s bistro is a light and airy spot for dining (with an adorable patio surrounded by brightly colored gardening tools), a fun and fresh wine menu and retail wines, and some fascinating large scale paintings. But the real draw is the menu that caters to meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans and even those gluten-free eaters. There’s something for everyone here, even sweet eaters.

Craving chocolate mousse? Go ahead and indulge. This dessert is made with whipped avocado and topped with crushed nuts and local lavender. It’s creamy, sweet and not at all what you think an avocado could be capable of becoming.

And there’s a wood fired yeast donut that’s completely vegan, made with coconut milk.

Man, Meatless Mondays just got a whole lot sweeter.