The vegan burger is a unique culinary challenge for several reasons.
“The first thing is it has to taste good,” says Alain Coumont, owner of Le Pain Quotidien. “The second thing is you have to have a mixture that more or less makes you think about the mouth feel of a meat burger. And then from a more technical point of view, you’re binding things together without meat and eggs.”
At his new concept, Le Botaniste, Coumont has an additional challenge — to use all organic ingredients. The casual restaurant and wine bar, which opened in February on the Upper East Side, is 99% organic, as well as 100% vegan and gluten-free.
Le Botaniste’s health-conscious menu features a variety of hot and cold bowls, as well as a vegan burger made with hemp seeds.
“The hemp seeds are very rich in protein,” says Coumont, who used to have the hemp burger on Le Pain Quotidien menus a few years ago. “There is also very good fat, it’s full of omega 3.”
To bind it all together, Coumont uses fine cornmeal and porcini powder.
“Your friends who may not be vegan, I think you could trick them to make believe it’s meat,” Coumont says.
The burger is topped with sweet onions, pickles and ketchup and served on a gluten-free bun that’s made in-house.
Not on the burger? Vegan cheese. That’s one challenge Coumont hasn’t solved yet.
“If you are not organic, it’s easy, you can use all kinds of processed stuffed, but being organic, vegan cheese is more complicated,” he says. “You cannot really make an organic vegan cheese that really melts like regular cheese.”
Coumont, who says he is a “part-time vegan,” hopes to attract New Yorkers looking to eat less meat, in addition to vegans and vegetarians.
“I think [veganism] is a population that’s underserved,” he says. “One of the very important things about veganism is it’s very healthy and very detoxifying.”