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Italian chef Daniela Cicioni is the undisputed champion of The Vegetarian Chance, an event in which eight chefs presented their best vegan dishes. The competition was held at Pietro Leemann's restaurant Joia in Milan (the first vegetarian restaurant in Europe to earn a Michelin star).
Cicioni, who we interviewed previously, specializes in vegan and raw food. This contributed to her presenting a raw antipasto composed of "fermented" bread made with almonds accompanied by carrot sauce and pickled vegetables. "I find inspiration in my surroundings," the chef said, "in Lake Como there are many cheeses with fresh herbs. I have substituted the cheeses with fermented almonds that are similar to dairy in taste and texture."
Her main course was corn cous cous with smoked almonds, dried zucchini blossom and vegetables. "An incredible dish," declared Leemann, who was sincerely (and pleasantly) surprised. "It's near perfection for its balance, attention to the environment, stunning beauty and complexity."
The dishes of all eight competing chefs were judged by a jury composed of Gabriele Eschenazi (who along with Leemann co-founded of The Vegetarian Chance), Paolo Marchi, Marco Bianchi, Lorenzo Sonogini and Joris Heijnen.
Second place went to Dutch chef Femke Dan De Heuvel who prepared "Lava" of fresh vegetables, spring herbs, marine herbs, an asparagus roulade with hazelnut ricotta, smoked pea tempeh and risotto made with grains from The Netherlands. "An amazing search for ingredients, incredible technique," Leemann said. Femke, along with Anders Ramsay, were the only non-Italian chefs. "The contest was fascinating for the chef's diversity, experience and background. Each chef cooked and thought 'vegetarian' according to their own identity," Leemann said.
"We must not necessarily all become vegetarians," says Cinzia Scaffidi of Slow Food. "The important thing is to restore balance in our lifestyles that are too focused on animal protein - too bad quality." And then there are welcome events like this that make us think about our food choices, but also from an environmental and health perspective.
The special prize of the day went to Antonia Klugmann, for her ability to create vegetarian food from a perspective that's out-of-the-box. Perspective is perceptible in her dishes: wild spinach, plantain, roses and Jamaica water and Smoked Zucchini Blossom with 'our' mustard.