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National Vegetarian Awareness Week: Q & A With Susan Feniger of STREET

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(Photo courtesy of STREET)
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In honor of National Vegetarian Awareness Week, LAist is running a series of features and Q & As with our city's most prominent meat-free personalities. This is the last interview of the bunch.

Susan Feniger is a Top Chef Masters alum and one half of the Two Hot Tamales. She opened here global street food restaurant on Highland in 2009, providing Angelenos with a way to wander to some of the most far-flung corners of the world through food. What might come as a surprise to some, though, is that STREET one of the few high end restaurants in town that doesn't make plant-based items an afterthought. We talked to Feniger about the rise in vegetarian diners, how she researched her menu, and why she leans toward being meat-free herself.

You have an excellent Meatless Monday menu at Street. Tell us about how you researched these plant-based items, and any challenges that you faced along the way.

Because of the nature of ethnic food, much of the menu is vegetarian/vegan anyways. We do Meatless Mondays to make meat eaters more aware of vegetarian options. We are constantly researching ethnic foods. When we were testing recipes, we noticed that most of the menu was meatless by design, so it was easy. I would say that the main challenge is reading labels that aren’t in English.

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Do you practice Meatless Mondays yourself, or have you implemented meat-free living into your own personal diet at home?

You can get so much amazing produce & fruit at the farmer’s market and this is where I do the majority of my shopping. Because it’s so easy to have meatless items on hand, I tend to eat meatless the majority of the time. I definitely lean towards vegetarianism. When I was in [culinary] school, my final study was to design a vegetarian restaurant. I think this is why STREET leans towards being heavily vegetarian based. And don’t even get me started on the health benefits of eating meatless!

As a traveler, what do you think some challenges for vegetarians might be? What are the best places to explore if you are living a meat-free lifestyle?

Truly, the produce markets or street markets are a great place for vegetarians. The stalls oftentimes have fantastic, interesting options. Vegetarian or not, that's where I go. I hit the streets.

Have you noticed an increase in diners at your restaurant looking for meat-free options? How has that helped you evolve as a chef?

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Yes, absolutely. I've seen a huge increase. When we were playing with the menu at STREET before opening we realized, my gosh, we don't have any meat on the menu to speak of. As a chef, I've always been drawn to a vegetarian menu. At the CIA [where I studied years ago] my graduation project was to design a vegetarian restaurant. I think spending all that time in India early on really shifted my tastes and interests, leaning me towards that direction.

Would you ever consider eliminating meat from your menu entirely? Why or why not?

Sure, we've talked about it because it's a natural step. But we do have to admit that we love love love our chicken and waffles right now, and those lamb meatballs.

Any advice for folks looking to adopt a more meat-free life here in LA? Any good substitutes that you could recommend for some of our city's favorite foods, like tacos or burgers?

Well, our crispy seeded avocado tacos and potato rajas at Border Grill are absolutely my favorite food we do. And our veggie burger was voted first at the Veggie Burger Showdown. You really can eat like an Angeleno without having meat.