Q&A with Cara Mangini -

Q&A with NGI Alum Cara Mangini, Author of The Vegetable Butcher

Posted April 1, 2016

Cara Mangini was one of the first “vegetable butchers” (yes, such a thing exists) at Eataly in New York City. She is also the author of the Vegetable Butcher column for TheKitchn.com and executive chef and owner of Little Eater, a vegetable-inspired restaurant, produce stand and artisanal foods boutique in Columbus, Ohio. Cara utilizes her relationship with local farmers and access to a bounty of fresh produce to craft her recipes and develop her culinary business. Read on to learn how her NGI culinary school experience is helping her put vegetables at the center of the American plate.

When did you become interested in food and cooking, and how did you know NGI was the right culinary school for you?

Food, cooking and all that happens around a table has always been the center of my life, but it wasn’t until I was deep into a career in the beauty industry that I realized I wanted to pursue food professionally. I spent a lot of time traveling, cooking and eating abroad and realized that cooking with vegetables was more intuitive in many other cultures—less of an afterthought. I wanted to help make vegetables second nature in American culture, too. I didn’t exactly know how I would transition, but it became clear that I wanted to explore my entrepreneurial spirit. I imagined a business that would support the connection between food and health. Once I learned about the Chef’s Training Program, I instantly knew it was the right step on my dreamed-about path. It was the perfect fit for me— not only for professional training, but to surround myself with like-minded individuals. It was a gateway to a completely new life.

What were your favorite aspects of the Chef’s Training Program? How did NGI influence your food philosophy?

I am so grateful for the relationships I built with fellow students and chef instructors. Their support and encouragement, as well as the school’s celebration of alternative paths in the culinary world, had a huge impact on me. The diverse curriculum also helped shape my culinary point of view and bring my own interests into focus.

Tell us about your restaurant and grocery store, Little Eater, in Columbus.

Little Eater is my produce-inspired restaurant in Columbus’s North Market. Our goal is to honor the work of our farm partners and to support the health of our community with vegetable-based, convenient food. Every dish is inspired by seasonal and local vegetables, balanced to make a meal. You can mix and match our signature vegetable salads or pair them with other menu items like our farm egg frittatas and quiches, and sandwiches and crostini. Little Eater Produce and Provisions is a local vegetable market and artisan food boutique. At the grocery, we have the opportunity to support cooking with vegetables at home, as well as create a space to showcase and sell beautifully crafted food products made by artisans in Ohio and across the country.

Which dishes do your customers like best?

Our kale and spelt berry salad with dried cranberries, thyme and lemon dressing is always a best-seller. There’s also a very popular beet sandwich that we are able to keep on the menu for most of the year because we store so many local beets! It’s composed of thinly sliced organic beets on a local ciabatta layered with pickled onions, avocado, citrus-dressed greens, and an Ohio herbed chevre.

Sounds delicious! How was the idea of The Vegetable Butcher born? We bet a lot of our students are curious whether you were approached by a publisher, or the other way around.

Well, I’ve always dreamt about writing a cookbook. For many, many years before taking a leap into the culinary world, I was developing recipes and taking food-writing and recipe-writing classes. The Vegetable Butcher was born out of my deep interest in vegetable education and helping make people more inspired to cook with vegetables. I spent time in the Napa Valley working at a restaurant and on a farm, preparing myself to write the book (and start my business). Meeting my agent, then editor, involved a lot of serendipity but ultimately it was preparedness intersecting with opportunity. I pitched my book idea to an agent at a conference. Less than six months later she connected me with an editor who had exactly the same idea.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing a cookbook?

As it is my first book, I think almost everything about it was challenging – but equally rewarding! It’s difficult to choose, but my biggest challenge was always feeling the pressure of the deadline, and feeling compelled to write or test recipes all the time to make them better and better. The editing process is also tough, especially having to cut out content that took a lot of time and hard work to produce; I had to cut about 100 recipes! Another challenge was managing and balancing a new business and a cookbook simultaneously. And then there’s doing the dishes – dishes, dishes and more dishes.

It’s exhausting just hearing about it, but you do run a successful business and have written a gorgeous cookbook. What do you hope to do next?

My goal is to continue to expand my mission to put vegetables in the center of our plates with convenient, produce-inspired foods as well as with accessible vegetable education that makes people want to cook and eat vegetables every day. That means more Little Eater restaurants soon  – and hopefully another book someday.

The Vegetable Butcher Cara Mangini

Grilled and Smothered Artichokes

From The Vegetable Butcher by Cara Mangini

(Yield: 2-4 servings)

I love to eat artichokes every which way, but I must admit, getting my hands a little dirty pulling apart charred and dressed leaves might be my favorite. Here I steam the artichokes, marinate them in a lemony vinaigrette, then grill them until they are marked with a good sear. I toss them again and serve with juicy lemons that have also spent time on the grill. The artichokes are already smothered in vinaigrette, so no dipping sauce is required. They are perfectly messy, saucy, and delicious.

  • 3 medium artichokes (stems attached), trimmed, peeled, quartered, and choke removed
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 large lemons – 1 halved and juiced, 1 quartered
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra to taste
  • ½ cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
  • Coarse sea salt to taste, for finishing
  1. Set a collapsible steamer basket in a large pot and add enough water to skim the bottom of the basket. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Place the artichokes in a shallow layer in the basket. Steam, covered, adding more water as needed, until the leaves release easily when pulled and the hearts are tender when pierced with a paring knife, 15 to 20 minutes.
  1. Meanwhile, in a large bowl whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, fine sea salt, 1/₈ teaspoon of pepper, and three quarters of the parsley.
  1. Add the steamed artichokes to the lemon marinade and toss to distribute the marinade evenly. Let stand until the marinade has infused the artichokes, at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours. Alternatively, cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
  1. About 10 to 15 minutes before you plan to cook, heat a grill to medium-high heat.
  1. Use tongs to transfer the artichokes, cut side down, to the grill; keep the bowl of marinade next to the grill. Cook the artichokes until golden grill marks appear, 5 minutes, then flip them.
  1. Place the lemon quarters flesh side down on the grill. Cook the artichokes and lemons until they are lightly charred and the artichokes are completely tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the lemons to a serving platter. Return the artichokes to the bowl of marinade and toss to coat evenly. Arrange the artichokes on the serving platter, and sprinkle all with the remaining parsley, coarse or flaked sea salt, and additional pepper. Serve immediately.