Growing A Vegetable Garden
Talk to neighbors and friends who have gardens – they’ll give you tips on varities, zones and seeds that work in your climate. Also talk to your local county coop extension agent.
Look for a sunny spot and choose soil that drains well. Prepare it by tilling or spading and raking it smooth.
TIAN, an entirely vegetarian Michelin-star restaurant in Vienna, won me over with the epigram on the paper menu. “Here’s to the spinach nobody likes, the fennel nobody gets,” it began, being no less adorable for being derived from a famous Apple commercial. It included evocative pairings like “badass quince” and “sassy chanterelle.” (For what it’s worth, these also work well as terms of endearment.)
That’s because Croatian-Austrian chef Paul Ivić sees vegetables as what they are: a potential source of fun. The name TIAN comes from the Chinese word for “heaven” as well as a French vegetarian stew. While a personal health challenge led him to get the animals out of his cooking (though he still enjoys a good Wiener schnitzel here and again), he hasn’t seen the vegetarian palette as a limitation. Rather, it seems to have given him room to let his creativity thrive.
His backer, Christian Halper, says that “truly well-made, healthy, vegetarian food is integral. It’s why we spare no efforts to combine our own high standards for extraordinary cuisine with our pleasure and delight in experimentation. For this, we draw on a multitude of rare and all but forgotten vegetables, fruit and assorted grains, their unmistakable aroma and valuable nutrients.”
He’s not joking. When a couple of journalists visited TIAN last month, we were treated not only to excellent meals but also to a tour of Arche Noah, a farm and seed bank outside the Austrian capital that’s out to save a diversity of valuable, rare and endangered cultivated plants. It nerds out (in a good way!) pretty quickly—when I asked a staffer to suggest some seeds for a friend who wants to grow climbing beans (which he can’t find at all where he lives), he gave me nearly a dozen options—but there’s no doubt that their produce is delicious.
We found the same level of quality and commitment at other producers, including the oils and spices Safranoleum, the low-intervention Sankt Laurent and Blaufränkisch wines made by Rosi Schuster in Burgenland, and the Gruner Veltliner made by Loimer in Langenlois, all of which also feature on the menus, of course.
TIAN opened in 2011, long before vegetarian fine dining was a trend. It became the first vegetarian restaurant in Europe to earn a Michelin star, and won it four toques by Gault & Millau. Halper and Ivić have since expanded the group to include the casual TIAN Bistro in Vienna’s Spittelberg neighborhood, where the mostly vegan tasting menu takes the more relaxed format of sharable plates, and, at least for a few more days, a summer pop-up in Croatia.
All of them take fairness as a foundation. (The place has a Michelin green star too.) Ivić says he focuses on “the true meaning of sustainability in high-end gastronomy.” He vets all of his suppliers to make sure they’re producing food fairly. “As hosts, not only do we bring pleasure, quality and beauty to the plates,” he says, “but we also assume our social responsibility.”
The marketers put it well: “TIAN has always been more than just a restaurant with vegetarian cuisine. Eating is more than food intake. Eating means taking responsibility for all resources and all the hard-working people behind them. Eating means bringing people together. After all, food does not need a common language, all it takes is a good soul.
“Every meal that we eat is a reflection of the people that have been working endlessly to bring the respective ingredients to our table. People who take a deep interest in the perfect composition of the soil where the seeds are planted. People who experiment with the ideal point of harvest. People who make sure their products make their way from their farm to the restaurant as quickly and as fresh as possible. At the TIAN restaurant, their hard work will always be appreciated: by using the whole crop from root to leaf without producing any waste.”
But enough philosophy. Let’s talk food. After that opening come-on, the menu lists the eight courses on the “walk through the vegetable garden” with fashionably spare descriptions like “cucumber kefir marigold” and “porcini blackberry sunflower.” They belie the complexity and creativity of each dish. At the same time, nothing feels too high-concept. It is food you can not only respect but also just simply enjoy.
So it comes as a bit of a surprise to receive the full menu after dinner and see the amount of technique that goes into everything. The full description of the porcini dish, for instance, is as follows:
Ravioli from two different doughs. Lid: Dark dough made from sunflower marc [ground] into powder. Bottom: Light ravioli dough. Filling made with porcini, roasted sunflower seeds, shallots, sunflower seed cream. Sour pickled sunflower pistils, sour pickled sunflower blossoms, porcini essence.
Sauteed porcini, porcini nage, emulsified in butter, sunflower seed cream, sour pickled sunflower pistils, sour pickled sunflower blossoms, dehydrated and rehydrated blackberries and fresh blackberry bits, porcini crisps, porcini powder.
Sauteed sunflower bottom, glazed with porcini garum butter.
It’s also the sort of menu that credits each producer. The cucumber dish mentions three farmers for the cucumbers alone. Clearly, Ivić takes finding the exact right ingredient seriously. This should not come as a surprise from someone who makes ravioli out of two kinds of dough.
Manager André Dreschel, who was named Best Sommelier of the Year for 2023 by Gault & Millau, also puts a lot of work into finding the exact right match. His pairings—both wines and creative non-alcoholic options like Smreka (a Bosnian drink made of fermented juniper berries) with roasted paprika and fermented birch water—are sometimes surprising but end up being spot-on.
He also won my heart for pouring a natural white from Austrian winemaker Christian Tschida called All the Love of the Universe. I raised my glass to that name, and to the joy of being in a place where pleasure and responsibility coexist. Or as that menu manifesto concludes: “Here’s to life.”