Fat Veggies is busy. Even though I have arrived at one o’clock. Maria, the head chef, gives me a tour of the kitchen. It’s a collection of heating sources: smoking slowly or being licked by flames on blackened robata grills. Maria opens doors to ovens that serve distinct purposes.
In the dining room, dark and moody with bright spots picked up by low hanging lights, Celine the Belgian fermentologist pours liquids in and out of large glass jars. Invisible to our eyes save for froth or bubbles at the surface, Celine is nurturing a metropolis of bacteria. Making sure they are getting enough to eat and that the good strains are triumphing over the evil. Because even in Kombucha, this ancient battle goes on.
Before it gets pre-covid busy, the Venezuelan chef comes over to explain, her long blond pigtails swaying as she tips her head. There is a beetroot dish, nose to tail style. Caramelized beetroot preserved root (in a 2% salt solution) and stir-fried leaves. Served on a smoosh of labneh. The first time I have tasted a labneh like that in Jordan. The tartness and the salt at fever pitch.
There is a potato dish described as a Fat Veggies Bravas. It’s nothing of the sort, more like a dauphinoise without cream or a Jansson’s Temptation without the anchovy. They are neat rectangles of thinly sliced potatoes, heavy with roast garlic.
A bowl of risotto with pickled mushrooms and slippery seaweed is our main of sorts. And while I get the umami from the mushrooms, the dish feels clean and light, virtuous even the wheatberries popping between my teeth. Unlike the reassuring stodginess of a traditional risotto.
At some point, I look up and think:
“Wow, it looks like they are a real success”.
Only for that thought to be followed by “But I wonder if they make enough money?”
And then it occurs to me that the idea of success as money is such a knee jerk reaction. Money can be attained, but time can not. Time on earth is non-negotiable. We only know when our clock starts, not when it stops. When I think of that as a context, then success means more than euros. It’s not happiness either, an import from America, where if you are not happy there is something amiss. My equation for success is engagement, inspiration, connection & flow.
Which on the day I have lunch at Fat Veggies I see in abundance. From Celine and her bacteria farms to Maria her ovens. Being around that delights me as much as their veggie-focused dishes do. Because I know the feeling they are getting. As a writer, when I am stretching into the depths of my consciousness to touch fingertips with a tentative flickering of an idea. Shivers. Where does it come from? Probably from where all the other things in the Universe came from. That is a success.
There is one other success here. The vegan chocolate brownie. I have never tried a vegan dessert that I like. But this chocolate brownie with sesame and cardamom. Wow! Rich with no discernable bitterness from a wildcard ingredient like cauliflower or aquafaba. Everything a brownie should be but mysteriously vegan.
Fat Veggies has a sister restaurant called Fat Barbies