Thanksgiving became special to me ever since my film Professor at Boston University invited me for the dinner at his home. It was everything I pictured a traditional American thanksgiving should be because he and his wife were fantastic cooks and superb hosts. The table was set the same way you would see it in an American film and Charles played bluegrass music in the background to set a mood that complimented the meal. With all of my five senses charmed and satiated, this evening became a hallmark in my holiday memory bank.
Fast forward a few years later, in Dubai, when I was hoping to be invited somewhere for thanksgiving dinner. I heard from no one I knew. That was until I was invited by Athena Matheou, the Chef at a restaurant in Gallerie Lafayette, Dubai Mall, called Be Supernatural, to experience her vegan rendition of the traditional thanksgiving dinner. Be Supernatural provides highly conscious dining experiences that are - as they put it - freedom from meat, dairy, gluten, sugar and synthetic Chemicals. The products of this restaurant, from the menu to the take away containers are all made of biodegradable materials and almost nothing they make goes to waste, due to the composting techniques that they employ. My earth-loving antenna went up when I heard about this restaurant, not only because I had tried to start a food business myself that was as conscious but also because I was supremely grateful that such places exist!
Now a raw vegan thanksgiving dinner was not a charming dinner with Charles and his wife in a cozy American home. But it was modern. Fresh. Daring.
My friend and I arrived late. This gave us the opportunity to observe the cheerful faces chatting through the high spirits that good food often creates. Everyone seemed to be in a proper thanksgiving mood. It bode well.
I sat down for the meal and was immediately offered a forest-like dish of greens laying, wet and glazed. The dressing felt on my tongue like a crystalline wall of sugar. There were plump flowers petals for the savoring. Beside the salad was a crisp tart topped with hazelnut cream, which had a thick mousse-like texture and a flavoring so light, I mistook it for cashew. The entire appetizer carried a balance of muddy, salty, earthy textures like the underside of a mushroom. It was sublime.
Next came a medley of quinoa, pumpkin and nuts dressed in the slightly burnt taste of something that was sugary and deeply mulling in its own spices. It reminded me of all the times I brewed cloves and cinnamon to to let the aroma to waft in my apartment in winter. The quinoa and the nuts, I suppose, were the main source of protein in the meal. It thought it was a good approach toward keeping the balance in a meat-free thanksgiving dinner. Beans would have been too commonplace. With this dish, Athena transcended tradition. She added flare with pomegranate jewels hidden in the quinoa and luscious figs on top.
For a last chance to impress us with her resourceful culinary skill, she made a raw pumpkin pie for dessert. The dish was made for lovers of coconuts and dates. With the coconut obvious in the crust - you’d have to be a lover of coconuts to appreciate it - and date sauce surrounding the pie. It was the filling that, again, impressed me with its incredibly velvety texture, which, in all my attempts at raw cooking, I had failed to produce in the kitchen. Athena used citrus notes to keep the dessert from becoming overwhelming.
We spoke to Athena after dinner as she sat with us, covered in smatterings of the lovely food she had been preparing in the kitchen and a whole lot of pride in what she does. She told us about her views in regards to veganism and why this meal was important to her. To put it simply, it was one less turkey under the mercy of a guillotine - in a manner of speaking.
I recalled something one of my professors in design school used to say: limitation breeds creativity. She used to challenge us to create visually interesting compositions using only a few visual elements. For example, she would allow to use only a small white square space, three black lines, a red circle and nothing else. The results were astonishing with everyone in the class finding a way to make those meagre elements exciting to look at.
I think this is what Athena was a able to accomplish with her thanksgiving dinner. While the breadth of ingredients she was able to use for a vegan meal were still various enough, she was still limited in not using the ingredients that people have for so long believed to be staples of the dining table such meat, eggs, butter, etc.
While I am not vegan myself - currently inclined toward vegetarianism - it was an eye-opener to experience someone’s view of the world through food, at a heartwarming dinner table.