The Met Gala chefs for 2021 are a diverse, talented, and innovative bunch. While the annual gala usually features catered food, this year, the September 13 event will serve exclusively plant-based food prepared by 10 rising chefs based in New York City. The culinary team includes Fariyal Abdullahi, Nasim Alikhani, Emma Bengtsson, Lazarus Lynch, Junghyun Park, Erik Ramirez, Thomas Raquel, Sophia Roe, Simone Tong, and Fabian von Hauske.
Each chef was personally chosen for the Met Gala gig by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, who was following instructions from Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour—a chair of the gala each year. Wintour tasked Samuelsson with assembling a group of chefs who have unique stories to tell. She also requested a menu that would showcase where the food and restaurant industry is going, and what modern American appetites are craving at an increasing rate.
Each plant-based dish made by any of the 10 chefs will illustrate each professional’s interpretation of regional American cuisine. Given that this talented group includes chefs from Ethiopia, Mexico, and more, not to mention a few chefs who have earned Michelin stars, the menu is bound to be pretty darn good.
To get the world in on the fun while shedding light on the creative process, Vogue and Instagram will be sharing Reels featuring the chefs creating different late summer vegan dishes. However, these dishes are not the ones that will be served at the Met Gala next month.
Why is the Met Gala going vegan?
Simply put, the Met Gala decided to go plant-based this year to mirror the plant-based shift that’s happening around the world.
“We thought it was important to really talk about what’s present, what’s happening—how food is changing in America,” Samuelsson explained to Bon Appétit. “We want to be the future of American food, of plant-based food. That conversation is happening now.”
The menu change also ties into the theme of this year’s gala, which is “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.” The two-part exhibit, which is slated to debut this fall and next spring, respectively, will explore modern American styles. It will also examine issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Meet the Met Gala’s 10 vegan chefs
The diverse group of chefs includes cookbook authors, restaurant owners, cooking show hosts, food justice activists and more. Keep reading to find out more about the culinary professionals preparing the food for this year’s Met Gala.
Abdullahi hails from Ethiopia and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology before switching career paths. Instead of getting a graduate degree in psychology as she had intended to do, she applied to the Culinary Institute of America.
While Abdullahi was waiting to hear if she got accepted to the prestigious institution (she did!) she decided to hone her culinary skills by traveling to 18 different countries. During her three-month travel stint, Abdullahi sampled dishes and studied flavors from around the world.
Since becoming a chef, Abdullahi has worked at New York City’s Mercer Kitchen, the two-Michelin-star eatery, Noma, in Copenhagen, and was previously the culinary manager of R+D Kitchen in Dallas. Her dishes tend to include nods to her Ethiopian roots, like her recipe for coffee-braised short ribs that was included in a cookbook called A Place at the Table: New American Recipes From the Nation’s Top Foreign-Born Chefs.
Alikhani may have opened her first restaurant (Sofreh, in Brooklyn) at 59, but cooking has always been a central part of her life. The Iran native once dreamt of becoming a judge, but after relocating to the United States in her early 20s she needed to support herself and worked as a nanny. She cooked for the family that employed her to boost her income, and through word of mouth she began booking other gigs in the area.
Alikhani went on to open her own copy-and-print shop and welcomed twins shortly thereafter. As she raised her family, she chose to temporarily shelve her culinary aspirations. After years of making top-notch school lunches and cooking for her kids’ school when needed, Alikhani began toying with the idea of opening her own restaurant. A lack of restaurants that serve high-quality Persian food served as additional motivation, and she attended the International Culinary Center and began interning for various eateries in New York to get even more experience.
Sofreh opened in 2018 and has been a go-to spot ever since. The Prospect Heights restaurant serves Persian classics such as saffron rice and smoked eggplant.
Bengtsson is the executive chef at Aquavit in New York, which has received two Michelin stars from 2014 to 2021. She is the first female Swedish chef to win two stars, and only the second female chef based in America to do so. She’s known for her top-notch Nordic cuisine.
Despite early aspirations to become a fighter pilot, Bengtsson’s grandmother inspired her to cook. The acclaimed chef studied at the International Restaurant School in Stockholm, and interned (and later worked) at Edsbacka Krog. At the time, it was the only restaurant in Sweden to hold two Michelin stars. While there, Bengtsson honed her skills as a pastry chef before tackling the same role at a restaurant called Operakällaren within the Royal Swedish Opera.
Five years later, Bengtsson made the move to Aquavit. When Aquavit executive chef Marcus Jernmark left his role, Bengtsson assumed his position and helped the restaurant earn its second Michelin star. Under Bengtsson’s leadership, Aquavit also opened a second restaurant in London in 2016.
Lynch is the author of Son of a Southern Chef: Cook with Soul. He won Chopped in 2017 and again in 2018 and is the host of Snapchat’s first-ever cooking show, Chopped U. Laz, as he is known, has a reputation for churning out Southern comfort favorites inspired by his family, such as shrimp and crazy creamy cheddar grits, and dulce de leche banana pudding.
When he’s not in the kitchen, Lynch, who identifies as a Black gay artist, is an avid supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. The New York City native is the son of Johnny Ray Lynch, a southern chef from Bessemer, Alabama. Laz spent plenty of time in his family’s Queens restaurant and studied culinary arts at the Food and Finance High School in New York City before attending SUNY Buffalo.
Laz was a World Food Prize Borlaug~Ruan International Recipient in 2011 and worked at the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. in 2013. He’s since created several popular YouTube series and is the host of the Food Network digital series, Comfort Nation.
Park is the chef at Atoboy, a Korean restaurant he opened in New York City in 2016 with his wife, Ellia. The popular eatery focuses on small side dishes typically served with Korean meals. In 2018, the husband and wife team opened Atomix (also in New York City,) which boasts a chef’s tasting counter.
Park earned a degree in food science at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, South Korea, and then began fine-tuning his culinary skills by traveling to more than 30 countries. After spending a few years in Europe getting acquainted with European food culture, he headed to Australia, where he began working at chef Andrew McConnell’s Cutler & Co restaurant. He stayed there for nearly three years before returning to Seoul.
Back in Seoul, Park worked at Chef Jung Sik Yim’s fine-dining establishment, Jungsik. When a Jungsik satellite opened in New York City, Park led the team as chef de cuisine and earned two Michelin stars.
Ramirez, the chef at the Llama Inn located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, draws upon food memories from his Peruvian-American upbringing in New Jersey for the menu at his popular restaurant. The Peruvian spot has amassed a large, devoted following thanks to tasty dishes such as charred bean toast, quinoa with banana, avocado, bacon, and cashews, and other things Ramirez ate as a child.
“I always try to make sure I’m representing a dish in a way that would make any and all Peruvians proud, because at the end of the day, our cuisine is unique, delicious, and needs to be tasted,” he told Zagat.
Ramirez briefly studied at The Art Institute of Philadelphia, and worked at Eleven Madison Park, Nuela, and Irving Mill before opening Llama Inn in 2015. Although he didn’t always want to cook Peruvian cuisine, he later traveled to Peru and learned from the godfathers of modern Peruvian cooking, Gastón Acurio and Virgilio Martínez.
Raquel was tapped to become pastry chef at Eric Ripert’s three Michelin-starred Le Bernardin when he was just 27 years old. The Los Angeles native graduated from high school at 16, and enrolled at the California School of Culinary Arts shortly thereafter.
Raquel worked at L.A. eateries such as Lucques, AOC and Water Grill before heading to Paris to work under renowned pastry chef Pierre Hermé. He then moved to Chicago to accept a position at L2o with chef Laurent Gras, and four years later he became the pastry chef at two Michelin-starred Acadia, where he directed the pastry program before accepting the pastry chef position at Le Bernardin.
Raquel describes his culinary style as one that is “informed by an obsession with seasonality.” He’s shared Instagram photos of everything from baba au rhum in the winter and fuzzy peach dessert in the spring.
Roe describes herself as a “fungi enthusiast” and is the host and a producer of Counter Space on Vice TV. After attending culinary school in California, the Denmark-born, Brooklyn-based chef took jobs working in a handful of Miami restaurants.
According to her website, Roe strives to cook while “creating resources to advance food justice, build more sustainable and equitable systems, and combat industry whitewashing.” She also works to empower young people through her involvement with philanthropic organizations such as Women’s Prison Association, Edible Schoolyard NYC, and The Fungi Foundation.
Roe’s popular Instagram account is packed with tons of (mostly plant-based) recipes including savory corn waffles with avocado and corn salsa and vegan cinnamon date cake. She also follows a predominantly meat-free diet and loves acai bowls as well as rice dishes made with tea.
Tong was born in Chengdu, China, and is currently the chef (and a partner) at Silver Apricot—a New-American-Chinese restaurant in New York City’s West Village. The trained chef opened Silver Apricot’s doors in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic while she was nine months pregnant, a pretty impressive feat to say the least. Some dishes on the restaurant’s rotating menu include grilled yellowtail and fried rice with mushrooms.
She graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2006 with degrees in economics and psychology and prior to her culinary career, studied in Beijing, Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.
After finishing college, Tong switched career paths and enrolled in the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. She graduated with highest honors and worked at wd~50, Alder, and 15 East. Following a three-month culinary trip through Asia, Tong opened Little Tong Noodle Shop in the East Village in 2017. Two more locations followed.
Once the pandemic hit, Tong was approached by a nonprofit called Rethink Food NYC to become a chef-partner in the organization’s fight against food insecurity and food waste. Tong transformed the East Village Little Tong location into a Rethink kitchen for the remainder of the lease and (with her team) spent four months cooking 300 meals per day for those in need. The Rethink kitchen then moved to Little Tong’s midtown space.
Fabian von Hauske
Together with his partner Jeremiah Stone, von Hauske was half of the chef/owner duo behind adjacent New York restaurants Contra (which earned them a Michelin star) and Wildair. When the pandemic hit, the duo decided to merge the two eateries and create a new delivery-only restaurant called Contrair on the Lower East Side. It featured dishes such as congee and lamb stew, as well as items with Mexican influences since von Hauske hails from Mexico. Contra and Wildair have both since reopened.
Von Hauske moved to New York in 2007 to enroll at the French Culinary Institute, though visa issues later forced him to go abroad. He made the most of his time away from America and worked in the kitchens of Noma in Copenhagen, Fäviken in Sweden, and Attica in Australia.
In 2013, von Hauske moved back to the U.S. and opened Contra, which quickly became known for its seasonally driven tasting menu. Wildair followed and remains a downtown favorite with celebrities and locals alike.
With Samuelsson chef-curating a roster of rising avant-garde chefs, this year’s Met Gala breaks the mold of previous years, and the fact that it will be plant-based shows just how popular that choice has become. In fact, plant-based menus have been an ongoing trend at award shows for years. In 2020, the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the Critics Choice Awards each made their events plant-based. On the fine-dining end, world-renowned restaurant Eleven Madison Park announced it was going (almost) completely vegan in May 2021.