A Q & A with Kate Jacoby
What she learned from Rich Landau and on her own at Horizons
How did you start being associated with Horizons?
I started in the summer of 2001 as a college grad, it was a summer job, primarily as hostess, although after a while RIch said I could do a couple prep hours. I was back in 2002 and at that point had more interest in the kitchen. The pastry chef had a difficult commute and had to leave, so I wound up taking that over.
And since then you've taken the desserts on as your own project?
Yes, I've worked hard to understand what Rich is doing so dessert menu will reflect that. It's not just doing desserts vegan but trying to build dessert selections to complement what he was doing with savory foods
How has that evolved?
Well, over the years we've been adapting. Each location has been different in terms of the dessert menu. Right now I'm trying to move away from the standard vegan cheesecake, creme-brulee model. But people do like that. They want things that are more familiar. So when it comes to dessert, it's trickier to be adventurous than with main courses.
Now at Vedge, the different homemade ice creams are becoming a dessert signature. Was that something you were always planning on and just didn't have room for the ice cream maker or what?
Sort of. We did have ice cream on the menu at Horizons here and there. But for this I really wanted to make them stand out. They come in little groups of three, and when you're ordering, because you're picking three different flavors you can try one that's more risky and adventurous.
You've done coconut-basil, cucumber-jalapeno, lemon cheesecake, popcorn, all kinds of flavor combinations... any that just didn't work?
We're still working on zucchini bread ice cream - we haven't quite got it tasting enough like zucchini. Oh, and I did make an olive oil ice cream - that didn't really work. It's a little tricky because with the ice cream being vegan, our standard has to be higher: We want people to try it and like it, and if it's bad we know they'll think all vegan ice cream is bad. So it has to be perfect and served perfectly - at the right temperature, the right texture and everything.
Any particular lessons you picked up from Rich that you now use in developing menu items?
Probably the main thing is to make sure you know what you're tasting. Be ready to adapt to circumstances. Your lemons might be juicier than usual or not as juicy - you have to adapt. If you follow a recipe it will come out differently based on such variables. That's one thing, but also his insistence on making each dish the best it can be. I hear him instilling this in people. When he's not around it's almost like WWRD? But it does have an effect, and I get that from guests as they're leaving, they're just so impressed at the consistency.
You were also deeply involved in the wine selection and cocktail menu at Vedge. Do you see an overlap there with the desserts realm?
Yeah, I know my way around a bar and I had fun with some of the original cocktail ideas. Our bar manager at Vedge is now taking it in a great direction. That did probably [help] with my creation of ice cream flavors. There's a similar aesthetic, combining fun flavors over a given base, and yet the presentation also has to be well thought out. Like we did French toast ice cream, that has an obvious appeal. But the name itself should also have its own zing and be appealing. I had a delicious mango-ginger blend that I wasn't sure what to name, and looked on the liquor shelf and ta-da, it became mango daiquiri.
Any last thoughts on what made Horizons and Vedge such game-changers for vegan eating in Philly?
I think it's important to be able to see the bigger picture. We do what we do, but we also watch trends, and sometimes elbow our way in. The point is making it seamless, offering a dining experience that's approachable and not weird, a natural place for everybody out there to come in and enjoy. And it is definitely growing here - I think it's awesome how Philly's become such a vegan-friendly place.