D.C. chef Rob Rubba of plant-based Oyster Oyster nabs high Beard award

The highest honors at Monday night time’s James Beard awards — essentially the most prestigious in america’ meals trade — went to a chef whose elegant delicacies doesn’t embrace a little bit of meat or poultry or a drop of heavy cream.

Rob Rubba, the Washington-based chef behind the sustainability-focused and (principally) vegetarian restaurant Oyster Oyster within the Shaw neighborhood, took house the title of “excellent chef,” an accolade that provides extra luster to his acclaimed cooking: Oyster Oyster earned the No. 1 slot in Submit meals critic Tom Sietsema’s 2021 eating information and in the identical 12 months was given a Michelin star.

Washington’s finest eating places, based on the James Beard Awards

Rubba, 41, stated the popularity is validation of his strategy — which initially had prompted “tilted heads” amongst his trade friends and a few potential buyers to inform him “I used to be out of my thoughts.” He credit a broadened perspective from diners and from the James Beard Basis — which has not too long ago overhauled its awards program to concentrate on range and fairness, and has demonstrated to dedication to beliefs together with “environmental sustainability” — for making it potential.

“It doesn’t must be all luxurious objects on a plate to be acknowledged,” he stated. “You’ll be able to prepare dinner with vegetation and impress the world.”

Rubba hopes the award — which has beforehand gone to luminaries comparable to Tom Colicchio, José Andrés and Suzanne Goin — will present different restaurateurs what’s potential, even when so most of the conventional hallmarks of fining eating are off the menu. “It makes me need to preserve centered and encourage others to do that,” he stated. “I hope the factor I bought acknowledged for is not novel a couple of years from now.”

Rubba’s fame was constructed, partially, on a carnivorous basis. After cooking in eating places from New York to Las Vegas, he launched his profession in Washington with the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, helming the kitchens at Tallulah after which Hazel, the place he was identified for elaborate duck-themed tasting menus, citrus-glazed ribs and foie gras-accented zucchini bread.

He gave up meat himself in 2017 whereas nonetheless turning out pork-kimchi ragu and sausage dishes at Hazel as a part of what he calls a later-in-life conversion. It started, he stated, when he began scrutinizing the restaurant’s deliveries. “I used to be trying on the all this product coming into the kitchen, and I began to do the maths,” he stated. “It wasn’t sustainable, it wasn’t humane — and I knew I wanted to make a change, and never only for myself.”

He began noticing what went into the restaurant’s trash cans. “I simply began seeing all these items that was simply going to enter a landfill,” he stated. “It creates a closed loop.”

Ultimately, Rubba paired up with restaurateur Max Kuller, who was behind the now-shuttered Spanish tapas spot Estadio, to construct a restaurant from the bottom up that mirrored his newly developed ethos. Oyster Oyster opened in 2020, amid the pandemic shutdowns, its identify taken from oyster mushrooms in addition to the bivalve that constitutes the one animal on the menu. The restaurant now operates with a tasting menu, a $95-a-head choice of eight or extra programs starring regionally sourced produce and oysters (as a result of they don’t have central nervous methods — and due to this fact don’t really feel ache — oysters are honest recreation for some vegetarians and vegans.)

And Rubba has morphed right into a sustainability obsessive who waxes on about composting and the virtues of biodynamic farming with the identical enthusiasm as he does his newest supply from a Virginia farm. There’s no sous-vide in his kitchen (the baggies concerned are a no-go) and also you gained’t discover single-use plastic something.

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Oyster Oyster is amongst a rising variety of upscale plant-forward eating places, comparable to Manhattan’s Grime Sweet and ABCV, Philadelphia’s Vedge and Los Angeles’s Crossroads Kitchen. Eleven Madison Park, thought-about one of many world’s finest eating places, made headlines in 2021 when chef Daniel Humm — who can also be a earlier winner of the award Rubba took house on Monday — introduced he was transferring to a virtually all-vegetarian menu.

Monday’s black-tie awards present in Chicago came about throughout a tumultuous stretch for the Beard awards, which has drawn questions over its dealing with of investigations of at the very least two cooks who have been thought-about for awards after which turned the topic of ethics complaints following accusations of misconduct.

“With progress, there’s at all times some struggles,” Rubba stated. “It’s like how I name myself an ‘imperfect environmentalist’ — I don’t at all times get all the pieces proper. But when the trouble is there, you’re doing the proper factor.”

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