Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni, a self-professed “vegan investor” and the owner of Querciabella, which produces organic, biodynamic wines in Tuscany, recently hosted a nine-course, plant-based tasting dinner in New York.
I truly didn’t know what to expect.
Call me vegan-curious. I’ve cooked plenty of Mark Bittman recipes and eaten more than my share of broccoli stir-fries, tofu and quinoa over the years. But this was something else entirely.
The dinner, presided over by haute vegan chef Daphne Cheng, took place at her trendy event space, Exhibit C, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Black-clad waiters wielded trays of inventive hors d’oeuvres, including lotus root crisps, with white chocolate and Maldon sea salt; cranberry bruschetta with preserved olive loaf; an apple vichyssoise with gingko and couscous. There was also meatless “meat”. One tidbit featured polenta and Douglas Fir spring tips with Beyond Chicken, a product made by the Segundo, California-based startup Beyond Meat using pea protein isolate.
As if that wasn’t enough plant-based innovation for one evening, the sit-down portion of the dinner kept the surprises coming. Each course was paired with an appropriate Querciabella wine.
I particularly like the smoked green jackfruit with avocado and tahini, with crispy, smoky little bits of the Asian tropical fruit that Castiglioni says is the “poor man’s meat” in its native India. It reminded some of my dining partners of bacon. I was also a big fan of the roasted baby romanesco cau-liflower, poised beside a fluffy dollop of dairy-free ricotta cheese. A risotto made with lobster mushrooms, pear and pandan (a leaf from Asia used in Thai cooking) was creamy and flavorful.
Castiglioni (his friends all call him “Seba”) hasn’t eaten meat in 30 years, since an animal rights activist handed him a pamphlet on a subway train when he still was a teenager.
He converted his family vineyard to organic production in 1988 – and waited 10 years to tell his father. Later, in 2000, he adopted the stricter regimen of biodynamic farming, which nourishes the soil ecosystem natu-rally with cover crops and eschews any chemical pesticides or fertilizers. It even considers how the phases of the moon affect plant growth.
Castiglioni, who divides his time between Lugano, Switzerland and Hong Kong, wears many hats. In addition to owning Querciabella, he runs NKGB Strategic Advisory, a consultancy that works with businesses and governments, and another firm that advises high-end art collectors. He also recently started his own classical music label. And he’s putting his money where his convictions are as an active investor in food startups with plant-based products.