Astafa crowned Vegan Iron Chef, reveals plans to open NYC restaurant
By Nicole Rivard
Vegan chef Jay Astafa, 21, known for his culinary creations at Three Brothers Pizzeria in Farmingdale, N.Y., took a risk by making pappardelle pasta in the entrée round of the second annual Vegan Iron Chef competition held in San Francisco March 23, but it was one that paid off as he was crowned the winner of the event.
During the Vegan Iron Chef, hosted by the San Francisco Vegetarian Society and sponsored by Friends of Animals, Astafa and fellow competitors Jillian Love and Chef AJ were each given a basket of ingredients and instructed to create one appetizer in 25 minutes, one entree in 45 minutes, and one dessert in 25 minutes with the theme of impromptu Sunday brunch to inspire them. Each participant had two sous-chefs helping them.
For the first round the secret ingredients included edible chrysanthemum leaves, umeboshi plums and ramen noodles. Astafa, whose age contradicted his confidence and composure under pressure, won the round with his ramen crusted smoked cauliflower with chrysanthemum umeboshi pesto alongside a chrysanthemum herb salad with orange Saki vinaigrette.
“Jay we were told that we needed to be 100 percent honest in terms of how we felt about the flavor of everything, and I have to tell you this is freakin’ fabulous,” said Chef Lisa Books-Williams, winner of last year’s Vegan Iron chef, and one of the three judges this year. “The creativity involved, the flavor combining, it’s making my taste buds sing a happy song,” added Books-Williams, who was joined by fellow judges chef Jesse Miner and chef Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.
The ingredients for the main dish included burdock root, oyster mushrooms, red savoy cabbage and rice crackers. Astafa came out on top in the second round when he impressed the judges with his spinach pappardelle with a burdock, cashew, sun-dried tomato sauce topped with rice cracker parmesan and served with grilled oyster mushrooms and red wine cabbage.
The ingredients for the dessert round included black beans, pomegranate molasses and coconut pudding mix. Chef Love claimed victory in that round with her maple walnut praline topped with coconut cream served over strawberries drizzled with a spicy pomegranate molasses syrup and a black bean chocolate sauce.
But it wasn’t enough to defeat Astafa, who whipped up a black bean chocolate cake with chocolate avocado frosting in the dessert round, for the overall title.
Astafa started his culinary journey when he became vegan in 2007. Going vegan inspired him to become a vegan chef. In 2009, he created a full vegan Italian inspired menu for his dad’s restaurant Three Brothers Pizza Cafe on Long Island. His menu quickly drew a cult following.
In 2011, Jay graduated from New York’s Natural Gourmet Institute. In 2013, he studied restaurant management at the International Culinary Center. In 2013, he also hosted a NYC two-day fine dining popup restaurant called jay kitchen, which led him to launch jay astafa catering, a NY- based boutique vegan catering company. Jay Astafa caters anywhere within the tri-state area and everything from hors d’oeurve parties to full sit-down dinners. Some of his past clients have been Will Travel For Vegan Food, Vaute Couture and Farm Sanctuary.
After the event Astafa revealed he was a little nervous during the competition because he is used to cooking with his own vegan butter and cheeses and he wasn’t sure he would get everything plated in the time allotted. He also revealed he is searching for the perfect location to open his own vegan restaurant in NYC later this year.
“It’s going to be a vegan tasting menu only because there is nothing like that in NYC right now,” Astafa said. “It’s going to be high-end fine dining. I also make my own mozzarella cheese and I want to market that too.”
Speaking of vegan cheese, chef Miyoko Schinner, who emceed the Vegan Iron Chef event this year, announced she is opening an all vegan cheese shop in Fairfax, Calif., this summer. Sign up at miyokoskitchen.com for updates about the launch.
To learn more about Jay, visit jayastafa.com.
And if you are interested in participating in next year’s Vegan Iron Chef, email Karine Brighten at email@example.com.
Emcee Miyoko Schinner shows the audience chrysanthemum leaves, the first secret ingredient in the appetizer round.
Chef Jay Astafa is composed while he cooks as time ticks away during the Vegan Iron Chef.
Judge Colleen Patrick-Goudreau takes a bite of Jay Astafa’s pappardelle during the entrée round of the Vegan Iron Chef.