On Friday nights, the Natural Gourmet Institute (NGI) opens its doors to the general public and hosts vegetarian and vegan dinners. It is both an opportunity for the school to showcase its students’ newfound talents and one of the city’s best-kept dining secrets.
Founded in 1977 in an Upper West Side apartment, NGI—now in Chelsea—was born out of the macrobiotics movement and to this day is still known for its focus on plants. On Fridays, it’s all hands on deck, all day, until the guests arrive at 6:30 p.m. “I really love the fact that with the Friday Night Dinners, it kind of mimics more of a real restaurant experience, so it gives you a little bit more pressure, a little bit more of that experience that you don’t necessarily get in the classroom,” said Jessica Serdikoff, one of NGI’s student chefs who helped prepare a meal last fall.
“It’s a vegan meal. We try to do seasonal, balanced, whole ingredients, whole grains, etc,” said Barbara Rich, a chef instructor at NGI. “And we first start out by practicing the entrée, and then once we have that down we work on the other courses, and the students put together all the recipes, they cost out the menu, they work on the decor for the rooms. Everything.”
Guests can expect main courses like creamy polenta with broccoli rabe served with grilled eggplant, zucchini and a tomato/olive/caper sauce as well as desserts, including roasted pear ice cream with chocolate-dipped oranges and caramelized brittle dust. Serdikoff worked on the polenta while Melanie McIntosh, another student, worked on the dessert.
“You’re doing everything from the preparation and the cooking and everything, all the way through to plating,” McIntosh said.
For the guests, the experience can be as much of a learning experience as it is a night out.
“I saw an event that had jackfruit featured in the menu, and it’s something that
I really like to eat, but I don’t know how to cook,” said guest Sue Shankar. “So I was really interested in coming to class to learn more about it and to taste it.”
After every dinner, the chefs talk to the guests and answer questions about the meal’s preparation, origins and ingredients.
“It really is their showcase for everything they’ve learned over the time they’ve been here. So we try and do really beautiful crafted meals,” said Rich.
To learn more about NGI’s Friday Night Dinners, check out the video above and reserve online here.
Featured photo credit: Sharon Radisch