In 2018, Jon Emanuel’s life changed forever. A renowned chef and avid carnivore, Emanuel developed a rare allergy called alpha-gal syndrome, which he contracted from a tick bite, and had to promptly give up mammalian meat. After a self-professed “mourning period,” he and his wife, Penny Province, decided to make the menu of the Old Caledonian Bed & Breakfast in Caledonia, Missouri, entirely vegan.
It didn’t take long for Emanuel to find his stride in a plant-based kitchen, and the inn now boasts out-of-the-box vegan fare for breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner. Banana-pecan pancakes, jackfruit pozole served with housemade corn tortillas and a layered cake of farinata (a type of thin, unleavened pancake made from chickpea flour), mushrooms, tomatoes and spinach promise to satisfy even the most dubious diners.
“I still have my carnivore palate, so if it tastes good to me, it will taste good to anybody,” he says.
Explain your abrupt transition to a meat-free diet. I was in shock when I realized that I couldn’t eat meat anymore. I had a mourning period. As it started to kick in, I thought, this can’t be. I thought, this is going to change who you are at your core. Can you even be a chef with this [limitation]? It took several months to get back in my groove. I wasn’t starting out green, with no cooking experience, which put me ahead of the game in terms of how to develop recipes, change things, improve things and make them my own. It took a while, but now that I’m there, I feel fine – I’m getting downright enthusiastic about it.
How did you start transitioning the menu? I didn’t know much about vegan cooking at the time. I knew we had to do some research, which [Penny] was happy about. We headed up to St. Louis and visited a few places. I was inspired – not only because vegan food could be so good, but technique is a big part of it, and I know technique. We started to make the transition in January 2019, and by June 1, we didn’t have a scrap of animal product in the house.
What is your inspiration for the new menu? I want the food to be universally liked. I use fresh ingredients; I put twists on things that have meat in them. I make a vol-au-vent, which could easily have lamb or [another] meat in it, and I turned it into a mushroom dish – mushrooms are a godsend in vegan cooking. The biggest challenge for me was eggs because only eggs do what eggs do. We had to experiment with ways to hold pancakes together and a few other things. Once those fell into place, the recipes started coming out. I try to keep things as authentic as possible. If [a dish has] tofu or seitan or another protein substitute, I make it as interesting and palatable as possible, and not in your face. I want to naturally convince someone that this is good stuff.
If you could go back to eating meat, would you? At this point, I would say no. I would also add that if I had never gotten the tick bite, I would still be eating meat. I used to eat anything; I ran an adventurous-eater club and we ate the craziest stuff we could find. The way I look at it, I’ve lived a culinary life of adventure that would satisfy five lives. Now, it’s time to try something different, and I’m fine with it.
Old Caledonian Bed & Breakfast, 116 S. State Highway 21, Caledonia, Missouri, 573.779.1300, oldcaledonian.com