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Lorna Sass

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UBUNTU: A CELEBRATION OF VEGETABLES

Posted: 04/13/10 10:24 AM ET

If you are a very lucky person, you occasionally have food placed before you whose beauty makes you wide-eyed in amazement and whose taste makes you eat as slowly as possible to savor every nuance.

I was recently a very lucky person when The Sweetie and I had dinner at Ubuntu in Napa. All of my food colleagues had recommended going there, and within the first few minutes I understood why: Dinner at Ubuntu was one of the most memorable meals of my life.

To call Ubuntu a vegetarian restaurant would like calling Stephen Sondheim a Broadway songwriter: the label just doesn't reveal the astonishing complexity. In the case of Ubuntu, the culinary music is made by celebrating the freshest, most beautiful vegetables I've ever seen in a restaurant. Each is prepared and presented in an artful way that focuses on the unique looks, tastes, and textures of the particular vegetable--many of them heirloom varieties that are difficult to experience unless you grow your own--which the restaurant does in its own bio-dynamic garden on the property of restaurant owner, Sandy Lawrence, only a few miles away. Indeed, most of the vegetables you eat at Ubuntu were still growing a few hours before they are set on the plate. Needless to say, the menu changes daily.

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Ubuntu "Carta de Musica" Salad


When you order a salad such as the one picture above, you see a perfect example of how the restaurant approaches things: first Chef Aaron London goes to the garden to select what's ripe and ready to eat. Once in the restaurant kitchen, he delights the eyes with an original presentation, providing an experience of tasting that juxtaposes crisp with soft, tart with sweet, and floral with herbal. Never has simplicity been so complex and yet remained so simple and pure.

Clearly Ubuntu is much more than just a restaurant: it represents a philosophy. The word itself means "humanity towards others," and the goal is that all people connected to the restaurant and the land where the food is grown benefits from the association. To this end, Lawrence created a yoga studio above the restaurant. In this clip she takes us upstairs to the studio and I ask what motivated her to make the food and yoga connection.

In this clip we meet the gardener, Rose Robertson, who grows the vegetables and herbs on Sandy Lawrence's property according to bio-dynamic principles. In the summer, 95% of the vegetables served in Ubuntu come from this garden!

Next, Rose takes us through the cycle of a fava bean plant and tells us how the flower and leaves are used in addition to the bean itself. Next we see some gorgeous heirloom rainbow chard and talk about seed-saving:

 

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