Veganism—put simply, the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products—is on the rise, and perhaps nowhere is it more visible than in New York City. (Then again, I’m vegan and I live here, so I’m biased.) Regardless, the geographically petite island and its boroughs are brimming with cruelty-free fare that plenty of folks can get onboard with, and of late nuanced methods of spreading the edible love are cropping up in a number of neighborhoods.
May marked the launch of Suite ThreeOhSix, a vegan supper club and academy located in Manhattan’s tony TriBeCa neighborhood. The Franklin Street loft space—featuring high ceilings, columns and transparent panes of glass dividing kitchen from communal table—can accommodate up to 16 guests for intimate dinners on select Saturdays. Offering multi-course meals at a range of price points, diners don’t learn what they’ll be eating until the evening of the meal. That said, according to Chef Daphne Cheng, the brains behind the operation, response to the concept has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I’ve gotten great feedback about the food and atmosphere,” said Cheng, a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute, following a media mixer she organized two Tuesdays ago. “Everyone seems to love it.”
Indeed, May's preview party was packed and the five dinners since (not including a Monday evening installment featuring a guest chef) have sold out, attracting attendees (mostly omnivores, but also vegetarian and vegan) via sites like Underground Eats and How About We, among others. Word of mouth has also helped. Says Cheng, modestly, of the sustained attraction to and praise of her craft, “I’m pleasantly surprised with the enthusiasm so far.”
But it actually comes as little surprise that her innovative vision is taking off. At 24, Cheng is a force to be reckoned with, a culinary artist of the highest order. While S3O6 is shiny and new, Cheng is no newbie to the food scene. She’s impressed in the past with both her catering company, the three-year-old Vérité Catering, and Dinner With True Friends, a charitable-meets-delectable series she once hosted in her backyard garden. For the former, she counts among her clients the likes of Vera Wang, John Bartlett, Allure Magazine (for Lea Michele) and Peter Max.
Though she’s changed settings from her previous East Village digs, Cheng’s vision remains the same, even as it evolves. Fine dining with a focus on vegetables, the Chicago born-and-bred chef calls her cuisine “ethnically ambiguous, with influences from ingredients around the world and memories here and there.” She adds, “I also enjoy introducing new flavor combinations that one would not normally think would go well together.” Examples of pairings include balsamic vinegar with shaoxing wine, smoked soubise sauce with green pepper pesto, and truffled cashew and almond ricotta with smoked agave.
Something unique you’ll notice when you secure a seat is that Cheng rarely if ever resorts to serving mock meats. “The main idea,” she says, “is that vegetables, grains and fruits are delicious and satisfying in their own right, without having to fall back on imitations.” However, she qualifies this by acknowledging that there is a place for faux: “I’m not opposed to fake meat and certainly welcome any advances in the food industry, like Beyond Meat and Beyond Eggs,” two cutting edge companies that are success stories unto themselves.
Another thing you won’t encounter at Suite ThreeOhSix is any animal rights speak. Important as it is, and despite the fact that Cheng is ethically vegan, the China Study devotee says she “doesn’t like to preach, lecture or debate about it. I just like to let the food speak for itself.”
This approach seems to be working well, which proves promising, as she’s hoping to open a restaurant in the coming year. “I’m particularly interested in the NoMad, Flatiron and Chelsea areas,” says Cheng of seeking a permanent spot to dish out her tasty creations. But TriBeCa has been good to her, so she’s not ruling it out.
On the funding front, she’s gradually garnering what she needs to take the next step with the help of a few key people. “We’re looking for up to twenty investors, each investing smaller sums of money,” she says. While I’m not at liberty to disclose details, Cheng appears to be well on her way to realizing her dream of opening a restaurant by the time she’s 25. In the meantime, reserve a spot at Suite ThreeOhSix and prepare to be blown away.