Chef Mark Tarbell Contributes Vegan Dish to Jacques Pépin’s Celebrity Cookbook

Leah LeMoineMarch 12, 2021
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Mark Tarbell by Joanie Simon 

When legendary French chef Jacques Pépin – known nearly as much for his kindness as his cuisine – asks you to do something, you say yes. That’s what Valley chef Mark Tarbella legend in his own right, has learned over the years.  

My first cookbook, at age 15, was La Technique by Jacques Pépin,” he says. “Many years later in the ’80s, when I was working at the Boulders Resort, we did an event with Jacques which marked the beginning of a long and growing friendship with him and later his daughter Claudine.” When the famille launched The Jacques Pépin Foundation in 2016 with a gala in New York City, they invited Tarbell to join their table. It was an honor to be asked. The next year they asked if I would be one of the chefs preparing the dinner, which was a blast,” the Tarbell’s owner says. “So, when they couldn’t host the event last year due to the world events, they asked if I would lend a video recipe to this virtual cookbook. Of course, I was thrilled and honored to be included.  

Cook with Jacques Pépin & Friends: Volume 2 was released on March 9. The virtual cookbook features celebrity chefs from around the United States cooking their dishes in engaging videos. Tarbell is among an elite roster that includes Rick Bayless, Marcus Samuelsson, Carla Hall, Traci Des Jardins, Michael Voltaggio, Ingrid Hoffmann, Michael Symon and more. The project benefits the foundation’s efforts to bring culinary education to adults with barriers to employment. 

Tarbell chatted with us about his plant-based contribution, Avocado Polenta with Vegan Chorizo, which is made with local Arizona ingredients. (He shared the recipe with us, too! See below the Q&A.)  

Have you ever done a digital/video cookbook before? It seems like such a novel approach and yet such a perfect representation of our current era. 
had not had this experience, and it’s one of the little jewels of our current times. That we can still connect, teach, share and celebrate is a wonderful thing.   

What were your feelings going in? Excited, apprehensive?
I was, as my kids like to say, nerve-cited” – both nervous and excited. To be asked was amazing, and it allows me to continue my life of being “The Who’s That? With the Who’s Who.” 

Can readers watch videos of each chef cooking their dishes? 
I hope so, or you can bounce around and go where you find interest. The cool thing with this, as I understand itis that you can pause and refer to a click for the recipe while following along with the video.   

What was your thought process in creating/selecting this recipe as your contribution? 
Tarbell’s Chef Adrian [De Leon] and I were playing with versions of this dish at the time and were enjoying it. We are always looking for dishes with big flavor that are sneaky light and healthy. This one has a lot of this, and yet it’s very simple and easy to do. It is colorful and vibrant. Of course, as a creative, when it’s all done, I say to myself, could-a done this, I could-a done that,” but it marks just one space in time.  

Did you have any recipe testers? Maybe your friends and family?
Yes, both friends and family are always involved with our “Test Kitchen” creations. They are the most honest! Hey, you have to hit some doubles, triples and a miss or two to hit home runs! 

What was your inspiration? 
Light, bright, happy food That’s it! Oh, and simple! We were also looking to create something cool that we can sprinkle these amazing garlic flowers on. 

Have you been developing more plant-based recipes? 
Yes, but I have been interested in this for over 17 years, when I started working with a raw food chef who was a vegan, and other vegetarian friends. We are asked to do a lot of special parties, both in and out of the restaurant, and that lets us play. And play we do! I have been asked many times over the years to chef for celebrities that were into this. It started me on a most exciting path. Our menus reflect our communities’ interest, and we do put a lot of love and thought into any dish that is veggiedriven  

Can you talk a bit about demand for them – from customers and food folks? I attended your Q&A with Samin Nosrat a year or two ago and loved your whole conversation, but the bit about changing the way we approach meat consumption stuck with me. For one of my 2020 goals, I went vegan before lunch at least two days a week.
The demand is in pockets and depends largely on who your core customer is. What I see is a growing shift and interest in clean, veggie-based eating. I personally feel, as a chef, that cooking with plant-based ingredients is infinitely more interesting and exciting than beef!   

Can you talk a bit about the purpose of this cookbook and The Jacques Pépin Foundation? 
The purpose, as with all Jacques endeavors, is to celebrate life through food, to teach, to share, to create community. It is also to invite as many people as possible to join his foundation and support his wonderful mission: using community kitchens around the country to teach and give skills to those most in need. 

Why does its mission resonate with you? 
It’s smart, on point and much needed. Helping how we can with what we have is what it’s all about.

What are your hopes for this project? 
First, I hope all that watch these 40 chefs and mixologists have some fun. I also hope that they get 100,000 new members and that the mission can go country-wide in its reach. 

Photo courtesy The Knight Agency

Avocado Polenta with Vegan Chorizo

By Mark Tarbell
Shared with permission of The Jacques Pépin Foundation.


For the Polenta Broth 

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • ¼ cup minced shallots 
  • 5 cups water 
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns 
  • ½ onion, sliced 
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • 3 sprigs of thyme 
  • Parmigiano Reggiano cheese rind, optional 
  • Extra virgin olive oil 
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste 
  • Sea salt 

For the Polenta 

  • 1 cup white polenta 
  • 4 cups vegetable broth 
  • 3 ripe avocados 
  • ¼ cup minced shallots 
  • Extra virgin olive oil 
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice 
  • Sea salt 

To Serve 

  • Vegan lentil chorizo, recipe follows 
  • Tomato coulis, recipe follows 
  • Cilantro leaves, for garnish 
  • Garlic flowers, for garnish 

For the Lentil Chorizo 

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1 onion, diced 
  • 4 tomatoes, chopped 
  • 2 cups Beluga lentils, soaked in warm water for 2 hours, rinsed and strained 
  • 2 ½ tablespoons smoked paprika 
  • ½ tablespoon Ancho chili powder 
  • ¾ teaspoon crushed red chili pepper 
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin 
  • ½ tablespoon onion powder 
  • ½ tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, minced 
  • ½ tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, minced 
  • ¾ tablespoon cracked black pepper 
  • ¾ tablespoon sea salt 
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced 

For the Tomato Coulis 

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1 pound tomatoes, chopped 
  • Extra virgin olive oil 


To Make the Polenta 

  1. Heat a medium-size pan over medium heat; add the oil and shallots, and cook until transparent, about 2 minutes. Add the water and bring to boil. Tie the peppercorns, onion, thyme, and Parmigiano Reggiano rind in the cheesecloth to make a “tea bag.” Tie it to the handle, making sure that it’s submerged in the water. Once boiling, remove the “tea bag” and discard. Reserve 1 cup of infused liquid for later. Bring the remaining 4 cups to a boil and slowly add polenta, whisking constantly until polenta is mixed. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring until it’s creamy (around 15 minutes). Keep adding reserved liquid as needed so that it doesn’t form a crust or get too thick.
  2. In a bowl, mash the avocados with enough of the lemon juice to your taste.

  3. Once the polenta is cooked, fold in the avocado purée and season with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and lemon juice if needed. 

To Make the Lentil Chorizo 

  1. Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, approximately 3 to 6 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Add the lentils and enough water to barely cover them; bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. (Keep watching, adding more water if needed). Once tender and fully cooked, keep them on the heat and continue to cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F.

  3. In a medium bowl, combine the paprika, chili powders, and cumin. Spread them out on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, about 5 minutes; set aside to cool. This can also be done in a small shallow pan over medium heat, shaking and stirring the spices until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.

  4. Stir the toasted spices, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, and thyme into the lentils.

  5. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat; add the garlic and cook until translucent, making sure it doesn’t get any color (as it makes it bitter), remove from the heat and set aside.

  6. Place the cooked lentils in a mixing bowl, add the garlic, corn starch, and the spice mix, and stir together thoroughly but gently. 

To Make the Tomato Coulis 

  1. Heat a medium-size pot over medium heat; add the oil and garlic, and cook until fragrant – do not allow to color or burn. Add the tomatoes, and cook, stirring, until the liquid has evaporated. Once the mixture is dry, purée in a blender or push through a tammie or strainer. Taste and season with salt. 

To Serve 

  1. Heat a thin film of oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Shape about 3 tablespoons of the lentils into a quenelle or patty and add to the pan. Cook the “chorizo” until crispy, (treat it like ground beef).

  2. In a warm pasta bowl, scoop 6-8 ounces of polenta, dollop a couple of spoons of tomato coulis on top, then the cooked chorizo, and sprinkle with picked cilantro leaves and garlic flowers. 

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