Food trends seem to change with the wind these days. One that’s here to stay? Plant Based nibbles. Enter Willow, a new vegan bistro newly debuted in Chelsea and helmed by Executive Chef Guy Vaknin of Beyond Sushi acclaim. The new spot boasts an underserved cross-section of vegan and comfort food. While the initial launch by Chef Guy and his wife Tali was primed for delivery and takeout, indoor dining is sure to make a splash.
“Its been a ride since we opened. Even just for To Go it’s been very busy. A lot of support. People really wanted something to get excited about.” Willow Chef & Owner Guy Vaknin espouses.
The vegan chicken sandwich from Willow.
“It’s been a rough year, a very rough year for us. I’m always a very optimistic person but I always say ‘what can we do to make the situation better?’ I tried to mitigate the hit and look to the future.” Chef Vaknin explains about his philosophy on openings.
Since Beyond Sushi’s NYC launch in 2012, they’ve expanded to five other locations across the city. Their globally inspired cuisines are all based on personal exposure to international flavors and cooking techniques. The chef credits his well-loved Moroccan grandmother and large family for making an appreciation for feeding people second nature. With a solid base of culinary technique acquired from ICE, or NYC’s Institute of Culinary Education, the Chef knows how to make food taste good. The whole point of Willow is not just to feed the die-hard vegan. Willow’s take on plant based food is to make it universally appealing. Coming from a chef who considers Beyond Meat to be a raw ingredient, that’s saying a lot.
“I came from catering so we did all cuisines. Beyond Sushi is more of a combination of everything I knew. I believe the nature of restaurants is going to change. You need a reason to stop by.”
Vegan calamari made from King Oyster mushrooms at Willow New York in Chelsea.
“It’s been a tough year for New York, and restaurants have taken a big hit. We’re looking into the future, and we’re committed to our vision of sharing plant-based food to our community. We’re excited to explore new flavors and offer something special and creative. I saw a real need for vegan comfort food, especially amid the ongoing pandemic, and I wanted to bring my take on that to NYC,” said Willow Chef & Owner Guy Vaknin.
This dream has long been in the making for Chef Vaknin. The Beyond Sushi concept itself was conceived while working as the former Executive Chef of a kosher catering company. There, he created a network of local artisans and purveyors of quality ingredients that have all contributed to his growing chain’s popularity.
Case in point, mushrooms which according to Chef Vaknin are used for their versatility and texture. “King Oyster mushrooms, I use for calamari and scallops. We use them to not mimic but create the feel, the heartiness of the dish. The King Oyster has this calamari chew to it. We have to core it and cut it and bread it just to get to the final product but it’s worth it.”
Taro chips and coconut ceviche from Willow NYC
What has been a surprising, or not surprising, best seller?
“The buttermilk fried Chick’n has been a hit. There’s a buzz around the sandwich. I took the time to create a product that would be very similar to the real thing. That’s the biggest compliment. There’s nothing odd about it, you don’t feel alienated because you’re eating a certain food.”
Save room for dessert Chef Vaknin says with a smile referring to his vegan take on cheesecake and Bananas Foster. “I think the future is bright.”
I’m a freelance food, travel writer and chef based in Brooklyn, NY. My experiences range from cooking on yachts in Croatia with The Yacht Week, to startups in San