We took a second yesterday to speak with Eric Gillish, better known as Chef Eric, Corporate Chef of the Millennium Restaurant Group. While not vegan himself, he takes pride in providing plant-based dishes that are beautiful, delicious, and nutritionally balanced, leaving vegans and vegetarians with a feeling of inclusion and sense of respect.
Eric started with the Millennium Group back in 2002 when he helped open The Union at 125 S. Kalamazoo Mall. With a Louisiana flair, The Union provided an opportunity for Gillish to explore the Cajun cuisine, vegan style. Eric confessed he enjoys experimenting with ethnic cuisines, working under the challenge of fitting the meal to the theme of a restaurant, and creating vegan dishes that even meat-eaters will like. His goal is to leave everyone feeling like a part of the group. You know what we mean here if you have ever ordered the vegan option at an event and been met with a plate of steamed veggies. Far from that steamed veggie plate, the Union’s Black-Eyed Pea Sauté, which we were privy to sampling, pleased the eye as well as the palate. With seasoned, marinated strips of tofu on a bed of black-eyed peas and veggies served alongside a generous helping of braised greens, this dish provides a full meal experience.
It was, in fact, event planning that led Eric to explore vegan cooking. Wanting to accommodate more people, to promote inclusion, and to provide a product that diners would leave feeling satisfied, he created, among others, a Grilled Vegetable Paella. With grilled tofu and generous-sized veggies in a stewed tomato sauce served with saffron rice, Eric had taken vegan event dining to the next level. Colorful, pretty to look at, high in protein, and with a generous mouthfeel, this dish led him to wanting to create more. Enter into the picture Grilled Vegetable Wellington, Vegan Jambalaya Stuffed Peppers, Spinach and Black-Eyed Pea Cakes (currently offered at the Union), and the Black-Eyed Pea Sauté.
The passion and pride in Chef Eric’s work was apparent when we moved down the road a bit to Central City Tap House. There, we tried the Vegan Jack Tacos. With jackfruit that tasted so much like BBQ pulled pork we might have sent it back to the kitchen for being meat had we not been assured by the head chef himself, we very unprofessionally downed these while learning a bit more about Eric’s work. The tacos were stuffed with BBQ jackfruit, black bean and sweet corn slaw and served in white tortillas with tortilla chips and salsa on the side. We definitely plan to revisit these.
“What’s next?” we asked. “What would you like to do more of?” Eric said he especially enjoys requests. He likes the challenge of theming a dish to the needs of the client and the event, be that an individual for a wedding, a restaurant, or those with special dietary needs. It’s all about inclusion for Eric and providing a satisfying dining experience.
We at VegOut would like to applaud Chef Eric for the work he has done in improving the vegan dining experience. Hats off, Eric! Well done.
Those tacos, though!