“Everyone should be able to come and break bread.” That’s the philosophy at Counter Culture, where chefs Anthony and Lisa Damiano have created a menu that allows vegetarians and meat-lovers alike to savor delicious meals around the same table.
The two chefs have been cooking together for more than 30 years, including stints at New York’s Russian Tea Room, where Anthony worked as executive chef and Lisa as assistant pastry chef, and Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute in Scottsdale, Arizona. Anthony’s many honors include serving as presenting chef at the James Beard House in New York on three occasions, while Lisa’s many claims to fame include a run as restaurant pastry chef at the renowned Breakers resort in Palm Beach.
Having owned numerous Florida restaurants over the years, the pair now focuses entirely on running Counter Culture and giving back to the Vero Beach community. Those efforts include teaching cooking classes and nurturing up-and-coming chefs in the restaurant’s kitchen; supporting local farmers, who supply the bulk of the restaurant’s produce; and sponsoring local nonprofit organizations such as Youth Guidance Mentoring Academy.
While offering choices to their customers, the two chefs are enthusiastic advocates of a whole-food, plant-based diet, which they have been following themselves for the past five years. They are certain that, beyond being more sustainable for the planet, it has transformed their health.
Their advice to home chefs?
“Walk around the farmers market with an open bag,” Lisa says, “and throw in everything colorful.” And when you are preparing food? She adds, “Throw a handful of fresh greens on top of everything you make.”
Wild Mushroom Pizza with Arugula and Truffle Oil
This dish, with its grilled crust and San Marzano tomatoes, takes Anthony Damiano back to his family’s roots in Salerno.
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup trimmed and sliced mixed fresh wild mushrooms, such as hen of the woods, shiitake, and cremini
1 ball of pizza dough for crust (fresh pizza dough sheets available at Publix)
8 oz. San Marzano pizza sauce
2 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
4 oz. fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced and torn into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups loosely packed arugula
1/4 cup kalamata olives
1/4 cup roasted red pepper strips
1 tbsp. white truffle oil
1/4 tsp. pink Himalayan salt
3 tbsp. shaved pecorino
1 22-oz. can San Marzano tomatoes (pulsed in blender to smooth consistency)
3 tbsp. basil pesto
1 oz. olive oil
3 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Place a pizza stone or large rimless baking sheet on the bottom rack and preheat oven to the highest temperature, preferably 500 degrees Fahrenheit, for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Cook mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
On a floured surface, roll dough into a 14-inch circle. Transfer to a floured pizza peel (or rimless baking sheet). Combine all pizza sauce ingredients and ladle sauce over the surface of the crust. Scatter garlic over the dough, then sprinkle with mozzarella and half of the mushrooms (reserve the remaining mushrooms). Drizzle the remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil over the pizza. Carefully slide pizza onto preheated stone or baking sheet. Bake until browned, 10–15 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into 4 pieces.
Toss arugula, kalamata olives, and roasted red pepper strips with drizzle of white truffle oil and salt. Top pizza with the arugula mixture, reserved mushrooms, and pecorino.
Anthony Damiano describes this dish as “inspired by research” into Asian cuisine. He loves the way the textures of the beets, sweet potatoes, and ancient grains play off one another.
3 sweet potatoes (about 6 oz.)
3 beets (about 6 oz.)
10 oz. firm tofu
3 tbsp. cornstarch
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. harissa
Coconut oil, for frying (or vegetable stock for reduced fat)
1/4 cup red onions, diced
1/4 cup shiitake mushrooms
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp. tamari
1 tsp. sesame oil (or tamari for gluten-free)
5 tbsp. orange juice
1 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp. maple syrup
2 cups mixed kale and spinach
Black and white sesame seeds, for garnish
Roast sweet potatoes and beets at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until tender. Peel and cut into bite-size pieces. Set aside.
Press tofu to remove excess liquid, and dice into 1-inch cubes. In a mixing bowl, combine cornstarch with generous pinches of salt and pepper. Add harissa and tofu cubes and toss with your hands until fully coated.
Set wok on medium-high heat and add a spoonful of coconut oil. Once melted, add the tofu and fry for 10–15 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden on all sides (adding more oil if needed). Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Wipe out wok and add 1 tsp. of coconut oil; add onions and mushrooms and fry for 3 minutes. Add all the remaining ingredients to the wok. You’ll know it’s ready when you run a wooden spoon through the sauce and it doesn’t immediately combine back together.
Garnish with black and white sesame seeds and serve with 8 oz. ancient grains (e.g. wheat berries, red rice, quinoa), cooked in a rice cooker.
Almond & Coconut-Crusted Chocolate Ganache Tart
This delicious almond-crusted treat can be found with other plant-based desserts on the “Good” side of Lisa Damiano’s “Good & Evil” dessert menu. The surprisingly less popular “Evil” choices include traditionally prepared items, made with sugar, butter, cream, and eggs.
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
1/3 cup almonds, sliced and toasted
1 tbsp. pure maple syrup
Dash of vanilla extract or almond extract
1 1/2 cup plant milk (e.g. soy, almond, oat, coconut)
4 tbsp. cocoa
12 oz. vegan (non-dairy) dark chocolate
Set oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and toast almonds for 5 minutes. Set aside.
Combine the coconut, almonds, maple syrup, and extract. Press into a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Arrange the coconut mix around the sides and bottom.
In a saucepan, add the plant milk and cocoa and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add the chocolate. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit 1 minute. Remove plastic and stir until all is combined and chocolate is melted. Pour into the crust. Place in refrigerator to cool and set. Top can be decorated with toasted almonds or cacao nibs. Serve with fresh berries.