Miguel Larcher is different from almost every other chef in Wichita, and it's not just because of his French accent and his Caribbean upbringing.
He also stands out for the ingredients he uses — more specifically the ingredients he doesn't use.
Larcher, 41, is a classically trained vegan chef, meaning he doesn't use any meat or animal products in his food. The distinction makes him a valuable asset in the small but growing vegan restaurant community.
It also makes him a delicious curiosity at d'Sozo, a vegan cafe at 1812 S. Seneca where he started working a year ago creating a full menu of gourmet vegan dishes that accomplish the difficult job of making Kansans forget they're not eating meat.
Larcher grew up in Martinique, where he attended culinary school at age 16. He worked several restaurant jobs there before leaving to attend another culinary school in Nice, France.
A Chattanooga, Tenn., entrepreneur wanting to open a vegetarian restaurant lured him to the United States 20 years ago, and he's been stolen from every restaurant job he's held since.
Larry Cook brought him to Wichita to help open d'Sozo, which also features a vegan bakery, market, cooking classes and occasional gourmet candlelight dinners.
Larcher took a break from preparing one of his twice monthly candlelight dinners (Tuesday's featured entree was a saffron tamale served with fricassee of oyster mushrooms) to answer a few questions about his career.
How did you become interested in food?
It started when I was 8 years old. My uncle bought a basket of goodies and I said, 'Wow.'
When I was 12 or 13, my mom asked me to cook a chicken for the whole family. I was really scared, but I really enjoyed it and it went well. Then, my mind was always thinking about cooking.
Have you always been vegetarian?
I have been a vegetarian for 15 years. Spiritually speaking, there was food I didn't want to cook anymore, like pork and seafood. I decided to look for something that would allow me to express myself without feeling guilty.
Besides your restaurant, where do you like to eat in Wichita?
I haven't tried a lot yet because I'm mostly at the restaurant. But my children, they love Olive Garden, so we go once a while there.
They tell me Sumo is good, so the next one I'm going to check out is Sumo.
What's your most indispensable kitchen ingredient?
My cuisine is mostly Mediterranean, so I use a lot of fresh herbs and fresh spices. Most chefs use black pepper and salt, but me, I put the black pepper away and focus on herbs and spices like cumin, coriander, fennel seed, paprika — I love all of those.
What's your most indispensable kitchen tool?
My chef's knife. I have a long Santoku knife that I keep at home because I'm afraid to lose it. I love the weight of it.
What's your favorite dish?
My favorite comfort food is soup. And I love to make a vegetable soup from my country. It's nostalgic or something. It has cabbage, leeks, celery, butternut squash, potatoes and capers. I put a little soy meat in it, and the broth comes from the vegetables themselves and the fresh herbs like rosemary. I like to have a rustic bread with it.
Are there any foods you don't like?
No, not really. Probably the only thing would be — what do you call it? It's very slimy vegetable. Okra! I would eat it, but this is not a food I would look for. My grandma used to steam the okra and boil it. I couldn't stand it.
What's your philosophy or guiding principle about your job?
I like to show that with veggies and grain and beans, you can do fantastic things. The sky is the limit.
d'Sozo, 1812 S. Seneca, 316-295-4498, www.dsozo.com
Wife, Nadine, a local nurse; daughter Hadassah, 5, and son Emmanuel, 6
Culinary schools in Martinique and France
For more info: To learn more about d'Sozo's cooking classes and candlelight dinners, visit blogs.kansas.com/denise and search for d'Sozo.