How Chef Eyal Shani Made Whole Roasted Cauliflower A Popular Main Dish

Believe it or not, cauliflower was once considered boring and bland — that is, until Chef Eyal Shani got his hands on one. Often seen sporting large frames and a wild head of curls, many would say Shani looks more like a mad scientist or an artist than he does a chef. But, hearing him speak of cauliflower only goes to show that the three aren't mutually exclusive. "How many flowers do we have in one cauliflower?" He asked a host of "CBS Mornings," before going on to answer his own question: "One."

Until Chef Eyal Shani, the cauliflower's flower was always separated from its leaves and broke into pieces, but Shani wanted to keep the flower whole. "You should feel the spirit," Shani told the host, hand on his heart. The way he talks about it — and all of his food, really — sounds almost poetic, making you believe for a moment that what you're eating has a will of its own. Tasting it, on the other hand, is what leaves you with a lasting impression. Once you do, cauliflower made any other way will never feel quite right.

Eaten by hand and broken off piece by piece, Shani's whole roasted cauliflower melts in your mouth with each bite. The simple spin on such a basic ingredient is what made Shani a superstar, and it wasn't long until whole roasted cauliflower became a popular main dish everywhere.

Cauliflower gone global

Both Israeli and Mediterranean cuisine at large isn't shy in the use of cauliflower or other cruciferous vegetables. It's also worth noting that Shani's home city of Tel Aviv has long been known to boast many vegan and vegetarian-friendly restaurants. But, even there, a whole roasted cauliflower head was considered a new concept. Made with just a few ingredients — high-quality EVOO, sal gris salt, and water — there wasn't much to it aside from boiling and baking the cauliflower until charred. The dish first debuted on the menu of Miznon Tel Aviv when it opened in 2011. Then, in 2016, Israeli Chef Alon Shaya brought his own version to the menu of the New Orleans restaurant, Domenica. That same year, Julia Moskin shared a whole roasted cauliflower recipe in the New York Times, and the rest was history.

Since then, whole roasted cauliflower and cauliflower steaks (like this Israeli cauliflower steak with labneh) have become popular main dishes in restaurants and cities around the world. But, they're not just reserved for Mediterranean or Middle Eastern restaurants. As Julia Moskin notes, the dish can lean Italian, Indian, or French. Nor are they strictly served at vegan or vegetarian eateries. Yes, legendary French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten serves one at AbcV with tahini, za'atar, and pomegranate, but you can also find it served beside plates of merguez sausages and chicken wings at Berber & Q in London. Still, the original will always be the one you'll get from Eyal Shani at Miznon.