It's hard to make good vegan Italian food—and it's that much harder to make good vegan Italian food that also happens to be kosher. But that's a challenge that 38-year-old chef Guy Vaknin is excited to undertake.
"The idea is that you come into Coletta and you don't feel like you're eating at a vegan restaurant at all," says the chef referring to his newest eatery, which opened in Gramercy on Valentine's Day. "Over 50 percent of our customers are actually not vegan or vegetarians, so it would be foolish to just focus on those patrons."
Arguably, Vaknin's decision to abide by Jewish dietary laws may prove to be riskier than his devotion to plant-based food. (After all, especially during the pandemic, a whole lot of New Yorkers have embraced a vegan diet.)
Although a veteran in the field (he's the owner of a slew of other vegan kosher restaurants around town, including a number of Beyond Sushi locations and Willow in Chelsea), the chef acknowledges that NYC's kosher scene is a tough one to navigate, mostly given the difficulties involved in getting proper certifications and the tight margins that characterize the culinary world as a whole.
He is also aware that, generally speaking, kosher restaurants tend to skimp out on service. "I think people have a very bad perception of both the label vegan and the label kosher and they expect the food won't taste good," he says. "The problem is that there isn't enough competition in that world so [kosher restaurant] owners aren't worried. They might offer you bad service and you might give a bad review but it doesn't matter. You are gonna go back because there are not a lot of options."
For his part, Vaknin promises stellar service and extraordinary food at Coletta. When asked about some of his most exciting offerings, the gastronomic master mentions his take on a "tuna" crudo, made with pickled red onions, capers, cracked black pepper, extra virgin olive oil, truffle caviar on an oregano flatbread; the puttanesca "meatballs" prepared with lemon brown butter sauce, capers, kalamata olives, Roma tomatoes and "mozzarella" served with parsley garlic knots; and, of course, the various pizzas, all made with a 72-hour, double fermented dough.
Dessert-wise, the chef can't contain his enthusiasm for the Coletta tiramisu, made with Ladyfingers that are infused with espresso liqueur, plus Madagascar vanilla cream, shaved dark chocolate, cocoa powder and lemon zest.
"People called me crazy for making sushi without fish," says Vankin. "And now I'm doing all these other things with vegan ingredients that are out of this world." So sure and excited he is about the need for menus like the ones he's been creating that Vaknin has apparently already set plans to open subsequent restaurants that fall within the vegan category but tackle other types of cuisines, including Mexican, Mediterranean and Greek.
As for the name of his latest endeavor, consider Coletta an ode to the power of team work. "Coletta means collective and I wouldn't be able to do this without my 110 employees," he says matter-of-factly. "We are a collective and, without them, none of this would have happened."