"I'm not opposed to tofu," Shawn Podgurski says. "I'm just not a big fan." The DonerMen food truck chef—he identifies as "a real meat-and-potatoes guy"—was initially stumped when Jeff Wang of the Yum Dum Truck challenged him to create a dish with the pressed soybean curd. Soy-based products, he says, are often used as substitutes for his favorite ingredients to eat and to work with: meat, heavy cream, butter. "I don't really like to substitute," he says.
"I was actually losing sleep over the whole thing," Podgurski says. Inspired by a night of partying and playing Dungeons & Dragons, he decided to make a dinner for a fantasy world. The main course: a vegan shepherd's pie he calls Druid Pie. "I imagine it's something that a druid living in the forest who doesn't want to cause harm to animals would make for when he has his druid friends and dryads and fairies over," he says. Because he'd decided to make the dish vegan he couldn't use milk or butter, so in addition to a dried tea-flavored tofu that he substituted for lamb, Podgurski used Korean silken tofu to add creaminess to the mashed potatoes. (The various tofus came from a "Chicago culinary journey" that covered Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese markets.)
DonerMen food truck chef Shawn Podgurski
After sauteing onions, carrots, mushrooms, and jalapeño in coconut oil, Podgurski added some vegetable broth and Three Floyds Backmasking oatmeal stout, then the chopped tofu, peas, and corn. For the mashed potato topping he blanched garlic cloves, using both the blanching water and the garlic itself for added flavor; he pureed the two with the silken tofu, then mashed the mixture into the boiled potatoes. Podgurski added a thick layer of potatoes on top of the tofu-vegetable mix to seal in the liquid before popping the dish into the oven.
For dessert, he made what he calls Efreeti Parfait—named for a mythological Middle Eastern demon—a blend of Chinese silken tofu, almonds, pistachios, lemon juice, dates, a square of baklava, and a dollop of honey. (An earlier iteration had also included Turkish delight, which he said made the parfait overly rich.) Podgurski served it in a carved-out dragonfruit with a sprinkle of chile powder on top. To go with the meal, he poured a little more of the Backmasking beer.
"Best Druid Pie I've ever had," he says.
Who's next: Podgurski has challenged Pat Niebling of Three Floyds Brewpub to create a dish with lavender.