Vegan and vegetarian dishes do not need to be boring.

In this column, club consultant Paul Rifkin says the days of lazy vegetarian dishes are long gone.

There has been much press recently regarding a chef who has banned vegans from his restaurant, due to negative and destructive actions received from both customers and non-customers. This is now the power of social media, where reputational damage can be tough to return from.

Lucky for him, he bounced back and had some very pertinent comments.

Working as a consulting chef, specialising in the fine-tuning of club catering offerings, I see many vegan and vegetarian options that are on offer at clubs. These are from very enticing to plain ordinary, so what works best?

First up, I often see many freezer-burnt, plant-based burger patties, a clear indication of the slow pace of use. Add to the fact, that they are often more costly than a fresh meat pattie, it is an expensive fail, taking up valuable real estate on a menu!

What is the solution? It really comes back to, what is food for? To nourish us primarily, and this doesn’t have to be bland and boring, does it?

That is where flavour comes in, and that is what we should be offering, a meal that both nourishes and takes the taste buds on a gastronomic journey. Something we will remember and come back for, the basics of business, a return customer who brings their friends.

The reality is, customers are becoming more picky and demanding, we can fight it or adapt.

I had the privilege of joining fellow chefs to work on upgrading the Commercial Cookery Training Package, we all agreed that adding a new module called “Prepare Vegetarian and Vegan Dishes” was necessary, as it was a fast-growing category and apprentices must be taught it correctly.

Gone are the days of lazy vegetarian dishes.

They must now have the same care and effort of a mainstream menu item, to create a dish that appeals to both vegetarians and meat eaters. After all, the flexitarian is here to stay, meat eaters who want a tasty alternative occasionally, if only to feel a bit better about their footprint on the planet.

Don’t fight it, embrace it, and join the “healthful” trend, just ensure you keep it real!

Which burger would you order?

A plant-based burger pattie on a polenta bun with vegan cheese, lettuce, tomato and chipotle mayo or a crumbed portabella mushroom “bun”, charred eggplant and zucchini with roasted red pepper, fresh pesto, confit garlic mayo and wild rocket.

Apply the same principle to all of your vegetable dishes and your menu will be more balanced, without paying “lip service” to dietary preferences. Ensure your function menus have a well-rounded selection too.

Encourage your chefs to change the negativity and expand their creativity.

Paul Rifkin: Head Chef Mentoring and
Fine-Tuning Specialist for Club Catering
chefpaulrifkin consulting

Paul Rifkin

Paul Rifkin is a former club executive chef and now chef consultant to the clubs industry on menus, kitchen design and catering analysis.

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