Last year, more Australians Googled the word ‘vegan’ than anyone else in the world. Fact. That’s a lot of potential customers looking for meat, cheese and dairy-free meals. Smoothies that use plant-based milk. Ice-cream made without cream.
People choose to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet for many and varied reasons. No doubt some are driven by concern for the planet. They want to eat food that’s sustainable and has been produced with respect for the environment and is sustainable. Food that doesn’t involve animal cruelty. That leaves a lighter footprint. That’s good for them. And for many people, that means embracing a plant-based diet.
The vegan food market is growing. Fast food burger chains have responded with the introduction of vegan burgers (not that high-carb, deep-fried junk food is ever good for you) as has renowned Sydney Chef Brent Savage who devotes the entire menu at his fine-dining bistro, Yellow, in Potts Point, to vegan and vegetarian dishes.
So, as a Café Chef, how do you go from making perfectly crisp bacon for the BLT to whipping up a dairy-free vegan ice-cream with confidence?
Every Chef’s repertoire includes some vegetarian and vegan dishes, but will they be enough to satisfy the new vegan customer? It might be time to introduce some new dishes and bust out your creativity.
If crafting a vegan menu is new territory, reading about, eating and cooking vegan food is the way to go. There are plenty of vegan cookbooks on the market now to match the growing interest in plant-based eating. One local must-read is, ‘Smith & Deli-cious Food: From Our Deli (That Happens to be Vegan)’ by Shannon Martinez and Mo Wyse, who run the vegan restaurant and bar Smith & Daughters as well as a vegan deli called Smith & Deli in Melbourne.
Italian, Indian, Mexican, and Spanish cookbooks are full of vegan recipes that will be familiar to Café Chefs. These traditional foods are typically plant-based and include a whole range of recipes that employ pulses, legumes, nuts and grains. You’re guaranteed to unearth vegan recipes that can easily fit on your Café menu without significant changes to your operations or ordering. In fact, you may be even inspired to create vegetarian or vegan versions of your current dishes!
It goes without saying that eating out is the best research. Visit as many vegetarian and vegan Cafes and restaurants as you can. More than anything it will help determine the style of vegan food to serve in your Café.
“Chefs have the kind of brain that can take an idea or an ingredient and run with it,” says Renae Smith, MasterChef finalist in 2014, vegan food educator and owner of vegan food company Bake Mixes. “Inspiration is everywhere. I always start with flavour – the sweet, salty, bitter, umami combo. Vegan food has to taste good.”
For Cherie Hausler, from All The Things, a South Australian vegan food company, making a popular dish vegan can be as simple as changing a single ingredient. “It’s an instant swap to replace the cheese in a fig, blue cheese and rocket salad with our cashew blue,” she says. Hausler also uses whipped almond curd in place of ricotta in everything, from cannelloni to cheesecake, and makes a cashew camembert, which walks off the shelf.
From the faux fromagerie to meat-less butchery, there’s a whole world of vegan alternatives to explore, should you decide to turn your meaty best-seller into meat free. Shift Eatery, a popular vegan sandwich bar in Surry Hills, Sydney, doesn’t shy away from creating meaty wonders like stacked BLTs and club sandwiches that go by other names and feature soy protein and wheat gluten in place of chicken and turkey.
Funky Pies in Sydney’s Bondi proves that even the great Aussie meat pie, can be reinvented as vegan. Meaty mushroom chunks in a savoury gravy replace beef in their version of the Australian classic. Mash, peas and more gravy are also served on the side of this vegan take.
It’s a brave new world out there for cooks and Café Chefs who want to make great tasting vegan food to cater to customers on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Cooking vegan food is no longer a curiosity, it’s the next creative culinary frontier.