Updated: Jan 30
So the festive period is well behind us and lets be real, who has stuck to their new year's resolutions (honestly)? So many of us started 2020 with the whole ‘new year, new me’ attitude with resolutions a plentiful. The one that kept springing up between our family, friends and our customers here at Ren’s was Veganuary so we thought why not give it a go?
My wife has never been the biggest meat fan, and always struggled with dairy. She is currently pregnant with our third child so was also interested in the health benefits of a plant based diet. I have always struggled with the ethics of the meat industry and was curious to see if I could use this month as a means to cutting down on my own meat consumption.
I’ve been a chef for over twenty years and have been increasingly writing a lot of vegetarian and vegan menus to suit our clients ever changing needs, especially recently. In the last ten years of organising and catering weddings, we’ve seen a surge in veganism. If an average wedding is around 100 guests, back in the day, we might have the odd vegan every now and again - nowadays, you can guarantee at least 6-10 people opting for the vegan option as a minimum.
The problem is that we chefs tend to cook what we think vegans want to eat, rather than what they really want and let’s be honest, a meat eater trying to cater to a vegan’s need’s is a recipe for disappointment. Keen to use January as an experiment, I wanted to embrace veganism as the new way of eating. With all this demand also comes the supply of new and exciting ingredients. As chefs, people expect us to embrace and use these new ingredients to create unique and original dishes. Most chefs have never used tempeh or seitan, and are puzzled as to how to incorporate it in their menus.
There is a standard kitchen joke:
Diner: can you tell me the vegan options please?
Waiter: certainly sir - there are two options: eat meat, or………
So, with a bit of research, I dived in to try it out for myself. The thing I realised pretty quickly was that you have to be organised. If you’re used to eating meat and vegetables, you can’t just take away the meat and eat everything else on the plate. You have to keep at least a basic track of your protein, iron, vitamin D etc. I train so protein intake without a massive carb load was important to me. To my surprise, I found the whole thing really easy and enjoyable. My wife and I really get excited by cooking together, and it’s really satisfying to create really colourful tasty meals away from the standard ‘meat and two veg’ formula.
I found myself having to be a bit more organised- I always have snacks (nuts, fruit etc), and make my own lunch in tupperware if I’m out. There are however plenty of high street food outlets that are now listening to the changing attitudes of their consumers. Pretty much every chain restaurant is on the bandwagon - from vegan Greggs sausage rolls to KFC vegan burgers, but in truth, I have used my dietary change to embrace a healthier diet and I’m yet to be convinced that a vegan whopper is more beneficial than a normal one. And after all why would a vegan set foot in a KFC in the first place?
The future of veganism
Well I don’t know if it's a coincidence, but we are proud to say that we have been taking bookings this month for three totally vegan weddings! We have also been testing out vegan daily specials in our Sussex café all month and they’ve been going down a storm. The biggest compliments from the harshest critics are from the tradesmen that are frequent visitors which I think has made me the proudest cafe owner in Worthing. If you are vegan, and thinking of having an all plant based menu for your special day, I’d say totally go for it. Not purely just because the shift in attitude from the general public is so much more accepting now, but because if it’s what you enjoy, why not share that with everyone on your special day?
Now that the month of Veganuary is nearly over, the verdict is out. I think that I will continue to eat vegan for the foreseeable future with a few exceptions. Of course for my work, I have to taste meat and dairy as well as if I’m at a friend’s house or restaurant, I want to be able to eat whatever they have taken the time to make for me. Aside from that I’ve really loved the whole thing, and can honestly say that this carnivore of 43 years hasn’t missed meat at all!
If anyone is newly vegan, needs a hand with cooking ideas, nutrition, or anything else please feel free to get in touch, or pop in for a coffee at our cafe, Ren’s Kitchen, and have a chat.
Here is a sample menu we are doing for a wedding couple for Summer 2020, as well as a recipe for possibly the best cookies (vegan or not) I’ve ever made!
Vegan chocolate cookies
600g vegan butter- softened
500g white caster sugar
500g brown sugar
625g plain flour
200g cocoa powder
3tsp baking powder
1 tsp Vanilla extract
Approx. 50ml oat milk (enough to bind into firm dough)
100g choc chips/nuts (push into cookies when they come out of oven)
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Roll into 20 balls & cook on trays at 180c for 15 mins, till set on top and spread out. Leave them soft in the middle as they firm up when cooled.
Push nuts or chocolate chips in when just out of oven,
Store in an airtight container for up to a week
Vegan Wedding Menu
For the Table…
Warm home made bread with salted vegan butter and marinated olives
Seared queen ‘scallops’ with paprika, cauliflower puree, crispy ‘chorizo’, pickled cauliflower, pea shoots
Raw beetroot ravioli with vegan cheese and horseradish, cavolo nero velouté , wild rocket, vegan parmesan crisp
Vegan ‘flowerpot’ with lightly pickled baby new season vegetables, wild mushroom soil, cannellini and almond dip
Crispy artichokes, Summer ratatouille, almond ‘ricotta’, focaccia crisps basil vinaigrette
Lasagne of wild mushroom, green lentils and sweet potato (vegan)
Heritage tomato tart with spelt and walnut pastry, wilted wild herbs
Chocolate Brownie w/salted caramel sauce
Rhubarb and custard tart, rhubarb coulis, pistachio granola crumble
Blackberry mousse cake, blackberry coulis, vegan crème fraiche
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