Pushing the V: Adding value to vegetarian dishes By Liana Robberecht, Executive Chef, Calgary Petroleum Club July 3, 2013
When creating vegetarian experiences, value-perception plays a big role for the paying restaurant customer. It is easy to understand a high price point for lobster and tenderloin dishes, but does a vegetarian dish carry the same impact for price? In other words, will the guest feel like they’re getting just as much bang for their buck? Is there a threshold on pricing for a beautifully-crafted vegetarian dish? In answer to all of these questions: yes.
A well-planned and executed vegetarian dish is absolutely worthy of comparable pricing. At the Calgary Petroleum Club, a high volume of functions are executed daily, and a minimum of 10 per cent of these have become restrictions: vegetarian, gluten and other food intolerances. It is understood and respected that the member is still paying the same amount for a vegetarian dish as they are for a meat protein dish.
As illustrated in my last article, many restriction requests are last-minute and do not see the function sheet. But the kitchen is ready. Before every function, with particular emphasis on major functions, a meeting with the staff takes place to set a plan in motion for these requests. Attention to details in vegetables are heightened; flavour profiles are well-researched before service begins. Asian, Indian, Italian and Mediterranean profiles are in the forefront lately, using a multitude of techniques to achieve different flavours and textures. Fried, steamed and blended, the dehydrator has also become a popular tool in the kitchen, intensifying the flavour for vegetables and peels. Puréed chickpeas, tofu, kale, quinoa and other ancient grains are used to achieve interesting dishes worthy of a vegetarian’s tongue. We are perpetually researching and sound-boarding ideas amongst staff in order to enrich our vegetarians’ experiences.
Working in private clubs, we have all seen a number of “fad fashion food trends,” and diets come and go through the swinging kitchen doors. From the cabbage soup diet to the craze of the Atkins diet, catering to our members to meet their demands and whims of the plate is always priority. But vegetarianism is no fad. It has been growing in popularity and separates itself from trends due to its plethora of practitioners (both voluntary and medically and religiously influenced), the growing number of reasons to be a vegetarian, and its shear staying power. Whatever form of vegetarianism our members are choosing, they are choosing for a reason, their lifestyle, and it is permanent.
Incorporating vegetarian philosophy and understanding is important for every club and especially the kitchen. Taking the old fallback pasta and tomato sauce dish beyond to meet today’s standards is a must. A great way to start is:
Communicate with the front of the house. It is vital that both front and back of the house staff understand the guests’ needs and know the right questions to ask vegetarian patrons.
Have an action plan and set creative standard recipes to meet requests. Proactive planning and organization mean you aren’t scrambling to meet a request that you could have predicted.
Looking for inspiration? Check out Chef Tal Ronnen, who gained his “celebrity” by creating and preparing Oprah Winfrey’s 21 day vegan cleanse and Ellen DeGeneres & Portia de Rossi’s vegan wedding feast. As another fabulous source of inspiration, Chef Sarma Melngailis has developed a fine-dining, raw, organic restaurant in New York City “Pure Food & Wine”, going strong since they opened their doors in 2004. They offer such inspiring dishes as: cauliflower couscous with pickled Persian cucumbers, pistachio, almond, dried fruits, mint, Moroccan tomato jus, and another amazing dish offered on their menu is sweet corn and cashew with chili spiced portabella verde, avocado, cashew coconut sour cream, raw cacao mole.
Changing the perspective on vegetarian requests may be considered the first step to enlightenment. Instead of looking at it as a frustrating restriction, try thinking of it as the ultimate challenge, a chance to flex your muscles, to really push the V.
About the author:
Liana Robberecht, Executive Chef, Calgary Petroleum Club, began her training with the Professional Cooking Program at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (Edmonton), passing the Red Seal qualifying examinations in 1995. Chef Liana is passionately committed to regional cuisine, and a farm-to-table philosophy pervades the three kitchens and staff of 45 under her leadership. She has a number of professional memberships under her belt, including the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Board and the SAIT Advisory Committee for the Professional Cooking Program.