By Gregory Furgala
Avoiding meat and dairy at brunch can difficult. Staples like bacon, French toast and – perhaps the reigning king of weekend mornings — hollandaise sauce can be difficult to avoid, often leaving vegan brunch-goers with little more a than bowl of fruit. Even simpler bets like bagels are served with mounds of cream cheese and créme frâiche (and who wants a bagel with just jam?). Few people doubt that Sunday morning’s Instagram-ready classics are delicious, but fewer people are eating them, too.
Nourish Food Marketing’s 2018 Nourish Trend Report found that consumers, led by Millennials and Boomers, are abandoning meat and animal-based foods for plant-based diets (we’ve reported on it before). A recent Dalhousie University poll found the same, reporting that 7.1 per cent of Canadians consider themselves vegetarians, while another 2.3 per cent consider themselves vegan, and those numbers are expected to climb. Those surveyed cited several reasons for their dietary shift, including their health, concern about industrial agriculture, their environmental footprint and animal welfare.
Institutional and corporate support is helping to move the trend along, as well. This week, for example, is World Meat Free Week, an effort sponsored by foodservice giant Compass Group in partnership with environmental and animal rights groups like PETA and One Green Planet. Entire cities, including San Francisco, Washington D.C. and a handful of municipalities in Greater Vancouver have passed “Meat Free Monday” initiatives.
The writing is on the wall: flora is the new fauna, and for brunch, chefs need to round out their menus with more vegetarian and vegan options or risk falling by the wayside, and they need to do it with more flair than a fried slab of tofu can provide. Luckily, a handful of chefs are ahead of the curve, cooking tasty, ambitious vegan dishes that hit the same notes as the classics. Below, chefs from Lola Rosa, a go-to for Montreal’s vegetarians, and the Acorn Restaurant, one of Vancouver’s best restaurants (full stop), reveal the tricks of the plant-based trade that go into staples on their brunch menus.
Lola Rosa’s Smoked Carrot Bagel
Most of Lola Rosa’s guests aren’t actually vegetarian, says chef Emeric Hommey, so getting bagel-spoiled Montrealers to commit to his emulation of a classic smoked salmon bagel is tricky. It becomes a favourite when they do, though. Hommey wanted to preserve the carrot’s natural sweetness, so rather than smoking it directly, he poached the carrots in a smoky vegetable stock that he spiked with seaweed to mimic salmon’s mild iodine note. Adding coconut fat regulated the carrot’s moisture, preventing it from becoming both a dry crumbly mess and limp, sodden mush. After a generous spread of cashew-based cream cheese, the rest is easy: capers, red onions and fresh green herbs.
The Acorn Restaurant’s Artichoke
Chef Brian Luptak wasn’t committed to reproducing chicken and waffles, but the concept came together once he had the idea to use artichokes. “It’s full of layers,” says Luptak, “so that the breading can become crisp in between each one.” Crucially, though, it still retains its characteristic creaminess, creating a textural contrast not unlike its meaty analogue. The waffle was the real challenge. Luptak says vegan bread and pastry is always difficult to get right, and finding the right contrast of soft and crispy proved no less difficult when making the waffle. The Southern-inspired dish naturally gets Southern-inspired finishes: bourbon-maple syrup and a mushroom-based red-eye gravy. Unsurprisingly, the Artichoke has been on the brunch menu since day one, and regularly sells out.