A new signature cooking style is taking root in British Columbia restaurants, with fresh, local vegetables taking starring roles on diners’ plates.
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Vancouver has always had a healthy West-Coast vibe when it comes to food. Now it’s on the cutting edge of the latest trend: part-time vegetarianism.
Whether you call it “Meatless Mondays” or “Vegan Before 6” (New York Times food writer Mark Bittman’s antidote to a food lover’s lifestyle), giving up meat—at least occasionally—is the latest choice for the healthy gourmand.
Although Vancouver has long been a great city for a tofu fix, chefs are branching out into the kind of sophisticated vegetarian dining that’s luring vegans and carnivores alike. From Chef Rob Clarke’s award-winning menu at The Acorn, to late-night cocktails and noshes at The Parker, to vegetarian comfort foods at Heirloom or Graze, to wild and ethical choices at Exile Bistro or Burdock & Co, this is “plant forward food” far from the crunchy granola of yore.
Clarke creates beautiful vegetarian, raw and vegan plates at The Acorn. There’s no tofu turkey or fake sausage, but you’ll never miss meat with dishes like crispy beer-battered halloumi on a zucchini rosti with puréed peas, or cauliflower mac and cheese, or a delicate raw beet and macadamia nut “cheese” ravioli.
The West Coast’s seasonal and wild bounty turns up at Exile Bistro in such plates as wild mushrooms on barley-bread toast with cashew cheese and dandelion salad. At Chef Andrea Carlson’s Burdock & Co, small plates feature local vegetables on the sharable menu, such as braised and charred leeks with hazelnut Romesco sauce or whole-roasted Walla Walla onion with pine mushroom and cheese fonduta.
Carlson says that a focus on vegetables allows her to showcase the small artisan producers she’s long supported while cooking at upscale spots such as Bishop’s and C Restaurant, only at a more approachable price point. “More vegetable and vegetable-forward restaurants are popping up, because people’s attitudes are shifting,” she says. “People have access to farmers and see how precious and beautiful vegetables can be.”
Chef David Gunawan’s menu at The Farmer’s Apprentice in Vancouver changes daily, based on what’s local and fresh. “I just believe the produce should drive the chef, not the other way around,” Gunawan said in a recent interview with eater.com.
Even hotels are feeding the new vegetable-forward trend. At the Four Seasons, chef Ned Bell brings his love of vegetables alive with a farm-to-table menu that’s “nutrient-dense and plant-based.” At the Fairmont Pacific Rim, even the sushi bar offers pressed and salted watermelon nigiri to mimic rare tuna for vegan diners.
This is vegetable-forward dining without a whiff of denial. Whether it's for health, environmental or local “root-to-shoot” eating, this could become Vancouver's new signature cooking style.
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