Cooking School Secrets: Cooking for Vegetarians/Vegans

I've lived with vegetarians. I even was one for a while. And I live with a vegan now. Cooking without meat doesn't faze me. But it elicits quite a negative response from many of my fellow students.

I don't get it. So I'm getting on my soapbox.

Chefs should be able to deal with all sorts of dietary requests. Too many vegetarians have been served baked potatoes and overcooked vegetable sides or plain pasta and marinara by chefs who wouldn't - or couldn't - take the time to prepare high-quality, tasty and healthy food. Aren't chefs supposed to be concerned with what our customers want?

Surprisingly, even the students and chefs who can wrap their heads about vegetarianism are baffled about how to feed a vegan. The restaurant at our school serves a veggie meal every day but it almost always includes dairy and/or eggs. (Wouldn't it make more sense to serve a vegan meal that both vegans and vegetarians can eat?) And it is rarely of the caliber or quality of the meat offerings. Think stir fry versus Steak au Poivre.

In the past few weeks, I've watched fellow students struggle to find a vegetarian recipe to cook for an assignment and I've listened to one student argue that special accommodations should not be made for non-meat eaters at a steakhouse.

And, during a conversation about a recipe that listed milk or soymilk, one of the chefs commented to me (in an annoyed manner), "There is no such thing as soymilk. It's soy juice. Milk comes from mammals."

Many top chefs have addressed the change in people's eating habits. Mark Bittman eats a vegan diet every day until 6 p.m. Charlie Trotter authored a raw foods cookbook. Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud and Alex Stratta are among the chefs that contributed to Linda Long's Great Chefs Cook Vegan. It's time for the rest of the culinary world to get on board.

Kudos to the culinary schools that are addressing the needs of a wide range of customers.

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