The fifth annual Vegan Chef Challenge is coming up, but if you’re not a vegan, that doesn’t mean you’re left out. Anyone interested in healthy restaurant options, creative cooking ideas and, with any luck, the discovery of a new favorite dish, will find this monthlong concept more than a curiosity. Bethany Davis, a teacher who has been a vegan for going on five years, created the challenge to get chefs thinking about food just a little differently. The dozen or so restaurants participating next month will be announced soon. A vegan dish, by the way, means no meat or other animal products, including cheese, butter and eggs. If you’re looking for more details about the health benefits of plant-based eating, check out the Forks Over Knives website.
Q: What is the Vegan Chef Challenge?
A: We usually get 12 to 16 restaurants to agree to put a vegan appetizer, entree and dessert on the menu for the month of October. These dishes operate alongside the regular menu and note that they are for the Vegan Chef Challenge. Diners then have the opportunity to vote for their favorite vegan dishes.
Q: Restaurant food can be notoriously rich and unhealthy. Are there chefs in town who are really into cooking without meat, dairy and other animal products?
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A: I have four chefs that have been doing it for multiple years, including Raphael Kendall of Capitol Garage. He’s a vegan himself and he has done the challenge all five years. Jon Clemons of The Porch has been on for four years. Clay Purcell of Tower Bridge Bistro at Embassy Suites and Evan Elsberry of Evan’s Kitchen have also been involved for several years.
Q: Most people agree that eating lots of fruits and vegetables is healthy, but being a vegan is still not mainstream. Is there a stigma attached to it?
A: There is. The stigma is related to animal rights at the far end. Also, that the diet is destructive or extreme and restrictive, that it’s all kale and granola. The Forks Over Knives doctors are promoting what you should eat rather than what you shouldn’t eat. These doctors are promoting more of a nutrition agenda – plant-based, whole foods, low fat.
Q: Whenever I mention to people that I stopped eating meat and dairy, their first question is about protein and they’re worried I’m not getting enough. Is America protein-obsessed?
A: It’s a mind washing that has happened from the meat and egg industry. In this country, protein deficiency is extremely rare and does not exist unless someone is calorie deficient. The problem in this country is fiber deficiency.
Q: Low-carb diets don’t seem to agree with many of the tenets of being a vegan.
A: One of the problems we face in this country is the low-carb movement. They’re all too protein-centric and, by default, too high in fat for sustained health and longevity. Some people experience a drop in weight initially because they have stopped eating processed foods.
Q: Is there an ethical difference between being vegetarian and vegan?
A: There are a lot of vegetarians who sincerely love animals but have not made the connection with the practices of the dairy industry. Ditto, the egg industry. For all the backyard hens that are laying eggs, they had brothers that were considered worthless to the industry and were killed.
Founder, Vegan Chef Challenge
She is in the process of compiling the list of participating in the annual challenge in October. The event has created a strong following since it began five years ago.