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Veg­eta­bles get the plate space they de­serve—in the place for­merly oc­cu­pied by meats

F&B World - - NEWS - Text by CARLO FONG- LUY Pho­tos by RG MEDESTOMAS

The car­toon trope of a child whin­ing about hav­ing to eat veg­eta­bles is well-known but un­fair. It sug­gests that veg­eta­bles are in­fe­rior in fla­vor to meats and grains. As if a hi­er­ar­chy of fla­vor con­demned veg­eta­bles to a mun­dane caste. A stereo­type lingers: that those who eat mainly veg­eta­bles are ei­ther older peo­ple or on a diet, wish­ing they could en­joy more ex­cit­ing dishes.

But for a num­ber of peo­ple, what has been rel­e­gated as a bronze-medal in­gre­di­ent is—in their eyes (and mouths)—wor­thy of gold. Veg­eta­bles should be val­ued not just for their nu­tri­tional con­tent and health ben­e­fits, but their ap­pe­tiz­ing tex­tures and fla­vors. To do jus­tice to them, we must go be­yond the use of veg­eta­bles as a meat sub­sti­tute and cel­e­brate them for what they are.

PRIZED PRO­DUCE

In New York, restau­rants such as Chalk Point Kitchen on Broome Street puts the spot­light on veg­eta­bles. Ve­gan blog­ger Mango Man­i­festo was with me when I went to sam­ple the restaurant’s large cau­li­flower steak, which has at­tracted many cu­ri­ous din­ers. The cau­li­flower was smoked to give it a woody aroma. It paired well with the black gar­lic and blue­berry bar­be­cue sauce that had the right amount of heat. The steak was served along­side toasted farro with turmeric and an ap­ple cel­ery salad.

“It’s great be­cause the cau­li­flower isn’t over­cooked, which is what of­ten hap­pens when you try to do too much to a veg­etable,” says Man­i­festo. “The dish doesn’t try to im­i­tate meat at all but re­ally shows us how great veg­eta­bles can be.” There were two cauliflow­ers on the plate—one green and one white, which added to the pre­sen­ta­tion of the dish. It was far from bor­ing—what with the med­ley of in­ter­est­ing fla­vors cap­ti­vat­ing the diner’s taste buds.

Chalk Point Kitchen chef Adam Ma­ciejew­ski places great im­por­tance on his re­la­tion­ship with sup­pli­ers to fully un­der­stand lo­cal cui­sine and ap­pre­ci­ate the stories be­hind the food he cre­ates. It’s what he calls “au­then­tic hospi­tal­ity, the kind that comes from the heart.” This phi­los­o­phy is in line with the be­lief that half a dish is de­ter­mined by the qual­ity of its in­gre­di­ents. Ma­ciejew­ski’s ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with del­i­cate fla­vors al­lows him to bring out the best in veg­eta­bles, which are very sen­si­tive to changes in taste and tex­ture.

As for por­tions, there is noth­ing to worry about. “I love the idea of serv­ing a large, roasted veg­etable,” he says. “It’s sub­stan­tial and over­all sa­ti­at­ing for our veg­e­tar­ian and non-veg­e­tar­ian din­ers. They like to see hearty por­tions that will fill them up with­out the guilty feel­ing of gorg­ing your­self.”

A stereo­type lingers: that those who eat mainly veg­eta­bles are

ei­ther older peo­ple or on a diet, wish­ing they could en­joy more ex­cit­ing dishes.

“Ve­gans are pas­sion­ate eaters. Their com­mit­ment is out of personal

ad­vo­ca­cies and health. It’s be­yond join­ing a pop­u­lar band­wagon be­cause it re­quires so much dis­ci­pline,” says Bren­dan

Ma­honey.

FARM TO FORK

Manila is not far be­hind. The Mar­riott has al­ready launched a ve­gan menu across its restau­rants. F&B di­rec­tor Bren­dan Ma­honey ties the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity in ve­g­an­ism with the boom­ing food and culi­nary scene in the coun­try. While the ve­gan life­style has been there long ago, its ex­pan­sion is linked to peo­ple be­ing smarter and more con­scious and aware of what they eat. “Ve­gans are pas­sion­ate eaters,” Ma­honey says. “Their com­mit­ment is out of personal ad­vo­ca­cies such as an­i­mal wel­fare, and health. It’s be­yond join­ing a pop­u­lar band­wagon be­cause it re­quires so much dis­ci­pline.”

Ex­ec­u­tive chef Meik Bram­mer was proud to em­pha­size his team’s in­no­va­tion in cre­at­ing the ve­gan menu. It re­quired a thor­ough fa­mil­iar­ity of the in­gre­di­ents they were work­ing with. They took note of the qual­ity pro­file, tex­ture, and how these changed when veg­eta­bles were cooked. “We use mush­room, tofu, chick­pea, ba­nana blos­som, and more to re­place the meat prod­ucts,” ex­plains Bram­mer. He also shares how the Mar­riott sources many in­gre­di­ents from an or­ganic farm in Batan­gas.

In line with its ad­vo­cacy, Mar­riott has also teamed up with Ve­gans of Manila, headed by Jaq Aber­gas who helps many as­pir­ing ve­gans find the food they need for their new diet.

Filipino cui­sine is of­ten seen as meat-heavy but there are many ways to work around it. “I make de­li­cious ve­gan food that won’t make you miss meat,” says Aber­gas. “I recre­ate my fa­vorite om­ni­vore food as de­li­cious ve­gan food to win their hearts through their stom­ach.” She and her sis­ter make ve­gan long­gan­isa, which re­places meat with heart of palm. Fig­ur­ing out what works best in­volves some ex­per­i­ment­ing with lo­cal fruits and veg­eta­bles sim­i­lar to what Brem­mer does. “I use a lot of egg­plants, mush­rooms, and tofu to repli­cate meat. Now, I’ve been ex­per­i­ment­ing a lot with langka and beans,” says Aber­gas.

Treat­ing veg­eta­bles as the main dish is a paradigm shift in the di­ets of many Filipinos. The flawed be­lief that a meal is never com­plete with­out some kind of meat on the plate or that ab­stain­ing from eat­ing meat would lead to nu­tri­tional de­fi­ciency is thank­fully be­ing laid to rest. Ma­honey be­lieves the mind­set is chang­ing through cre­ativ­ity—a novel dish with a fa­mil­iar core. He states, “We will be of­fer­ing inasal, Bi­col Ex­press, and sisig but with a ve­gan recipe so the fla­vors are fa­mil­iar but with a twist.”

Aber­gas, on the other hand, tries to demon­strate that ve­gan prod­ucts are af­ford­able in or­der to in­cen­tivize the skep­tics. “Not only do I need to make ve­gan food de­li­cious, I also make sure it is cheap and af­ford­able. It can be con­stant pres­sure to al­ways make sure the meals I make are af­ford­able and easy,” she ex­plains.

There are many mo­ti­va­tions for re­plac­ing meat in dishes. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists view the ex­ces­sive con­sump­tion of meat as un­sus­tain­able and detri­men­tal to the planet. For their part, health con­scious in­di­vid­u­als em­pha­size the risk of ex­ces­sive meat con­sump­tion with con­di­tions like hy­per­ten­sion. Others view the slaugh­ter of an­i­mals for food as un­eth­i­cal. What this demon­strates is the in­creas­ing con­scious­ness of con­sumers when it comes to the prov­i­dence of their food. High­light­ing veg­eta­bles as a vi­tal in­gre­di­ent is a happy con­se­quence of this re­dis­cov­ery.

Mar­riott Manila’s chick­pea falafel with lemon-artichoke purée and grape rel­ish

Mar­riot Manila’s ve­gan sisig, made with ba­nana hearts and bread­fruit

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