By Sam Platt, Vegetarian Society Cookey School manager
With the number of people following a vegetarian diet in the UK seeing a dramatic increase, coupled with the growing trend for flexitarianism, there has never been a better time for caterers to capitalise on their plant-based offering. With National Vegetarian Week taking place this month (May 14-20), we asked Vegetarian Society Cookery School manager Sam Platt to share her hints and tips on how to create “interesting and saleable” veggie and vegan options.
Fill us up! I may love greens but that doesn’t mean I have an appetite the size of a rabbit! Make sure your veggie/vegan options are just as satisfying as the non-veggie dishes.
Educate your staff It is so important that your customers can access the correct information. Ensure staff know the basics of vegetarian and vegan diets and which items on your menu are suitable or adaptable. The Vegetarian Society Cookery School has courses running throughout the year including a Professional Chef diploma, vegan baking days and bespoke training www.vegsoccookeryschool.org/
Be aware of non-veggie ‘hidden ingredients’ There are plenty of ingredients that may appear to be veggie but in fact aren’t. Many French and Italian cheeses are not vegetarian e.g. Parmesan, but you can easily find veggie alternatives. Make sure you label your cheese as being veggie. Worcestershire sauce (contains anchovies), certain beers and wines are common pitfalls too. Again alternatives are available.
Experiment with flavours and cooking methods Don’t be scared to combine lots of different vegetables in one dish. Cook them in many ways too; mash them, roast them, marinade them, steam them, fry them, sous vide them!
Think about structure Try to structure veggie/vegan options in just the same way that you structure meat dishes. Now I know this sounds counter intuitive but we all need the same bases covered. Where’s the protein, where’s carbs, where’s the vegetables, where’s the flavour?!
Enough with the cheese already! Not every veggie dish needs cheese. If cheese is an ingredient in your veggie starters avoid it in your main courses and vice versa. Try new ways to add a bit of protein in a dish; pulses and grains, tofu, nuts and seeds, and tempeh all have great protein content and are super tasty too.
Make sure veggie/vegan options are clearly marked on your menu It’ll speed up the order process if veggies/ vegans don’t have to ask if dishes are suitable for them.
Write the veggie dishes first So many chefs leave the veggie options till last when writing a menu. It can feel like a chore! If you’re a meat eater it might take a bit more thought and ingenuity to design veggie and vegan dishes, don’t leave it until the creative juices run dry.
Utilise resources There are plenty of resources out there to help. Check out the Vegetarian Society website for free advice to caterers www.vegsoc.org/caterers.
Make use of National Vegetarian Week to showcase your dishes Share your favourite recipes or organise an event use #NationalVegetarianWeek to spread the word. If you have space for posters or flyers order a free resource pack from www.nationalvegetarianweek.org. It includes posters, flyers and ‘belly’ posters to write about your own offers, specials and events. Downloadable resources are also available.0