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The Rise Of The Vegetarian Restaurant

The Rise Of The Vegetarian Restaurant

Let me begin by saying that I have always been fond of meat.

This could be lazily linked to our primal instincts harking back to our time spent as apex predators, and driving our lust for consuming whichever poor soul was unfortunate enough to meet their maker at the end of our spears. I don’t know.

Nor do I know whether it has something to do with my upbringing in dreary Northern England where vegetables were all potatoes, carrots, and anything else that grew predominantly under a healthy layer of soil, only seeing the life of day for a brief moment before having any hint of flavour or texture boiled out of it for the best part of an hour by an overworked matriarch.

Hey, I could even blame it on the era I grew up in. A time where every salad was dressed to within an inch of its life with what tasted like pure acid, and creativity with non-meat ingredients didn’t extend to anything beyond setting the odd pudding on fire or a Linda McCartney frozen dinner.

But I, like humans tend to do, have changed.

Now, I only eat meat a couple of times a week, and only then to mix things up a little. I even went full vegetarian for a few years, until my love of a good roast dinner made me cave (damn you, Yorkshire Puddings!)

As much as I hate the word, I suppose I’d be your textbook flexitarian (shudders).

I saw how beneficial cutting down on my meat consumption could be, and I’m not alone.

More and more businesses are veering towards a meat-free diet, but why?

Why would restaurants like New York’s Eleven Madison Park (a 3 Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant) ditch their award-winning menu and go full vegan?

Please, let me share with you some of the reasons why you shouldn’t get left behind in the rise in vegetarianism.

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It’s more animal friendly

This is a big reason to cut down on your meat consumption, but it’s also the most obvious so I’ll not dwell too long, and we can get this boxed off and move onto some of the more interesting benefits.

Meat comes from animals who, as we know, are living, breathing creatures.

It’s not their fault that they are made of delicious meat that we, as a society, have deemed acceptable to eat, but they are and we have.

The less meat we consume means the less animals have to die, and if you’ve ever met a cow you’ll know that this is a good thing (spoiler alert: they really are just massive, dumb dogs).

This is a big reason consumers go vegetarian, so it would make sense to consider expanding your non-meat offerings to appeal to an ever-growing demographic (where 42% of Australians were eating less meat, or none at all, including 10% as vegan or vegetarian), wouldn’t you say?

Good.

So, now that we’ve addressed the ethical elephant in the room, let’s move on.

Fresh produce costs way less than meat

That’s a fact.

And do you want to know the best part? When vegetables are in season and tasting their absolute best they’ll also be close to the cheapest they’re going to be. 

Supply & demand at it’s finest and most beneficial!

But how would this look in practice? Let me illustrate it for you.

Say you want to make some tacos and you want a substantial, filling main attraction. You’d usually go with something like chicken, right? A non-intrusive meat that takes on whatever flavour you throw at it.

A quick Google search for ingredients is all you need to do, and you can see the following:

A kilo of chicken thighs will run you around $12.

A whole cauliflower, on the other hand, only costs around $7.

Cauliflower chefIt takes on just as much flavour as chicken, for almost half the cost. Do this with more of your menu, and watch your savings bulge.

Can you see why it would be appealing to a budding restauranteur to want to go down this path?

Fresh produce has range

Let’s face it, meat tastes like meat.

Now, I’m not saying that in a bad way, not at all. A good steak is about one of the best pleasures I have left in this life, and the smell of a whole chicken spinning above some charcoal is borderline unapproachable in terms of aromas.

But there’s no escaping that steak, as good as it tastes, can only really ever taste like steak. And chicken tastes like chicken so much that a host of other foods are bullying in on the flavour, trying to get some of it’s residual glory (e.g. ‘tastes like chicken’).

a bowl of delicious, creamy mash, salted with your tears of frustration at being bested by a spud

Vegetables though? Let me count the ways!

Broccoli can taste absolutely awful if you boil it until all of the vibrancy is gone from it’s green hue and it begins to look pale. But pan-fried or better yet, roasted, and it tastes like a completely different vegetable altogether! 

And potatoes! Oh man, potatoes can do anything.

Try boiling the flavour out of these guys and you’ll be there all day, the only thing to show for it being a bowl of delicious, creamy mash, salted with your tears of frustration at being bested by a spud.

You can roast them and delight in one of humanity’s greatest culinary achievements. Fry them in litres of hot oil and indulge yourself in the perfect side dish.

And if you burn them? Don’t worry. Just salt them and seal them in a bag. They’re called potato chips and have been the go-to snack for generations.

You can even distill the water from them and make the perfect alcohol for both weight loss and boosting the volume in your cocktails, all whilst being flavourless so the balance of your drink isn’t compromised.

And that’s just 2 vegetables! Imagine the possibilities! Your menu could have flavours that nobody has ever experienced before, and it’d all be down to some delicious stuff from the ground.

Vegetables help you develop your skills

With that enormous range of flavours comes the equally enormous potential for creativity.

With a market that’s always been saturated, it’s hard to make yourself stand out from the crowd. And thanks to the rise of genuinely good cooking tutorials on Youtube, TikTok, and even streaming services, more and more people are creating the types of dishes they didn’t even know existed even a couple of years ago.

When I was looking for that extra spark in my cooking, I turned to vegetarian food as a means to ignite it. Not only was it an area where I was dreadfully lacking in expertise, therefore giving me an opportunity to develop my skills, but it was also an area that had the potential to drive new customers to my business.

Vegetarian chefDo you know how refreshing it is to a vegetarian to be able to order from an entire menu? They will learn of which places offer such a luxury and they will hunt them down with the passion of a thousand suns, mark my words.

Even the chain restaurants are getting in on it

But hey, vegetarian places aren’t new. 

One sure sign of this is the fast food giants that are beginning to offer more meatless options for their diners.

And I’m not talking about the traditional stuff like a vegetable medley filling in your burrito, or some god awful, starchy veggie burger aimed at placating our meat-free friends. No, I’m talking products that have been through some process of development, with the lofty ambition of converting the meat lovers amongst us.

With the number of Google searches for ‘vegetarian restaurants’ increasing by 110% in 2021, chains have begun to arrive at the party. 

Hungry Jacks have introduced plant-based pattys to go in their Whoppers. Guzman y Gomez have developed a shredded shitake mushroom filling that looks, tastes, and feels like pulled barbacoa. And Grill’d serve Impossible patties which I can personally attest to raving about as I give away half of my lunch, forcing people to taste something that I enthusiastically tell them isn’t meat.

My friends don’t really dine out with me much anymore.

So, isn’t it about time to jump on board?

Now, this isn’t intended to be some preachy piece about how you should stop serving meat this instant, far from it. I’m just hoping to highlight that the culinary landscape in Australia is changing. It’s headed in a more meatless direction, not completely, but it’s on that path, and it wouldn’t hurt to explore it a little.

This could be via devoting a section of your menu to meatless options, even as an experiment, and tracking your savings over the months. 

You can become your produce suppliers’ best mate and obsess over the seasons like I used to. One thing’s guaranteed if you do, you’ll see a greater diversity in your menu (and also some more savings on those cheap, seasonal hauls).

And you can develop your cooking skills by offering something you’ve never offered before. There’s no better way to learn, trust me.

And if the big boys in fast food are in on it, then why not dip a toe in the meatless pool? (Okay, that sounds a bit gross, but you get what I mean.)

You never know, it might just be the best thing you’ll ever do.

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