Six restaurants competing in Vegan Love Challenge

Jan. 28, 2014 @ 11:06 AM

Parts & Labor will be serving black-eyed pea and sweet potato cakes with smoky guacamole in February. Across town, The Refectory Café will be serving polenta lasagna with basil pesto and grilled vegetables and dark chocolate macadamia torte for dessert.

If these dishes sound too good to be vegan choices, that’s part of the goal of the Vegan Love Challenge, the latest in the Triangle Meatless Monday organization’s ongoing campaign to try and introduce more vegan varieties to local restaurants. The word “vegan” is too often “like a scarlet letter,” implying food that is healthy but bland, said Eleni Vlachos, a documentary filmmaker, musician and an organizer of the Vegan Love Challenge. In October 2010, 10 local restaurants competed in the Triangle Vegan Challenge. Many of the diners who voted in that challenge told Vlachos they were neither vegetarian nor vegan, but were willing to try the options because the were served in a restaurant they trusted, she said.
In the spirit of that challenge, the Love Challenge is “a way to get chefs to put on their creative hats,” Vlachos said. February being the month for Valentine’s Day, chefs have been asked to conceptualize love in its many forms. They must obey certain rules. All dishes must be vegan, to symbolize love of others, and love for animals. Dishes also must contain a hidden element – a vegan ingredient that approximates something non-vegan – to symbolize the concept of hidden love.
“You just have to be a little more inventive in the kitchen, to not just fall back on the same of vegan staples,” said Matt Lardie, chief operations manager at Hummingbird Bakery, which will be serving Asian tacos with Burmese chickpea tofu and ginger peanut slaw. Making the chick pea tofu is a departure from the more traditional soy-based tofu, Lardie said. Amy Tornquist, chef at Watts Grocery and Hummingbird Bakery “really wanted to do something that was a little more unique” and still obeyed the restaurant’s practice of serving everything fresh, he said.
Customers usually expect “elevated Southern food [from Tornquist], and they will be surprised to see a Southeast Asian dish on the Hummingbird menu,” Lardie said.
Diners who wish to participate have the full month to visit the six participating restaurants. Then they will vote in four categories: best overall dish, best looking dish (or “love at first sight”), best deceptive ingredient, and best desserts. Voters may use their mobile phones to scan the code on the event poster at each participating restaurant to get Bull City Bucks credits, which are redeemable and local businesses.

Participating restaurants:

-- Beyu Caffe, 335 W. Main St. (Thai lettuce wraps and white chocolate mousse)
-- Dos Perros, 200 N. Mangum St. (Chile en Nogada with mushroom ceviche)
-- Hummingbird Bakery, 721 Broad St. (Asian tacos with Burmese chickpea tofu
and ginger peanut slaw)
-- Parts & Labor, at Motorco Music Hall, 723 Rigsbee Ave. (black-eyed pea and sweet potato cakes with smoky guacamole)
-- The Refectory Café, 2726 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd. (polenta lasagna with basil pesto and grilled vegetables; dark chocolate macadamia torte)
-- Taberna Tapas, 325 W. Main St. (dish to be announced)

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