I was honored to participate as a guest judge at a Culinary Challenge cooking contest up at Porter College up at UCSC yesterday with the theme for the contestants being Plant Base Recipes, and the secret ingredient Tempeh, the fermented soybean cake of Indonesian origin. UCSC Dining had committed the day to learning about and training staff about Vegan and Vegetarian cooking and the health, environmental, and humanitarian values and benefits of Plant Based Diets, including an informative and heartfelt presentation and workshop by The Humane Society's Forward Food outreach coordinator. The Culinary Challenge pitted 5 of the University's most creative chef against each other in a one hour challenge to create a delicious recipe using tempeh in the most creative and healthy way, and the contestants did not disappoint! In fact, they blew our minds with some of the inspired recipes they created, and the depth of flavor they infused into their Vegan recipes! The chefs drew inspiration for their recipes from all over the globe, and every one of the dishes would have been welcome additions to a Foodsmith weekly menu, but we judges had to choose a winner, and Chef Maryah's Sweet Potato and Tempeh Gnocchi with kale, olives, and fat vegetables was our choice. Her technique for making the gnocchi was simple but totally innovative, and frankly, I'm "borrowing" (a nice word for stealing) her amazing Vegan gnocchi recipe!
While all the chef's did great, there was way more than one winner after the day came to a close. Chef's and students alike were inspired by not only the creative recipes, but the health benefits of Vegan and Vegetarian diets, the humanitarian aspect of choosing to consume less meat, and like Foodsmith, NO FACTORY FARMED meat or processed meat products, but also the vast negative environmental impact of large scale factory meat production facilities. At Foodsmith, we are thrilled that almost 20% of our customers choose Vegan meal plans, which is more than 20 times the national average. But Vegetarian and Vegan diets are on the rise, with more and more kids and adults choosing Vegan or Vegetarian for any and all of the reasons above. Whatever drives your choice, make sure that fresh vegetables make up the majority of your diet. At Foodsmith, it's the fresh seasonal produce that drives our menus, and for this reason, I kind of have to take exception to the Plant Based Diet moniker, in that all healthy diets are Plant Based, including Foodsmith Paleo meal plans. Making informed food choices, responsible and sustainable sourcing, and meticulous portion control of proteins and fats is always what drives our meals, whether Paleo or Vegan. Many many Americans are considering consuming less meat this year, and that's good for them, good for our planet's ecological diversity, and good for our environment. So grab a Foodsmith meal full of farm fresh produce, or hit your local farmer's market and stock up on fresh veggies. You'll be a winner too!