The Vegan Chef Challenge, an event that takes place in cities around the country encouraging people to give vegan dishes a try, comes to Denver for the first time on September 15.
The event runs for an entire month and challenges chefs at vegan and non-vegan restaurants to create a special vegan dish for their menu. Diners can go to participating restaurants, try the vegan menu items, and later vote on their favorites.
The contest also encourages participants to try out “10 Weeks to Vegan,” a guide that offers tips and recipes to people interested in eating vegan. The guide and challenge are projects from the vegan advocacy organization Vegan Outreach. The challenge began more than a decade ago in North Carolina and spread nationally last year. The events have sprung up in California, Texas and Oklahoma, among other locations.
“This challenge is not something exclusively for vegans. It’s for everybody to come out and try something different,” Victor Flores said, one of the event organizers.
While encouraging restaurants to include vegan options is one goal, so is expanding the perception of veganism, Flores said. Any meal can be made with vegan ingredients, he said, discussing his own transition and learning to prepare the Mexican dishes of his heritage that traditionally include animal products with vegan recipes. These days, eating vegan is far more creative than eating a salad, Flores said.
“Times have changed,” he said.
As of Sept. 1, participating restaurants in Denver included the Savage Beet Food Truck, Spice Room, African Grill & Bar, Vital Root and Backyard Bowls. People interested in participating in the challenge can learn more at veganchefchallenge.org/Denver.
“There is a nice vegan scene in Denver already,” he said, but the challenge is coming to Denver to continue familiarizing people with vegan options in the Mile High City. And hopefully, he said, some restaurants keep their dishes on the menu permanently.
“A lot of these non-vegan chefs are looking for a challenge,” he said.
Kyle Luce, executive chef at Vital Root, is still planning the specials he’ll put on the menu come competition time, but he’s hoping to do something unique. If rulebooks allow, Luce envisions updating the menu item throughout the month to respond to seasonality. Certain ingredients will be going in and out of season during the event, he said.
Vital Root is part of the Edible Beats restaurant group boasting Linger, El Five, Ophelia’s and Root Down. Each restaurant has a distinct personality and concept, and is located in a storied building.
Vital Root’s concept caters to people who are conscious about healthy eating in a fast-casual setting. It is entirely gluten free and vegetarian. Any dish can also be made vegan. Vital Root also serves as a hard-to-find dining option for people with allergies or dietary restrictions, he said. The menu strives to appeal to everyone, he said, from the customers just finishing up a yoga class to the meat-and-potato-loving diner who might not typically visit a vegan eatery.
The menu features a “Reuben” sandwich made from beets, turnips, celery root and carrots, mixed in all the traditional Reuben spices. It can be ordered with Swiss cheese, vegan cheese or no cheese at all.
“What’s surprising is how close it actually tastes to a normal Reuben,” he said.
Overall, Luce said he is excited to see the challenge come to Denver. He’ll be checking out the other participating restaurants too, he said, eager to try the menu specials they dream up.
“Any chance that we can get to surprise people with the way vegetarian food can be is a good thing,” he said.