For years, proponents have touted the virtues of a vegan diet and lifestyle.
A plant-based diet has been promoted as a healthier choice for humans, and also as a way to reduce our individual carbon footprint on the planet.
Traditionally, there has been a pushback against what has often been seen as a holier-than-thou plea – as well as a claim that vegan dishes simply cannot offer the taste or nutrition of meat, fish and dairy-based dishes.
But public interest has grown exponentially over the past decade and many major international food companies have taken notice and positioned themselves to take advantage of a booming market for herbal basis.
A local face of this pragmatic new veganism is White Rock’s Grounds & Greens Cafe, where owners – and chefs – Mannel and Ben Kilford are dedicated to making vegan food and drink that appeals to converts, not by the through lectures, but mainly by tasting good.
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The couple hope – as their website states – that they “build a community that embraces a plant-based way of life”.
But they say they can understand those who are hesitant to dip a toe in the water, especially based on dated perceptions.
“When you say vegan, people tend to think everything is kale and tofu, just basic, bland, flavorless,” Mannel said.
“Going back 10 years, that’s what it was,” added Ben. “But it’s evolved so much over the last decade.”‘
Mannel and Ben both know what they’re talking about.
They met during their apprenticeship at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver, then traveled to Europe where they worked as chefs for the Four Seasons chain. Back in Vancouver, Ben became Executive Sous Chef of the Four Seasons, while Mannel became Senior Chef of the Cactus Club Cafe.
Mannel said she started researching a vegan diet from a health perspective when her late grandmother was diagnosed with cancer in 2011.
This caused her and Ben to extend veganism trials over the years, but it was difficult to maintain, she said. Not only did they cook meat and fish every day, but they were both born and raised in traditions (Mannel in the Philippines, Ben in England) where meat dishes are a staple.
The birth of their son, Ollie, three years ago, Mannel said.
“We wanted to raise him in a healthy environment and also reduce our environmental footprint,” she said, noting that this led directly to the creation of Grounds & Greens, which started as her one-man project but grew into the main income of the family. .
For those who feel intimidated about going vegan, she advocates a phased approach and does a little research, she said.
“Take small steps – it took us 11 years, after all,” she said.
“You can start with breakfasts – start by replacing milks. There are so many milk alternatives available today – oat milks, almond milks, cashew milks – that there is no need to buy dairy milks.
There are many other vegan substitutes for meat and dairy available today, Mannel and Ben said — and most mainstream restaurants also offer vegan options on their menus. The key, they said, is to find something vegan you like and build from there.
For those who feel up to experimenting, Mannel said there are plenty of easy vegan recipes online.
“All of the dishes we make are really easy to make,” Ben said. “The only complicated thing about them is the number of ingredients we include – but they can be tailored to your own needs.”
“That’s what any chef will do – take a recipe and make it their own,” Mannel said.
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