“Oh for goodness sake, tell the chef to cook her something proper!”

I was so thrilled to hear this that I nearly leapt out of my chair and did a little dance of joy.

Why was I so thrilled? Well, I have this issue with pasta and risotto as the unimaginative de facto standard vegetarian option in pretty much every restaurant I ever visit.

So when I was invited to stay for lunch at C Restaurant in Vancouver while interviewing Executive Chef Rob Clarke, I explained that I didn’t eat meat or fish. The waiter started to suggest their one vegetarian option – the pasta. It was at this moment that Mr Clarke uttered the words I was so delighted to hear.

And what the chef came up with was amazing. Why it wasn’t on the menu already and why they chose tedious pasta instead, I cannot imagine.

My meal started with tiny bites of marinated fruits and vegetables on skewers. They were served standing upright on a glass tile, looking like multi-coloured flags of food. The main course was essentially “British Columbia on a plate”. The chef personally delivered it to my table and explained each item and where it had come from in the province. It seemed there was a delight on offer from almost every area, laid out on the plate like a work of art and with a good balance of vegetables and protein (unlike pasta or risotto which generally only contains carbohydrates and fat).

It just goes to show; this chef was far better than pasta. It’s a shame that so often vegetarians (or meat eaters who fancy a day off) are palmed off with sub standard fare. And Rob Clarke’s comment makes me wonder if in fact they are aware of this but perhaps choose the safe (lazy?) way out on their menus.

My plea to chef’s everywhere is don’t treat vegetarians as second class diners.
My experience of vegetarian food in British Columbia was generally excellent. I also visited (along with eight meat eaters) a seafood and sushi restaurant called Blue Water and we all tried a taster menu.

Each course was beautifully presented and explained and wine chosen specifically to complement it. Quite often as a vegetarian I feel that I am missing out on the care and attention that a chef gives to meat eaters. Not so here. My food was carefully thought through, artfully presented and deliciously tasty.

I spoke to quite a few chef’s during my trip and needless to say we ended up having “the vegetarian conversation” (it seems to have become impossible for me to eat out without being asked why I am vegetarian, and do I find it difficult and do I miss meat, and what do I eat… ? etc). Each chef told me that if I didn’t like what was on the menu I should ask the chef to make me something else. They assured me that every decent chef has plenty of vegetables in the kitchen and can easily make a meat free meal that doesn’t involve pasta or risotto.

I’d been given similar advice by British chefs too, so when I recently visited the Cadbury House Hotel in Yatton I was ready to put it to the test. Cadbury House is a gorgeous hotel with a boutique feel. The decor is modern, elegant and a touch quirky. The spa is luxurious and the gym is well equipped. And the group manager Mark has some great tales to tell that will keep you entertained if you are lucky enough to get a chance to share a drink with him.

The restaurant prides itself on including plenty of local produce on the menu and I was looking forward to dinner and an imaginative vegetarian meal. Predictably the dish on offer was risotto, but that didn’t worry me as I was armed with my advice to ask for something else. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work as planned.

My main meal was a selection of the vegetable side dishes, which would have been OK (although I did feel a little as though I’d been palmed off with an “I can’t be bothered” meal) except for the fact it had large chunks of bacon in it! I think it’s fair to say they hadn’t taken any time to think about what they were serving me. Once again, a sad indication of the attitude of many chefs towards vegetarians.

There are of course plenty of exceptions. One such is The Harbour Cafe in Margate. This is a small seafront bistro that does the best Sunday lunch nut roast I have ever had. And it comes with all the trimmings of a traditional roast dinner. It’s worth going to Margate just for that. I’d also recommend that you save desert for a trip to the bandstand cafe on the beach and have a freshly cooked donut Brown Derby. Delicious.

About the Author: Chantal Cooke is vegetarian and as a London Leader in Sustainability launched the Munch Less Meat challenge.

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