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Wegman’s Vegan Dinner Tasting

Posted by tinako on June 2, 2010

Our city may not have a lot of vegan restaurant options, but I don’t think I could live near a better grocery store.  Our Wegman’s store’s head chef, I believe named Eric, contacted our vegetarian society president to see how Wegman’s could promote their new vegan and vegetarian buffet.  They decided to host a complimentary tasting dinner at their on-site restaurant for us, and it was awesome.  (Disclosure: obviously, I received a free meal.)

Eric told us that Danny Wegman is committed to bringing healthy food to its customers.  Danny insisted on a hot vegetable bar and to Eric’s surprise it was very popular; they keep adding to its length.  He said Danny visits this store three times a week and always heads to this section to make sure its going in the right direction.  It recently went vegetarian when they removed the traditional Bonito (fish) from the Kombu Dashi (seaweed stock) on the Dashi Eggplant.

Eric said that with that success, Danny looked at the cold salads bar and mentioned he was almost there, that is… almost vegetarian.  So Eric said what the heck and made the whole thing vegetarian.  Nobody seemed to have a problem with it, most people didn’t even notice, sales did not go down, and in fact he said he saw new faces there.

Eric has traveled all over the world to learn from famous vegetarian restaurants and they have Julie Jordan, a vegetarian restaurant-owning and cookbook-writing chef on consultation.  She was there tonight and created or inspired several of the dishes.

It was so nice to hear validation from a professional chef that “vegan food isn’t weird, it’s awesome!”  He said he was moving more and more towards vegetarianism, and two of the five who prepared the meal are vegan, one beginning just three weeks ago (Go, Molly!).  The whole thing was so warm and fuzzy.    If you are not vegan, I’m not sure whether you can understand what this meant to me.  For 17 years I have either cooked my own meals, or had to look through revolting meat-filled menus, pester the waitress to see if there was anything at all I could eat, make do with whatever they could scrape together, and then watch and smell everyone else’s meat.  I’ve had good meals, but it is always an “issue.”  I don’t want to make it sound difficult; it is totally worth it, but there is no question that when a vegan eats out she usually has to expect a hassle and lower her expectations.  I don’t think I realized the overall sub-level experience I’ve come to expect at restaurants until tonight.

For the first time in 17 years, I confidently ate an inventive, delicious meal surrounded by 89 vegans and a professional, supportive staff who were wildly enthusiastic about the food being vegan, all at a store that wants to serve more healthy meals and sees vegans as customers they care about serving.  It was an hour and a half bubble, practically like a trip to a spa.  I feel spiritually full.

There was a downside to the evening.  It totally exposed me for the cooking fraud I am.   It was all so wonderful and nothing like  what I cook.  There was very little soy, gluten, or rice.  It was… veggies.

At the back there, L to R, is Dashi Eggplant and Coconut Kale.  Next is Big Natures Market Tossed Salad with Herb Baked Tofu; Brown Rice, Corn & Black Bean Enchiladas; and Swiss Potato Salad.  In front of the enchilada is Fennel and Figs (I didn’t get a fig :-(  ); and the round brown thing is a Carrot Cashew Cake.  In the front is Pressed Salad and Orange Raisin Carrot Salad.

Everything was terrific.  The potatoes had a horseradish and mustard thing going, the enchilada was out of this world, the tossed salad is meant to be an entree salad and had edamame, tofu, and cashews.  There was nothing that didn’t work.

After the meal we had time to ask questions and it sounds like they have some great ideas and were open to our concerns.

My bubble burst a little bit afterwards when I went to do some shopping.  I stopped at the vegetarian bar, hoping to pick up a dessert, but there wasn’t anything vegan that I could find.  The one dessert in this section wasn’t labeled like Eric had promised so I had to ask someone, who didn’t even know what vegan meant, and she had to go ask, and it wasn’t.  To be fair, Eric only talked about entrees, but if they’re going to put it on the buffet, it should be marked, and if there’s only one, make it vegan.  But they did have an enormous selection, two double-sided buffets of entrees and salads, each about 20′ long, about half vegan, $7.49/lb. Another thing I like is that it is at the front of the store on its own two buffet lines, so I don’t have to walk by the piles of meat at the non-veg buffets, the deli, or the lobster tank.  But I do have to walk by all the non-vegan desserts.

I should have gone straight home after the meal; it was a bit of a letdown to pass stacks of Cheez Whiz and Coke and throw pretzels and corn flakes in my cart.  Well, we can’t all cook like professionals.  And we really needed cat litter.

The letdown continued when I arrived home just as our cat began to throw up.

Anyway, while I avoid this store like a plague-house during the insane right-after-work time period, I would like to go there for dinner sometime.  I think we could all get something we like, and if stuff is labeled, I won’t have to ask anyone and feel weird.

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