Planet V: Celebrating veganism contact-free

Tahini Rose Water MousseKasbah's Tahini Rose Water Mousse, created by chef Simone Core, is a highlight of this year's Vegan Chef Challenge. It features vegan cream cheese, macerated fig, pomegranate, pistachio crumble and dried rose petals. (Photo courtesy of Kasbah)

We’re halfway through October. Pre-pandemic meant we would normally have seen the Sacramento Vegan Food Festival, and we’d be halfway through a month of packed restaurant tables around town as part of the annual Vegan Chef Challenge.

Both events have soldiered on this month, though both have had to pivot to accommodate state and local health regulations.

The Sacramento Vegan Food Festival on Oct. 3 and 4 became the “Sacramento Vegan Foodtruck Frenzy.” It was a significant shift for the festival, which held its inaugural event last year in Cesar Chavez Plaza. That first event clogged the park’s arteries with a tangle of food truck lines and overwhelmed vendors.

The volume of vegans willing to pay an entry fee was so large that event organizers decided to make the event twice a year and move it to the Capitol Mall. That second event, slated for spring…well, you know what came next.

And as the need for social distancing continues, the Sacramento Vegan Festival decided to move to Rancho Cordova and carry on with a semi-contactless drive-thru event. Carloads of vegans and the veg-curious were able to order from participating food trucks via QR code or text, with contactless payments. Event organizer Miguel Castillo said via email that all vendors were required to wear masks and gloves for the duration of the event.

On to the Vegan Chef Challenge, which lasts until the end of the month. Each October, participating restaurants add vegan items to their menus, packing their dining rooms daily with hungry pro-veg customers.

It’s possible those customers are still packing restaurants. I couldn’t tell you; I’m not even ready to go back to outdoor dining.

The organizers of Vegan Chef Challenge realize lots of others are wary, so they’ve dubbed this tenth annual challenge the “Covid 19 Take-Out Edition.” This year, there are 41 competitors, including traditional sit-down restaurants in Sacramento, Roseville and Folsom, plus a dozen pop-up or meal prep contenders.

Vegan Chef Challenge founder Bethany Davis acknowledged the difficulties of conducting a large-scale event during the pandemic: “[This] is about continuing the mission of Vegan Chef Challenge…with due respect to chefs, restaurants, and diners alike that while COVID is something to be taken seriously, we can still encourage vegan dining choices while stayin[g] within the COVID-conscious restrictions & guidelines.”

While many of us only care about the food, the organizers lean on the “challenge” side of things: Diners can vote for their favorites on the Vegan Chef Challenge website. In a nod to the tough blows Sacramento restaurants have sustained, this year’s organizers have allowed participating restaurants to limit the minimum number of dishes from the usual three to just one, and have placed less emphasis on presentation in the voting.

With a large number of this year’s participants in the pop-ups or direct ordering category, you should visit the site for full contact information.

I’ve done my VCC ordering takeout-only, and plan to support participating restaurants through the rest of the month. Please consider doing the same. However you choose to enjoy October’s vegan bounty, recognize that it’s a tough time for restaurants in general, let alone those adding menu items in slim times. Show gratitude, TIP WELL and TIP OFTEN.

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