Vegetarian Dilemma

Joined Mar 12, 2004
The question is addressed primarily to the restaurant chefs in the group. I hope this is in the appropriate forum.

Here is the problem. I am not a vegetarian, but my wife is. About once a month we go out to eat at a very nice restaurant. I generally get a great meal with a reasonable measure of creativity. My wife generally requests a vegetarian plate. She has found this easier than trying to discuss specific menu items with the wait staff. Her assumption is that the chef will know which items do not contain meat or meat-based stocks, sauces, etc. BTW, she is vegetarian but not vegan.

Unfortunately, what she normally gets is a plate of steamed vegetables or occasionally a dish of pasta with vegetables. But rarely does she get anything that might be considered creative or unusual. And frequently the portions are huge, as if quantity is being substituted for quality. This scenario has played out time and again both locally and when traveling. Even in the finest restaurants, it is generally the same situation.

I guess my question is, do chefs not like to prepare vegetarian meals? Is there something she or I can do improve the quality of food she is served?

Your opinions and suggestion are most appreciated!

Joined Dec 12, 2000
Just some ideas, you could order a chef salad with out the meat, get some extra cheese or an extra egg substituted. Another one is one that we used to serve at work, vegetarian lasagna, made with alfredo sauce. I think the reason there isn't as much vegetarian dishes in restaurants, is because sometimes the demand isn't as great as a chef would hope, and to keep food costs at bay, sometimes the vegetarian options get eliminated.
What concerns me though about vegetarian dishes, wierd as it may sound, is nutritional balance. I mean I don't want to serve just a plate of veggies, I want to put some kind of protein and a starch on there as well. Something like pasta primavera, or cottage cheese with toast and fruit salad.
hope this helps you out.

Joined Oct 23, 2003
I might call ahead and discuss this and see what could be offered, especially at your local stops. If you walk into a steak and seafood restaurant on a slammed saturday night and order a veg plate not on the menu, more than likely it'll be a scoop of rice du jour and veg right out of the blanch pot. Creativity and a couple of hundred covers that night usually won't go hand in hand ;).
Yes the chef will-or should-know what items contain meat and meat byproducts, but the cook may not. Therefore your steamed veg plate. As far as said cook knowing the difference between vegan and ovo-lacto, etc.. the coin toss ain't on your side.
The local joints you frequent should probably be more than happy to come up with something enjoyable-given proper, prior notice. Or look for restaurants catering to a vegetarian clientele. Being all things to all folks just isn't practical from many angles.
hth, danny
Joined Mar 12, 2004
Thanks for the comments guys. After thinking about what you said, it is probably just a matter of convenience, and you can't really complain too loudly when you just ask for a vegetarian plate.

Admittedly it's the most disappointing as the price goes up. When you begin to pay $50 per person, I expect a little more personal consideration, but business is still business.

In the future, I am going to encourage her to ask for exactly what she wants and let the kitchen deal with it as they will.

Thanks again for the comments!

Joined Sep 21, 2001
Why do people, cooks, chefs, seem to marginalize vegetarian cooking as if vegetarians are happy subsisting on either a baked potato or maybe a nice plate o' pasta....How about all those dishes and all that food that never had meat in it to begin with? My wife is fairly hard-core veggie of going on 24 years and we shop carefully for restaurants that have a decent vegetarian selection. Our restaurant isn't vegetarian by any stretch of the imagination however we do have @25% of our menu devoted to vegetarian/vegan fare. And the funny thing is- most people don't realize that their mushroom soup and grilled artichoke sandwich is vegetarian.
If we eat at an upscale place, we will call ahead to talk to someone about their vegetarian options. Nothing worst than dropping a few dimes on a decent meal only to find the "vegetarian plate" is their regular sides, sans steak.....And really- I find that it is easier to cook a good upscale vegetarian meal at home. I know what my wife likes....
Joined Mar 12, 2004
You said it better than I did! And you last point about cooking a good vegetarian meal at home is in fact part of the problem for me/us.

Since I am the one that does most of the cooking, and a large percentage of our meals are vegetarian, she eats better at home than when we go out. The problem is that I am the one that likes to get out of the kitchen once in while for a nice meat/seafood dish that I wouldn't cook at home just for myself.

I can't imagine that the real problem in restaurants is anything more than "not wanting to bothered with it" or "choosing the safest possible option". Oh, we have a vegetarian? We'll just though them a plate of veggies. End of problem!

I will grant that the vegetarian/vegan issue is complicated by the so-called semi-vegetarians; people who elect not to eat a certain type of meat or seafood and call themselves vegetarians. It must be confusing because the other night I saw Emeril make a "Vegetarian Lasagna" using anchovies.

Oh well, I'm already cooking 6 nights a week. I guess another one won't kill me.

Joined Nov 20, 2000
Ya know Joe, your post made me feel bad, and I'll tell you why. Because in the past I have been guilty of just that. While I never stooped to nothing more than steamed veg's and a bp I was not as creative as I would have liked to have been. In my case and many others the restaurant is just not set up to do veg meals as such. There is a limited amount of veg and knowledge, also it used to be a vegetarian just "didn't eat meat" now there are so many variations of vegetarianism the average cook doesn't know which way to go. It would be nice if they boned up on it so when presented with it the challenge isn't so difficult. Many are just not set up to improvise on a busy night. I was able to, but not to the extent I would have liked, simply because I didn't know enough myself! But if it's a nice enough restaurant call up ahead of time. Given a little lead I'm sure they can whip up something extra nice. I know I myself used to live for the opportunity of something off the beaten path.
Joined Mar 12, 2004

Nah, don't feel bad. Actually it's refreshing to find that you're sensitive to the problem.

But I'm not sure it is as difficult as it appears on the surface. As far as terminology goes, I think a chef or the wait staff can safely make the following assumptions:

A vegetarian does not eat any meat or seafood, but does eat dairy products and eggs.

A vegan does not eat meat or anything that that came from an animal.

I honestly feel that in most restaurants, that there are still a lot of choices, many of which may already be on the menu as side dishes. On a number of occasions, my wife has seen the side dishes served with my meal and commented that she wish should would have got that.

Another aspect of it is presentation, and we all know how important that is. Even a modest plate of veggies can be presented with a little flare with a minimum effort.

I think that calling ahead may be answer for us, but not sure it should be necessary. I guess I just hope that maybe this thread will inspire some chefs to consider if this is something worth investigating further. Maybe we need "vegetarian friendly restaurants" or a chain that caters to people in mixed marriages--one veggie, one meat eater.

Joined Oct 13, 2001
Wow , great topic! In my training I was taught to abhorr vegetarian diners in the restaurant and to just give em steamed veggies , salad , baked potato, pasta or rice and maybe a fruit plate . The chefs being old school european disliked anything people ordered that was not on there menu . As I have progressed in this biz I have seen that vegetarians are treated as a pain in the rear by the kitchen staff and there food is prepared with no love or flair .
I myself love veggie fare and I feel this dislike of veggie food is
more of an old mind set from the older chefs than it is now . Look at peachcreeks place , 25% of the items veggie and most of the
customers dont even know it . I just made veggie mushroom soup today and the staff who ate it were awed at how much flavor it had . I ran out before lunch was over and I did not think it would go over well but who knows ? Now peach , if you could divulge your recipe for grilled artichoke sandwhich , well , maybe I can make a lot more people happy. Oh yeah, in closing , the Atkins dieters at work are hating my selections but oh well .
Peace , Doug....................
Joined Jan 5, 2001
I confess to almighty Cheftalk,
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have sinned through my vegetarian plates...

I am chef entremettier (veg a & starches). That means, when someone orders the odd vegetarian, it really interrupts the nice flow that the grill chef and I have, as I have to prepare it by myself. (That is personally my only beef, pardon the pun, with vegetarian orders). From the business side of it, we don't make much money on the vegetarian meals as they are much cheaper. As for the rest of the brigade, they're just old school and they curse when the order comes up because they are fundamentally opposed to vegetarians, as well as people who have allergies and special requests. It's the old "It's my kitchen and I'll show my ugly if I want to" attitude. Yes, it's pretty lame, but it's reality in many restaurants.

In truth, I do try very hard to produce something nice. I'm not trained in vegetarian cooking, and I'm sure my meals are not as nutritionally balanced as a vegetarian would like, but they are prepared with care and flavour. Risotto is the old standby when I don't expect too many orders or when creativity is flat. But I make a lot of different kinds of gnocchis, french style, and polenta, soft or pan fried. Come to think of it, if it wasn't for Italians, this French restaurant would have no vegetarian meal to speak of!

Vegetarian meals are an afterthought because we get very few requests for them. I'll sell one or two on a slow weeknight (40-50 people), and probably the same on a busy weekend (80-90 people). The fact that we sell relatively fewer on weekends demonstrates that many people ask for vegetarian meals because a) they try to eat more responsibly during the week but are not really vegetarians, or b) because it's cheaper. I think only a handful are true vegetarians. My point is that if the average cook has the same experience and seen the same vegetarian profile as I have, they will be more inclined to cheat and use some meat product like a little stock to flavour sauces or ragouts. I don't condone it; it's just a theory.

That said, I do believe vegetarians deserve the same consideration as anyone else. As paying customers, we owe them that much.
Joined Aug 11, 2000
What I hear from vegetarians is that they want a protein...tempeh, tofu, beans...they get tired of alot of cheese covered dishes or pastas. When I cater large events I really look out after the veg guys, most really like the selection the other omnivores don't really notice that I'm slipping in alot of non-meat items....because there is usually some straight forward meat dish...brisket with caramelized onions on artisan roll for example.I'll print out some of my latest jobs this afternoon.
Joined Mar 12, 2004
Glad you brought this up, because catered events and buffets can be another major problem for vegetarians. My wife attends at least 2 meetings a month that provide a catered meal or buffet. Often her selections are limited to the veggie dip tray and the desserts.

Even when the caterer is notified in advance that a number of the guests are vegetarian, the results are often poor. Apparently, a lot of caterers think that vegetarians eat chicken and seafood.

As a meat-eater myself, I certainly don't want all meals to be sanitized to conform to the lowest common denominator of every special interest group, but it does appear that the food service industry needs to increase its awareness of such issues. The solutions may not be as difficult as they first appear.

Just my $.02.
Joined Sep 21, 2001
The more this thread progresses it seems that non-vegetarians look upon vegetarians as if they have some affliction or maybe one day these people will grow out of this "vegetarian kick" and go back to the usual meaty diet. After all these years my wifes' family are still asking if she eats meat yet....Its funny that people think that specialized training, or spiritual enlightment or "them hippie drugs" or anything else other than common sense is tantamount to be able to produce vegetarian cuisine. Phooey! If you can cook, you can cook. If you are creative, inventive, plain curious, a good reader, it is possible to see how HUGE the world of veggie food is. I just quoted a guy an entire veggie/vegan meal for a wedding and I put it together so the meat-eaters would probably not even notice that there was no meat entree. Its not about ingredients, its about the dish.
I catered a dinner last week and the vegetarian choice was "Savory saffron polenta with a lemon/garlic sauce with oven roasted veggies. BTW- it was vegan if we left off the P. Reggiano. For the vegans I lightly grated a little fresh nutmeg over the top. For a protein they were serve gingered lentil soup.
Food IS the cooks' toolkit. To be dependent on cooking animals for your recipes is akin to a mechanic who only fixes things with one wrench. Or a painter with only 2 colors. Yes it can be done, but why limit yourself?
Joined Aug 11, 2000
passed appetizers
spanokopita, asp. in fillo, chicken liver on crostini

Buffet for 250
Grilled lamb, grilled chicken, grilled veg platter, grain salad, Meze platter with olive, cuke dip, roasted pepeprs, salad loaded out with veg, breads including grilled pita, fruit pies, wedding cake and tiny tarts...

over christmas I had a cocktail buffet with 150 guests ...stations included, wild shroom duxelle, asian with Vietnamese springrolls, potstickers, rice stick salad
veg platter, pate, veg terrine, salmon with dip, brisket iwth caramelized onion sandwiches.....
Joined May 1, 2001
Vegans pose a major problem when entertaining at home. It's not just that they don't eat meat. They believe that eating meat is morally WRONG! Moreover quite a few vegans are outspoken in their critique of meat-eating.

Serving meat when a vegan is at the table is sort of like, "We LIKE boiled baby. You don't have to eat it."
Joined Sep 21, 2001
Awwwwww, C'mon.

And this was such a gooood thread. Don't be throwing the baby out with the stock,errr, I mean bathwater.

And after dessert they spraypaint "murderer" on your wingtips, free your pets and won't come near the leather sofa. Man! Thats the last time I invite PETA over for a pigroast!

And to think last night I ate babyback ribs in front of my sweeheart, while all the time, inside she was suffering in silence. Nawwww.
Joined Jul 31, 2000
I agree,

Chefs can no longer consider a vegetarian as a pain in the arse.

It is my opinion that a finely prepared vegetarian meal is more challenging to prepare then a meat based dish.

You must follow the seasons, develope layers of flavor that are not as easy then preparing animal protiens.

Some of the most respected chefs in America and Europe, as well as Asia are preparing amazing vegetarian cuisine, and quite a few offer a prix fix menu designed solely around vegetarian entrees, (Trotter, Keller) just to name two.

However, the dilema facing many, if not most people who enjoy a vegetarian diet is that the main stream restuarants/hotels just don't care enough to incorparate vegetarian into there menus or specials.

All we can do as culinarians is spread the gospell and support our friends and customers paletes.

You know guys, it's really not that hard, and it's a fun challenge.
Joined Sep 21, 2001
Amen, brother.
This is kind of what I see too. Vegetarians are treated like those quirky PETA people or merely "meat disabled". A few years ago I heard an interview on NPR with Charlie Trotter and by the way he talked nobody had ever had a decent veggie meal before he came along. I just don't get it. Heres another way to put it. Food is food is food is food. And if you know how to cook, chances are it will be tasty.
As for the business side. If I am getting $15.00 for a plate of cornmeal and veggies because I bothered to do it right, cool. And we get $4.25 for a bowl of vegan lentil soup. So even a narrow-headed restaurant manager can see that vegetarians and vegans can do wonders for your food cost. Just don't let them in the coatroom with can of spraypaint.

Heres a story for you. I might be repeating myself but anyway.
When I was a teenager I was traveling in Mexico and while spending a few weeks on the beach in Puerto Escondido was befriended by a group of French Canadians. One night we were partying on the beach and someone asked if we were hungry and the next thing they are passing food around. This woman had made sliced cucumbers that were just soaked in sugar and salt, but tasted fantastic. No kitchen. I was amazed that something so simple could be so good. It was like a door opened and I realized that it wasn't the food. Its the hand and mind that touches it.
Joined Sep 21, 2001
I used to work at a real hippy-dippy place in the 70's that was a Moosewood wanabe. I guess those kinds of places attract a different kind of clientele.
Here are a few of the extreme people, identified by their nicknames.
Millet Guy. Yup he ate millet. The round stuff in birdseed. By the bowl.
Cud Man. Came in for breakfast of herbed tea, read his paper and chewed a wheatgrass cud. Nicely left it on the saucer when he was done.
The most nonviolent woman I have ever met.-Only ate fruit or would only "graze" off of still planted leafy greens.
No fun. A woman who was not only vegan, but sugar free, yeast free, and ate no root vegetables. Said they "weighed her down". I believe the correct word to describe her was "anorexic".

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