Vegetables are muscling out meatier options on the plate as diners recognise their health benefits. To cater to this shift, hotels need to pay attention to what is in season, and with a bit of creativity, make eating vegetables fun for diners.
The classic picture of the Western meal is meat, potatoes, and vegetables on the side. Whether it’s a slab of steak, a piece of chicken, some fish or a rich stew, chances are that meat is the main element of the dish.
That’s changing. Not that vegetarian food is pushing meat off the plate altogether. Instead, innovative vegetable dishes are taking centre stage, part of a worldwide shift that places vegetables at the forefront of dining, according to food and restaurant consultant Baum + Whiteman.
Several factors have come together for this paradigm shift to happen: rising beef prices, fear of chemicals in meat, farmers’ markets selling more exotic vegetables, a growing interest in seasonal food, and more people being ‘flexitarian’ – by going vegetarian on some days.
More restaurants, such as Al’s Place in San Francisco, named Best New Restaurant by Bon Appetit magazine in 2015, serve vegetable-centric dishes with an innovative twist. Interestingly, meats are side dishes on their menu.
Al’s Place makes vegetables more inventive – and you can tell from their names – by having dishes such as broccamole (guacamole made with broccoli), turnip-kale stem pesto, and sunchoke curry, made with a delicate tuber that tastes like artichoke but belongs to the sunflower family.
At the heart of this trend of enlivening vegetable dishes is ‘spiralising’, and kitchens are creating spaghetti alternatives from zucchini, squash, sweet potatoes and beets using this technique. Houlihan’s Restaurant and Bar chain in the US has launched an ‘inspiralised’ menu with a butternut squash and sausage lasagna and Thai noodle salad with noodles made from zucchini, mango and peppers.
This trend of moving meat to the side is more of a feature in Western cuisine, since Asian food has a longstanding tradition of using smaller amounts of meat as a highlight in dishes that comprises mainly of vegetables. Meat has more often been used as a flavouring rather than the main component of a dish and, as the New York Times put it, chefs “save fish and meat for moments when extra depth or intensity is needed”.
Yet the trend of creative vegetable dishes is spreading in Asia. Vegetarian grocer-café The Real Food Grocer, which has three branches in Singapore and one each in Malaysia’s Penang and Kuala Lumpur, has inventive vegetarian options such as chickpea and sweet potato cakes, and burger patties made from beet, carrot, millet, onions and zucchini.
According to the Vice President of Singapore Chef Association, Chef Eric Neo, this creative approach to preparing vegetables has made them more appealing to diners. “Healthier dining has always been around,” he says.
But chefs, being creative, have made vegetarian dishes more colourful and tastier. I think the trend will grow to include a larger audience.
And it seems diners love vegetables even more if they are organic. According to F&B product experts Innova Database, sales of organic products climbed from 5.9% to 9.3% from 2013 to 2015, while vegetarian products climbed from 7.8% to 10.5% in the same period. Couple that with the rising cost of meat (beef prices have risen between 12% and 15% in 2016)1 and the World Health Organisation’s link between processed food and cancer,2 the time is certainly right for vegetables to take centre stage – or at least ‘centre plate’.