A new monthlong initiative from Asheville Vegan Outreach and local plant-meat purveyor No Evil Foods may sway those with negative preconceived notions about vegan food to think again. The inaugural Plant-Based Face-Off, sponsored by national vegan activist group VegFund, is designed to shoot down misconceptions about animal-free cuisine while demonstrating to foodies of all kinds what Asheville’s eateries have to offer.
“We saw other cities doing it and we thought, ‘Asheville is a super vegan-friendly city; this is a great way to build awareness surrounding how delicious vegan food can be,'” says Rowdy Keelor, outreach director for Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, which coordinates Asheville Vegan Outreach. Durham, for example, hosted the Bull City Vegan Challenge in April, and Sacramento, Calif., is holding its sixth annual Vegan Chef Challenge this month.
Throughout October, 13 participating Asheville restaurants are offering a vegan dish created specifically for the competition. No Evil Foods has provided a 20 percent discount to eateries that feature the company’s products in a Face-Off dish. Diners can vote online for their favorites in three categories: Best Overall, Most Creative and Best Interpretation of a Traditional Dish. Both chefs and participating diners will be awarded prizes at an event after the voting is finished.
The idea behind the initiative, explains Keelor, is to show restaurants, chefs and customers that vegan cuisine can be just as satisfying as omnivorous offerings, while being much kinder to animals, the planet and human health. “Our goal is taking animals out of the consumption narrative,” he says. “There are strategic steps in getting there and in a country of instant gratification, one of them is that we have to show people that it can be delicious to eat vegan food. All of us — not just omnivores and meat eaters — like food that tastes good.”
The eateries that are onboard for the face-off run the gamut from all-vegan favorites like Plant to typically meat-strong establishments such as Gan Shan Station (known for its fresh seafood). Menu offerings similarly cover a wide range of global flavors. Dobra Tea in West Asheville, which already has a vegan-focused menu, offers a sampler platter featuring cashew brie from Udderly Not Cheese, lentil-walnut paté, greens, pears, grapes, maple-glazed walnuts, house mango chutney, house pickles, olives and millet-flax lavash. Corner Kitchen takes a Latin approach with chargrilled No Evil Foods chorizo, whipped malanga root, pumpkin seed-jalapeño pureé, puffed black beans and green mango slaw.
At Chestnut, a pan-Asian tonkatsu will showcase No Evil Foods’ Prepper paired with kaffir lime sticky rice, stir-fried local veggies, house-made katsu sauce and sriracha sweet chili. Meanwhile, the West Village Market and Deli is going Greek with a garlicky “chicken-esque” gyro, and Posana sticks to the tasteful classics with seared tofu, charred broccoli, quinoa, sunflower seed, butternut squash, cardamom carrot and citrus oil.
Kevin Westmoreland, co-owner of the Corner Kitchen and Chestnut, says his restaurants joined the challenge because both businesses like to offer meat-free menu items as part of a focus on sustainability. “We love all kinds of food, but we find more and more of our guests enjoy vegan and vegetarian items,” he says. “The Plant Based Face-Off makes it fun to see how creative we can be with items that have not necessarily been part of our menus over the years. There are also more plant-based items available now. This makes it easier to create dishes that guests who are new to vegetarianism can really enjoy.”