When Vegandale held its first Big Apple edition of its vegan food and culture festival last year, the daylong affair sold out and brought out 15,000 people to Randall’s Island.
“It was our biggest festival to date,” recalls Eva Lampert, director of vegan operations for the Toronto-based festival, now in its fourth year.
When Vegandale returns to NYC this weekend, it’ll be even bigger — bumped up to two days this time in response to the demand, with more than 100 vendors and sponsors serving food free of animal products.
Lampert, vegan since 2014, thinks a “boom” of veganism in media and pop culture has “removed the taboo of veganism.”
“It’s a great opportunity to show people how easy and enjoyable it can be to eat vegan,” says Lampert of the festival, which draws about an even mix of vegans and non-vegans. “Whatever you already enjoy to eat has been veganized.”
From fine to fast dining
Vegan food is the dining trend du jour, from critic darlings to fast food joints. You have Michelin-starred spot Nix offering exclusively vegan menus alongside White Castle, which is rolling out new sliders using the vegan Impossible Burger (the one that “bleeds,” that’s now everywhere from Momofuku Nishi to Wahlburgers).
Customers also can’t seem to get enough of new plant-based goods, with the alternative milk Oatly experiencing cafe shortages this summer and East Village smokehouse Ducks Eatery’s smoked watermelon “ham” the latest viral food sensation.
Sales of vegan products are also on the rise, growing by 17 percent over the past 12 months to exceed $3.7 billion in the U.S., according to a recent report from Nielsen commissioned by the Good Food Institute.
NYC’s newest vegan restaurant is helmed by a non-vegan chef.
This month, Champ Jones opened Sans in Carroll Gardens, where dishes like soft-set tofu with demi tomato and golden beet, and the “TV Dinner,” a take on meatloaf with peas, carrots and potato, are available a la carte if diners don’t opt into the $65 five-course tasting menu.
A penchant for a plant-based lifestyle as well as an enthusiasm for reducing meat consumption led the Eleven Madison Park alum to open Sans along with sommelier Daniel Beedle (The NoMad and the since-shuttered Michelin-starred spots Betony and Juni).
While cooking without animal products — especially butter — is challenging, the limitations force Jones to engage with his ingredients more intimately, the chef says. “It’s allowed us to explore different combinations of uncommon ingredients to create intensely savory and satiating food that we want to be serving people.”
For instance, in one dish, olive oil is smoked to replicate the flavor of bacon.
“My experience in fine-dining kitchens has been helpful because they tend to employ more of the contemporary cooking techniques, which has helped us think creatively about how we combine ingredients and create dishes,” he says.
Sans’ mission isn’t to convert diners to veganism, but rather “spur interest in what you can do without animal product,” Jones says.
Starting a conversation
Also piquing interest in the meat-free mindset, Brooklyn-based writer Alicia Kennedy launched her first podcast, Meatless, this past summer in an effort to encourage more comfortable, honest conversations about the politics, culture and ethics of meat eating.
“I started Meatless because I didn’t see a space for comfortable conversations about this topic that people are usually uncomfortable discussing or bringing to the fore,” Kennedy says. “Not everyone I interview is vegan or vegetarian, but everyone I bring on can have an honest conversation about the role of food in our cultural and political lives while holding space for the notion that animals deserve to live good lives.”
Kennedy notes that while options like Superiority Burger in the East Village, Bed-Stuy’s Toad Style and Chickpea & Olive in the Williamsburg Whole Foods have brought quality vegan comfort food to the forefront, ingredients like duck fat and butter prevail on trendy and high-end restaurant menus. She still has yet to see “exciting” vegan options on menus at restaurants that serve meat.
Even as a vegan in NYC in 2018, “You’re still the weirdo if you choose to be vegan around most crowds,” Kennedy says. “But I hope the stigma goes away as the food gets better.”
Here’s a look at some of NYC’s newest all-vegan spots:
Champ Jones brings a fine-dining approach to vegan fare, including a $65 tasting menu, at his brand new restaurant. (329 Smith St., Carroll Gardens)
The sixth NYC location of popular vegan chain By Chloe opened earlier this month, bringing its guac burger and mac ’n’ cheese to the Seaport District; it also features the second location of its vegan bakery, Sweets by Chloe. (181 Front St.)
Rip’s Malt Shop
This Brooklyn spot started serving vegan comfort food last month, with its team including cupcake specialists Allison and Matt Robicelli. (10 Clermont Ave., Fort Greene)
Ravi DeRossi expanded his vegan fine-dining concept to Brooklyn in June, with brand new items like pineapple tartare. (188 Havemeyer St., Williamsburg)
Plant-based chef Matthew Kenney’s latest restaurant is this vegan Japanese restaurant, which opened in the East Village in May. (67 Second Ave.)
The six-year-old vegan sushi chain, which also serves vegan dumplings, noodle salads and noodle soups, opened its sixth location in NoLIta this spring. (215 Mulberry St.)
(With Meredith Deliso)