Inspired by the Sacramento Vegan Chef Challenge, Santa Barbara area restaurants are gearing up for the first-ever Vegan Chef Challenge in April. The friendly competition is a month-long event challenging participating chefs to create delicious vegan dishes for all patrons to enjoy. “Our goal is to promote awareness of the health benefits of a plant-based lifestyle while encouraging more healthful vegan menu options at local restaurants,” said Beth Wettstein, a vegan since 2010, and the organizer of the Vegan Chef Challenge. “We hope to encourage everyone, not just vegans, to try out a dish.”
To participate, restaurants must agree to provide a complete vegan dining experience. To be considered vegan, ingredients must be free of dairy products, eggs, cheese, butter, meat, fish, poultry, whey, casein, gelatin, and glycerin (unless vegetable-sourced). Restaurants are also required to offer at least three new menu items throughout the month that are different from vegan options found on their regular menu and are not available yearround. Oil-free, low-fat, and gluten-free options are also encouraged, but not required. “Too often, the vegan option at restaurants is a salad or a veggie burger,” said Wettstein. “We want people to see that going vegan doesn’t mean giving up exciting, flavorful food.”
So far, participating restaurants include Satellite, Bibi Ji, Sama Sama Kitchen, Mesa Verde, Uncorked Wine Tasting and Kitchen,Viva Modern Mexican, Chase Bar & Grill, Bella Vista at The Four Seasons, and Opal, with more restaurants coming on board weekly. Categories include breakfast/brunch, appetizer, soup/salad, main entrée, and dessert. Awards in each category will be based on diner comments, photos, and the dining experiences of the Vegan Chef Challenge organizing team members. Chefs will be recognized at a special ceremony in May. To learn how to participate as a restaurant or a guest, visit theveganchefchallenge.com/santa-barbara. A voting system will be available online at that link starting April 1.