At least once a week I read the phrase “a bit pricey” in reviews, postings, and tweets in relationship to fine dining entrees served up in some of the finest restaurants as well as some of the worst. Yes, indeed there are some “pricey” menu items at some “pricey” restaurants, but most often the term is used without any substantive argument behind it, by readers, guests, and customers who have little or no experience with the preparation of fine dining quality food for service. Most recently I read it from a young woman who after seeing the BTB vegan menu for December 8, commented that the three course vegan (all plant) menu “is a bit pricey for veggies”.
As a chef educator, a chef owner, and a practicing chef with decades of experience in serving up bar food, barbecue, Italian, vegetarian, steak and fish, Asian, breakfast, lunch and dinner, the truth is, while the cost of serving prepared foods has decreased, the cost of serving what we in the industry refer to as “clean” food from scratch has risen. For example, take the commonly offered side of haricot verts in butter sauce that sells in a local establishment for $ 3 as a side --- really, butter sauce? As a fine dining chef, if I want to offer haricot verts as a side I have two choices: option one, the boil in bag beans swimming in a sauce of industrialized “fake” butter sauce which I can purchase for pennies per serving or, option two, purchase fresh beans, trim them, steam them and serve them in real butter or ghee, seasoned with kosher salt or drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with fresh parsley leaves. If you have become accustomed to the $ 3 haricot verts in “butter” sauce, then yes, $ 4 or $ 5 for the second option may seem a “bit pricey”. And while the price of many of the center of the plate proteins served in restaurants today, such as farmed fish and pork, has decreased over my lifetime, the price of local, unadulterated plant foods, which can be elevated to the center of a vegan plate, has not.
Veganism prohibits the consumption of the most common and inexpensive ingredients used by culinarians such as meat and fish stocks, eggs, butter, milk, and honey to name a few, and requires the use of ingredients such as nuts, seeds, more exotic beans, grains, fruits, herbs, spices and vegetables for variety. As a result, it requires methods that require more highly skilled labor and therefore more expensive labor costs. No wonder there are no vegan restaurants!
USDA statistics show that the majority of Americans have become used to cheap food and expect it, both at home and in restaurants. One only has to stand beside a check-out counter in a local grocery store to see it for themselves, baskets full of boxed macaroni and cheese, frozen pizzas, jars of spaghetti sauce, bottled condiments, canned this and boxed that to which one only has to add water or heat. Yes, income level has much to do with it, and yes, you get more for your buck with prepared foods in terms of quantity. But, if we really are what we eat, then maybe it is time to do what people in other countries do and spend more of our household income on food both at home and eating out. Yes, clean food costs more. So, if it’s a “bit pricey”, then maybe it’s because it is just plain better.
Hats off to those of you who live the vegan lifestyle --- you are creative, ingenious, disciplined and out of necessity, you must be darned good cooks!
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Eat smart, feel good! Chef AngelaB
Beyond the Bulll (an "eat smart" kitchen)
8095 Keowee School Rd., Seneca, SC 29672