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Davis, California

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Three campus locations introduce new vegan dishes to participate in April’s Vegan Chef Challenge

Restaurants throughout Yolo County, including Scrubs Cafe, Spokes and The Gunrock, will feature vegan options throughout the month


By RODRIGO VILLEGAS — campus@theaggie.org


For the month of April, restaurants throughout Yolo County will have special vegan menu items to take part in the Vegan Chef Challenge (VCC). The month-long event is hosted by Vegan Outreach, a non-profit organization that promotes veganism to end animal violence, and challenges local restaurants to present new vegan menu items. 

With the theme of “Go Green, Yolo!,” chefs were encouraged to create plant-based menu items. Throughout the month, diners can try out the dishes and vote for their favorite item on the Vegan Chef Challenge website. Once the challenge ends, businesses are encouraged to add popular vegan items to their menu. 

“One of our major programs is the Vegan Chef Challenge,” Jackie Va, director of events at Vegan Outreach, said. “We ask chefs to add new vegan options because we want people to go vegan, but we also want to give them local options to help them go vegan.”

Vegan Outreach revitalized the VCC in 2022 after the COVID-19 pandemic prevented them from conducting the challenge. They held 10 VCCs nationwide in 2022, according to Va. The following year, the number of VCCs increased to 30 nationwide.

“Before Vegan Outreach handled the Vegan Chef Challenge, one [organizer] would do all the work,” Va said. “The process has gotten so much easier for volunteers to pick up since we’re doing a lot of the work for them: we’re advertising, we’re sending the press releases for them, we’re creating websites — they don’t have to worry about it too much.”

The VCC returns to Yolo County again this year, with a total of 11 participating restaurants, including Scrubs Cafe, Spokes and The Gunrock. These dining services have introduced masala dosa ($8.95), a mojo mushroom burger ($9.99) and a falafel plate ($13), respectively. 

Last year, the mushroom carnitas tacos by Executive Chef Janos Levin and Sous Chef Michael Chiu of Scrubs Cafe and Sage Street received the award for “Most Voted and Best Entrée.”

Levin stated that he and his team chose to participate in the event again for multiple reasons: they are the defending champions; he is always looking for ways to grow the menus at campus dining services, especially to expand the number of vegan options and lastly, he aims to demonstrate that delicious food can be made using only vegetables. 

“We want to show that you can make really good food out of simple, whole ingredients,” Levin said. “[The VCC is] an opportunity for us to showcase our skills in a different way. It’s always fun to showcase flavor through vegetables versus animal proteins and adding additional butters and fats.”

However, before finalizing the dishes for the VCC, the items underwent several iterations that incorporated vital student feedback. Levin and Mary Schertzer, directors of retail dining operations, emphasized the importance of student feedback to craft dishes that represented vegan cuisine.

“We go through multiple iterations before we present the dish,” Levin Schertzer said. “We’ll have an idea, but we hone them, and as part of that process, we do involve our students. We ask for their feedback, and we utilize that feedback to develop the dish further.”

Levin Schertzer continued to describe the importance of team input. 

“A lot of it is getting feedback from our team members where [veganism] is a part of their lifestyle,” Levin Schertzer said. “We want to make sure they feel represented and that we are not trying to imitate something.”

Levin Schertzer mentioned that he would like to continue participating in the VCC in future years, stating that it fosters camaraderie yet maintains a friendly competition between the dining locations involved. Furthermore, he also added that this is one of the outreach programs where members around Davis visit the various locations. 

To learn more about the new items available and vote, visit the Vegan Chef Challenge website before the end of April. 

Written by: Rodrigo Villegas — campus@theaggie.org


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