It sounds like the set up for a joke: A chef and a nutritionist walk into a convention center. But there’s no punch line. Instead, the collaboration between Brad Martin, executive chef of the Riverside Convention Center, and Cory Gheen, MS, RD, chief instructor at nearby Loma Linda University School of Allied Health Professions, has led to something truly innovative: a “healthy community” menu that offers fresh, seasonal plant-based dishes rather than the fast food or steam table offerings that are more common at convention centers.
CAM+E: What was the impetus for this collaboration?
CG: At Loma Linda we advocate a diet that’s lacto-ovo-vegetarian, which means it includes dairy products and eggs along with plant-based foods. I was really hoping to be able to show a wider public that you can enjoy vegetarian food without having to compromise on taste or satisfaction.
BM: I felt that the food vegetarians are served should show the same care as what we’re serving to eaters of animal proteins.
CAM+E: What are some of the most popular dishes on the “healthy community” menu?
BM: The green lentils and mixed vegetable hot pot is one that’s been really well received. Another is the quinoa chickpea cakes that are served on a bed of sautéed baby kale. We get a lot of last-minute requests for vegetarian plates once guests see these come out of the kitchen. Some people actually pretend they’ve lost their meal tickets so they can make the switch.
CAM+E: Are there still misconceptions about vegetarian food?
CG: People worry that if they have a vegetarian meal they’re going to be hungry an hour later. But if you’re giving people whole grains, vegetables and a vegetarian protein like beans, those foods are fibrous and starchy. They will definitely take some digestion, but people might think that they’re not full because they don’t have the feeling of heaviness that they might experience if they were eating, say, a big steak.
BM: I had somebody recently who did a tasting for a large event and wanted to take out the vegetable and replace it with a second starch. I told her, if you’re just serving animal protein and starch, your group is going to be very sleepy and lethargic after the meal. So, think about what your objective is. CG: When you choose a vegetarian meal or buffet, you’ll also save on food costs, which is another attractive benefit. BM: And we’re not cheapening the dish by eliminating those proteins. If anything, it allows me to introduce new flavors, textures and even colors. When I serve purple or orange cauliflower, people will ask, ‘Wow, did you dye that?’ I have to explain that, no, I didn’t. It grows that way. riversidecvb.com