Vegan eating places deliver crispy selection to Edmonton’s meals scene

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Liane Faulder Karuna Goodall (left) and her brother Neil Royale (right) are the owners of Die Pie, a plant-based pizzeria that serves gluten-free, dairy-free pizzas and pastas for diners looking for vegan options. Karuna Goodall (left) and her brother Neil Royale (right) are the owners of Die Pie, a plant-based pizzeria that serves gluten-free, dairy-free pizzas and pastas for diners looking for vegan options. Photo by Larry Wong /Postal media

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Consumers can queue up for cashew nut cheese because it’s trending. Or there may really be a plant-based movement going on. In any case, more and more vegan restaurants are springing up in Edmonton.

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Three well-known non-meat brands are due to open by the end of the summer. The Green Mustache and Copper Branch are chains from BC and Quebec, respectively, that have dedicated themselves to wholesome, plant-based and organic foods.

In August, American celebrity chef Matthew Kenney Kanu, an upscale experience at Mayfair on Jasper, an apartment and retail complex that also houses Cinnaholic, launches a vegan cinnamon roll chain that was set up around the block when it opened two months ago.

On a larger scale, NAIT is exploring a variety of plant-based food options on campus after recently hosting a plant-based conference – a move that could affect thousands of students.

All these rumors about cutting meat in favor of plants begs the question: Are more people becoming vegans? Or do garden greens just enjoy their day in the sun?

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Statistics do not support widespread abandonment of animal products. A recent study by Dalhousie University found that only 2.3 percent of Canadians consider themselves vegans (which means they don’t eat any animal products, including honey). About 7.1 percent of Canadians are vegetarian. Those numbers haven’t changed in about a decade.

Perhaps the most telling statistic from the Dalhousie study is that 43 percent of respondents would like to include more plant-based foods in their diet, which could point to the real market potential – the omnivore with a yen for fiber.

When Die Pie, a plant-based pizzeria on Jasper Avenue, opened its doors last August, it was because the co-owners grew up vegetarian and thought Edmonton needed more options for good food without animal proteins. Chef and co-owner Neil Royale, who is now vegan, says his restaurant attracts people like him. But he also says that a lot of people are just interested in eating healthy, and the pie is a yummy option.

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“We call ourselves vegetable because people sometimes have a negative feeling about the word ‘vegan’. This represents to you some people who are pushing your opinion on you. We don’t force anything on the customer, ”says Royale.

Nutritionist Nick Creelman, who hosted a three-day conference on plant-based nutrition at NAIT in May, says that part of the challenge with adopting vegan foods is that people generally don’t trust the unknown.

“There’s a mindset, whether it’s vegan or vegetarian, it can’t be that good,” he said.

At the NAIT conference, Julie MacInnes of the Humane Society of Canada did her best to get the message across that vegetables are delicious and filling. She introduced NAIT chefs to umami-rich dishes such as barbecue pulled jackfruit through a program called Forward Food.

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“The chefs way of thinking is that vegan food doesn’t taste good,” says MacInnes. “But when they take these training courses and we teach them how to make chocolate mousse with avocados … the combinations are limitless.”

She emphasizes that herbivores are not necessarily anti-meat. There is just one growing realization that plants are better for health and better for the environment. MacInnes points out that even large meat companies like Maple Leaf are getting started with vegan foods, like the company’s Field Roast line of plant-based, meat-like products.

“McDonald’s launched its first vegan burger in Finland,” said MacInnes. “That’s how the trends go.”

She notes that the Canada Food Guide is currently being revised with an emphasis on plant-based foods.

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“This will affect our future generations … It’s a really exciting time right now.”

Nevertheless, with the change comes disruption. Sheniz Kassam, owner of Noorish at 109 Street, has been preaching plant-based since the restaurant opened in 2011, and her vegan cheese-making workshops have been popular for years. However, she is now feeling the pressure of more competition, which is reflected in declining restaurant sales.

“We feel like a big city sometimes, but we don’t have the population density to support this diversity in our food market, even though we’re a foodie culture,” said Kassam, who is taking back Noorish’s cooking workshops to focus on the restaurant.

Even so, she is pleased that more and more people are adopting the plant-based diet because she feels that it increases health and longevity.

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Sherry Schlüssel from ProCura Real Estate Services, the woman behind the 60-seater canoe, also advocates the health benefits of a plant-based diet. The Calgary-based developer has been feeling better physically since she became a vegan two years ago.

Schluessel met Kanu’s head chef Kenney, who runs 15 plant-based restaurants worldwide, through diet and fitness professionals in California, where she took a health sabbatical earlier this year. After eating Kenney’s gourmet dishes – from coconut cream cake to raw lasagna – Key felt compelled to bring it to Edmonton, soon to be Canada’s first Kenney eatery.

“The flavors and ingredients he uses are really inspiring,” she said. “It is groundbreaking for us in Canada. Something like that does not exist.”

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George Keys (left) and Sherry Keys are the owners of Mayfair on Jasper, where American chef Matthew Kenney opens Kanu, a plant-based restaurant. George Keys (left) and Sherry Keys are the owners of Mayfair on Jasper, where American chef Matthew Kenney opens Kanu, a plant-based restaurant. Photo by Larry Wong /POST MEDIA

In a phone interview, Kenney says the North American palate is changing.

“People stick to their food memories, their culture, their upbringing,” said Kenney, 53. “Food feeds us, and I think it’s hard for people to make a difference. But … a big change is taking place now. “

Kenney notes that KFC is experimenting with vegetarian chicken options, Pizza Hut in the UK is serving vegan cheese, and even hotels are starting to introduce plant-based menus.

“Whatever misunderstanding there was before, that it was radical or difficult, is starting to change. People notice that it’s not that difficult. It is very easy to shop – you just go to the product department. “

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