Category Archives: News & Events

ZenKitchen brings vegan cuisine mainstream

Silver medal at Gold Medal Plates just the latest accomplishment

By Pamela

Since opening in June 2009, ZenKitchen has quickly established itself as not just one of the hottest vegan spots around, but one of the hottest tables in all of Ottawa.

It’s not only the delicious food that is noteworthy, but also the way that Chef Caroline Ishii has contributed to bringing vegan cuisine to a mainstream audience. On any given day its tables are filled primarily by omnivores. While I wish everyone was vegan, every vegan meal that’s eaten is one less meal that involves the use and abuse of animals, and ZenKitchen has certainly done its part to reduce the number of animals being consumed in Ottawa.

ZenKitchen has received a lot of press and accolades for its innovation, including a 12-part television series called The Restaurant Adventures of Caroline and Dave that aired on the W Network last winter.  But it hasn’t gone to their heads.

True Ottawa veg superheroes, Caroline Ishii and Dave Loan.

“All the attention from the media is great: it helps bring in new customers, and that means more people accepting animal-free cuisine as part of their everyday diet,” says Chef Caroline Ishii. “Dave (her life and business partner) and I see ourselves as a small, family-run restaurant. We struggle – every day – with the need to keep our food quality consistent, to develop new menu items, to pay our bills. We’re really surprised when someone says that we’re food celebrities or whatever. We see ourselves as a couple of naive restaurateurs doing our best to offer tasty food, to keep to our environmental, vegan and health values, and to make ends meet.”

They recently received another boost when Caroline was invited to participate in the annual “Gold Medal Plates” competition in Ottawa on Nov. 16.  Gold Medal Plates is a celebration of Canadian Excellence in cuisine, wine, the arts and athletic achievement, that occurs in eight Canadian cities.  It features superb wines and the premier chefs in each city, paired with Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes, in a competition to crown a gold, silver and bronze medal culinary team in each city, and subsequently nation-wide.

Remarkably, Caroline was one of the first female chefs ever to be invited to participate in the competition.  She was also the first vegan cuisine chef. She was one of ten local chefs invited last spring.

“Ottawa has had a number of excellent women chefs. However, women chefs haven’t always had the “star” profile that male chefs have achieved. I hardly think of myself in that category, so no one was more shocked when I was invited to the Gold Medal Plates competition,” Chef Caroline says.  “I am incredibly proud and honoured to be one of the first women chefs invited to the Ottawa competition and the first vegetarian/vegan chef invited in the history of the competition in Canada. I’ve learned that commercial kitchens are pretty much a man’s domain, and it isn’t easy bringing a feminine perspective to either the food or the way a kitchen is run. But I think it’s that very femininity and passion that makes my food stand out.”

And not only did she participate, she won them over, taking the event’s silver medal, in an event that typically favours heavy usage of cream and animal bodies.

The silver medal dish.

The dish? Start with a little kale, sautéed and seasoned with a plum-kombu vinaigrette. On top of that sits a polenta cake, crispy outside and creamy inside. The polenta is topped with a thin disk of red pepper aspic. Add a teaspoon of fermented nut cheese, bruléed with a torch, and then place a “cigar” of more nut cheese wrapped in fried and smoked yuba (the skin that forms when cooking soya milk). A chile-mushroom sauce is swirled from the base of the polenta across the plate, and sautéed exotic mushrooms from Le Coprin are added to it. Three dots of spicy passila chile sauce finish the plate.

The ingredients – nut cheese, yuba, vegan aspic – all offered something new to most of the judges, and there was a range of textures, from crispy to chewy to creamy, tastes and colours. The chile sauce and aspic were bright red elements against the yellow polenta and brown mushrooms.

This may not be something to try at home!

“All together, the dish was very complex, but very interesting , I think. I was inspired by a zen garden when I created the plate,” Chef Ishii explains. “I created a dish I was proud to serve – beautiful, interesting and delicious – which is all I could do.”

Swish!

It’s easy to hope that this could represent a change in thinking amongst Ottawa diners.  “Throughout the evening, people kept telling us that they had heard our table was a “must” to visit. And a number of cooks from the NAC and other teams stopped by to try the yuba cigar and were really interested by it,” says Chef Ishii. “The judging wasn’t about which ingredients were used, but the totality of the dish itself – presentation, flavour and texture.  And that’s what we see every day at ZenKitchen – omnivorous diners who come to our restaurant because they like the food, not because of what we do or don’t serve.  I believe it expresses a sophistication and progressiveness in Ottawa’s food scene – the willingness to see beyond the ingredients and believe that good food is good food.”

So what’s next for Ottawa’s hottest meal ticket, which also happens to be vegan? They’re offering take-out now, and doing a bit more catering. “We’re also trying to develop some new products for take-out and retail. Eventually, we’d like to move into a slightly bigger space, but that might be a long time coming and would be dependent on investors,” Chef Ishii says.

For now, they’re simply focusing on the restaurant and ensuring the food and service are at the level they want. There are also some special events being planned: two seatings at New Year’s Eve, a Winemaker’s Dinner with Ravine Winery’s Shauna White on February 9, and of course Valentine’s Day!

And who knows, maybe ZenKitchen will be invited back to Gold Medal Plates next year!

ZenKitchen
http://www.zenkitchen.ca
634 Somerset Street W
613-233-6404

 

Holiday gifts for the veg-minded eater on your list

NCVA Holiday Gift Memberships

Not sure what to give the anti-commercial, veg or veg-friendly person on your Christmas list? Consider giving them the gift of an NCVA membership.

We'll even throw in this cute little envelope and an NCVA magnet with your gift membership, or when you purchase one for yourself.

It’s a gift that keeps giving all year: the $20 membership fee supports the NCVA’s work in the community. But not only that, it entitles the NCVA card holder member to discounts at many of Ottawa’s finest veg and veg-friendly restaurants. Plus, you’re not buying something that will go in a landfill or end up at a thrift store.

Your gift membership will include the membership card in a festive envelope, a list of applicable discounts and a cute little NCVA magnet to put to good use on the fridge! Gift memberships will be available at the December potluck, and at The Table Vegetarian Restaurant on Sunday, Dec. 12, betwen 11:30-1:30 and 5:30-7:30.

Cardholder discounts include:

The Table Vegetarian Restaurant
Green Earth Vegetarian Restaurant
Auntie Loo’s
Host India
Zen Kitchen
Cafe My House
Coconut Lagoon
Lieutenant’s Pump

For a complete list, or to become a member online click here:

http://www.ncva.ca/membership/

If you buy a gift membership online, please email ncva.avcn(at)gmail.com separately and immediately with the recipient’s name and contact info.

Wear your politics

The t-shirts look exactly like this.

The NCVA is also selling these fab “Eat like you give a damn” t-shirts, that would make a great gift!

The t-shirts are made by (sweatshop-free) American Apparel. At the moment, we have a full range of sizes for men and women. These normally sell for $21 + shipping + tax + customs through online stores, but we are selling them for $20 each.

They can be purchased at the December potluck (this Saturday, Dec. 11) or at The Table on Sunday, Dec. 11 between 11:30-1:30 and 5:30-7:30.

Vegan Cookies Take Over Jack Purcell Recreation Centre on December 11th!

Photo by Wenday 😀

By Erin

The NCVA has decided to host an impromptu vegan cookie exchange. It will be at the December potluck (Saturday, December 11 at 6:30pm).

Here’s the basic idea: You bring a batch of vegan cookies (at least 12). Then you get to take home 12 cookies that you mixed and matched from the batches other people brought. 12 cookies in, 12 cookies out, but now you have lots of different kinds instead of just one kind.

It’s a fun way to try out lots of different kinds of cookies and to get an instant cookie assortment to serve at holiday gatherings.

Some important details:

1) The cookie exchange is a totally separate thing from the potluck, so please don’t forget your potluck dish in your haze of cookie-induced excitement.

2) Each contributor gets to take home 12 assorted cookies, so must contribute a minimum of 12. If you can bring more, that’s great. If supplies allow, we’ll let non-contributors fill a bag with 6 cookies for a $2 donation to the NCVA. As a means of generating social pressure, I will note that I am bringing no fewer than one dozen each of 4 varieties of cookie. Bringing 12 cookies for the exchange and using the remainder as your potluck contribution will be noticed and commented upon derisively behind your back.

3) In addition to cookies, we welcome bite-sized vegan baked goods of any geometric shape (balls, bars, squares, etc.). Just be sure your offering can be transported in a paper bag without getting squished or oozing onto its neighbours.

4) I guess I don’t have to mention again that all contributions must be vegan, right?

5) Paper bags will be provided, but bring your own rigid container if you can. Better for the environment and the cookies.

So get your cookie on and come out to Jack Purcell this Saturday!

And while you’re in the Christmas spirit, don’t forget that the NCVA will have gift memberships available at the potluck, and “Eat Like You Give A Damn” t-shirts for the ethical eaters on your Christmas list.

Another Great Green Earth Meetup

By Erin:

For those of you who don’t know, we host a Meetup at Green Earth on the first Sunday of every month. By “we” I actually mean Vaalea (from Ireland). But since Neil and I bring an NCVA sign, the NCVA gets the credit and Neil and I get endless accolades (well, mostly from Greg) for our tireless organizing.

Anyway, we had another one today. It was the usual fare. Brown and white rice (which I don’t touch), a couple of salads (which I hear are good but which I also don’t bother with), and about eighty pounds of fake meat at varying levels of fried-ness. This stuff and those heavenly little squares of cheesecake are where I focus my attention.

It was a complete madhouse in there today – Very few empty tables and at least one other large group. A bit loud, but I was so pleased to see Green Earth doing such cracking business despite its unfortunate eschewal of alcohol. Plus the proprietors kept the food coming fast and furious so we certainly didn’t suffer from the business.

There were many familiar faces, including local celebrities Joe Vegan and Alex the Carrot. Several lovely first-timers as well, who I hope to see at our next potluck.

Anyway, just a note to thank those who came out and to encourage those who didn’t to try to make the next one…East Africa Restaurant on Sunday December 19th at noon. The fake waterfalls alone are worth the trip!

All-you-can-eat Ethiopian for $8.99

By Pamela

All you can eat vegetarian Ethiopian food for only $8.99? We are very lucky in Ottawa.
On Sunday my partner and I visited the East African Restaurant to try out their all-you-can-eat vegetarian (actually, vegan) Ethiopian buffet. We were going for a long hike after, and wanted something that would give us a lasting source of energy.

For $8.99 per person, you really can’t go wrong. The buffet features a half dozen hot dishes, mostly lentils and vegetables in sauce ranging from mild to very spicy, as well as a few cold options. There was no shortage of injera. I filled my plate twice.

Only one of the options at the buffet is on the restaurant’s usual vegetarian platter, and I’ll admit that I missed the other two. But there were new options I’d never tried, including spiced zucchini, which was delicious.

The buffet runs seven days a week, from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. While NCVA members have a 10 per cent discount here, it does not apply to the buffet. But if you’re looking to fill up on the cheap, this is a good way to do it. We followed our meal with a two hour hike on some of Gatineau Park’s toughest trails, and were still satiated five hours later.

East African Restaurant
376 Rideau Street
Ottawa
http://www.ethiopianrestaurantottawa.com/

NEW: 10% discount for NCVA members at Auntie Loos

NCVA membership just got sweeter, when Ottawa’s beloved Auntie Loo announced that she wanted to show NCVA members some love with a 10 per cent discount. The discount applies to anything purchased at her store front (507 Bronson Avenue) or ordered, except for wedding cakes.

Auntie Loo is a great example of a home-grown, vegan business. She even recently won “Best Bakery” recognition in Capital XPress, as voted by readers.  Here’s a story we published about her in our most recent newsletter, Capital Veg News:

Ottawa's own Auntie Loo!

Made locally, with love, at Auntie Loos

By Pamela Eadie

There’s nothing quite like fresh, made with love baked goods. And nobody knows that better than Amanda Lunan, more commonly known as Ottawa’s “Auntie Loo.”

While her baked goods have been available at Ottawa area natural food stores for several years now, Auntie Loo opened her storefront one year ago, much to the delight of vegans and cupcake enthusiasts. It was the culmination of many years of hard work and perseverance.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I was in a band and working at a coffee shop. I would make these cakes for my friends, and someone told me I could make a lot of money selling them,” Auntie Loo explains.

“But I figured nobody would want my crappy cake.”

Was she ever wrong. The same friend talked her into selling her creations at a Ladyfest Craft sale in 2004. She was a hit. Inspired, she completed a small business diploma program at Algonquin College, and joined the Youth Entrepreneurship Program, which gives young people a salary while they get their business started.

She baked her heart out while renting space at a bakery that was closed overnight. Fellow vegan baking aficionado, Brad Campeau of B.Goods cookies, mentored her. She built a loyal following through LadyFest and other events, and by having her goods in health food stores.

But then the Youth Entrepreneurship Program ran out, and she was at a crossroads. “It was do or die,” she says. With help from the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, she was able to find and rent her own retail location, on Bronson Avenue.

She’s also expanded her wedding cake business, with help from her “right hand man” Kate Veinot. Auntie Loos currently has two part time employees, and two volunteer pastry students from Algonquin College.

Her repertoire of treats is constantly changing with the seasons, but the one constant is that they’re always vegan. There are also soy-free and gluten-free options. Treats include a wide variety of cupcakes, squares, pastries, brownies, and cakes. She caters special events and welcomes special orders.

“I never expected a response from the community like this. It’s been awesome,” Auntie Loo says. “People like to come in and see where the food is coming from. It’s important to me to be really transparent.” Auntie Loos uses organic products whenever possible, and works with and purchases from small local businesses.

Most of her clients are not vegan, but, “when they’re buying a cupcake from me, they’re not buying one that has animal products. Most people who come in don’t care. They just like that it tastes good.”

Her love of animals has inspired her along the way. “I really love animals. The reason I went vegetarian was because a cow truck passed me on the highway when I was five years old. That’s when I realized how meat was made,” she says. She’s been vegan for more than 10 years.

These days, she’s at the forefront of Ottawa’s burgeoning vegan community. “It’s my contribution,” she says. “I just think it’s important that people make informed choices.”

http://www.auntieloostreats.ca
507 Bronson Avenue
613-238-ALOO

Veg Fest ’09 and ’10

The NCVA is small, but mighty: In 2009 and 2010 we put on two Veg Fest events at Ottawa’s Glebe Community Centre, which attracted a combined 4,000 attendees! Pretty amazing for a tiny, 100% volunteer-run organization.

Each Veg Fest (title sponsored by The Table Vegetarian Restaurant: http://www.thetablerestaurant.com) featured roughly 30 exhibitors, three food demonstrators, and three guest speakers. A silent auction raised funds for the NCVA. Other sponsors have included ZenKitchen, Green Earth Vegetarian Restaurant, Rainbow Natural Foods, and Market Organics.

Our guest speakers have included high profile names including Brenda Davis, RD (www.brendadavisrd.com), Jae Steele (www.getitripe.com), Gene Baur (www.farmsanctuary.org), and Dr. Michael Greger (www.drgreger.org).

We are currently sorting out the details for Veg Fest ’11. Stay tuned for more information!

Welcome to VegOttawa, the blog for the National Capital Vegetarian Association

The past couple of years have seen an impressive growth in vegan products, services, and restaurants in the Ottawa region.  In this blog, we hope to provide a one-stop resource of all things veg in the nation’s capital.

The National Capital Vegetarian Association (NCVA) is a non-profit, membership-based organization committed to educating the public about the health benefits of eating plant-based foods, and improving the social infrastructure in support of this lifestyle.

The NCVA is working to create an environment within which everyone has the knowledge and ability to take control of their own health, prevent health problems from occurring, and live healthier lifestyles overall.

The NCVA offers a range of social events, participates at fairs and expos, produces educational resources, and works with businesses to make life easier for you.

It is funded solely by donations and partnerships and operated entirely by volunteers.

Disclaimer: We will make every effort to ensure we provide accurate information, but this  blog for informational purposes only. The NCVA does not explicitly endorse specific products or services, nor is it responsible for guaranteeing their vegan-ness. Always use your own discretion!