Food & Drink

EVENT: NYC Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 [NYC]

by Casey Feehan

There is no shortage of products –or enthusiasm – for cruelty-free living, made apparent by the massive array of vegan vendors and huge crowds attending the 2014 NYC Vegetarian Food Festival, held this past weekend at the Metropolitan Pavilion. Back for the fourth year, the Festival brought together food artisans, restaurant chefs, health experts and more for two days to promote a healthy lifestyle sans animals – read on for some highlights from the event:

Fried chicken, foie gras, sushi, and empanadas

The food was priority #1, and we set out to sample as much as possible; though it was clear once we got started that we had our work cut out for us. Vendors were so generous with their offerings and everything looked so appealing it was hard not to feel guilty – something you’d never expect at a vegan festival! – and gluttonous as we went round and round tasting dozens of foods. Standouts from the savory side of the fair included fried chicken from Soulkafa that tasted like the real thing (I promise!); “faux gras” spread and mushroom bisque shots from Regal Vegan; fish-free sushi with fresh flavors from Beyond Sushi; the biggest empanada I’ve ever had, happily sauced with spicy salsa by The V Spot; and vegan gyros that were flying off the trays at Taft Foodmasters, as guests came back for bite after bite. As someone who very recently was encouraging everyone to sauté things in bacon fat, I can tell you that the meat was not missed.

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com

“Faux Gras” from Regal Vegan at the 2014 NYC Vegetarian Food Festival.

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com

 Mushroom bisque shots from Regal Vegan.

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com

Yes, hot dogs were present, too – and looked delicious.

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com

 Taft Foodmasters, serving up addictive vegan seitan gyros.

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com

An assortment of fish-free sushi rolls from Beyond Sushi.

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com

Treeline Cheese, dairy-free and made from cashew nuts, are a fan favorite.

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com

Colombian empanada with a fiery salsa, from The V Spot.

Macarons, cookies, cake and ice cream

Who says eating healthfully has to mean giving up sweets? The lines were longest for the Sorbabes sorbet from The Gourmet Sorbet Corporation, and crowds clamored around Sweet Maresa, with their pretty display of vegan macarons and bites of lavender chocolate cake. Alchemy Creamery was a hit with their pushpops – after trying them at Smorgasburg this summer, I didn’t doubt this for a second – and were popping up all over the #NYCVFF14 Instagram feed.

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com

Vegan macarons from Sweet Maresa.

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com

 Sorbet by the Sorbabes, aka Gourmet Sorbet.

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com

 Dairy-free ice cream from the DF Mavens greeted guests just as they entered the pavilion.

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com

Cookies and snacks from One Lucky Duck.

Green Machines

It couldn’t be a health-food fest without some green things, could it? NYCVFF was in good form, bringing cookies, energy bars, juice and more to the table. Blender-titan Vitamix was on hand, whirring up green juice for a never-ending line of guests; there were kale cookies and chips from The Kale Factory; and Badass Power Cookies – a baked combination of oatmeal, raisin, and spiriulina from vegan entrepreneur John Lewis (“Badass Vegan”) – were shockingly tasty: my favorite of the bunch.

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com

The Badass Power Cookie, from the Badass Vegan.

“You can still be a foodie.”

Aside from stuffing ourselves silly with meat-free, dairy-free, gluten-free goodies, we were especially excited to listen to Vedge restaurant chefs Kate Jacoby and Richard Landau, who were on hand to demo a couple dishes and talk about their experiences as animal-free entrepreneurs.

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com

 Chefs Kate Jacoby and Richard Landau, of Vedge restaurant in Philadelphia.

“We swear we get enough protein!” Landau joked to the audience in his introduction, a former meat-eater who became vegan for ethical reasons. He noted it was difficult at first, craving the flavors associated with meat, but found a surge of creativity inspired by the change. Employing the same techniques and seasonings as one would use for meat is the key to getting vegetarian food to go mainstream, he explained. “You’re speaking their language, essentially… the flavors are there; they’ve always existed. You’re just translating them into a vegan plate.”

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com

 Jacoby and Landau demo their Korean eggplant tacos.

As they worked together prepping two of their favorite simple dishes, Korean eggplant tacos and mushroom “BLTs,” they shared tips on selecting produce and how to make each vegetable really shine in a dish.  They also spoke about their next food venture, “V Street,” a restaurant planned to open this fall and aimed at celebrating vegan street food around the world. “You can still be a foodie,” Jacoby insisted; judging by the crowd’s enthusiastic response to that statement, there was no doubt this was a welcome thought.

Tangent: This idea is definitely something that NYC chefs have really come to embrace, treating vegetables with just as much care as they do animal proteins; sometimes more. From carrot tartare, to parsnip “steaks,” to double-digit-course, triple-digit-priced tasting menus, this city has seen a surge of chefs who revel in the challenge of making produce the star of the show. I can understand why, for devout meat-lovers, this might be challenging indeed. But honestly, after eating at produce-focused restaurants like Dirt Candy and Le Verdure and watching their talented chefs make vegetables sing – without tricks or gimmicks – it’s time to stop acting so surprised when the meat is missing from the entree. Someday, maybe soon, beautifully-cooked acorn squash on a bed of inky black lentils, drizzled with aged balsamic and surrounded by caramelized cipollini onions, will get just as much reverence as a perfectly-cooked deckle of beef. No need to call it by any other name. Just try it. Just sayin’!

Last bites

Aside from the food, there were plenty of other tidbits worth seeking out – mainly, books, puppies, and awesomely-named soap.

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com

 Fine furry friends were available for general adoration, assorted petting-needs.

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com

 Books for sale.

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com

 “The Lone Ranger’s Nephew’s Horse.”

Overall, the event seemed to be a huge success: it was a fun, eye-opening, belly-filling weekend, with appeal for people of any and all dietary persuasions, and we can’t thank the organizers enough. We look forward to next year’s Festival, and in the meantime: anytime we see a product touting the “animal-free” label, we’re sure to be game.

New York City Vegetarian Food Festival 2014 - thecouchsessions.com