Veg Out!

During V72x2 Vegan Food and Drink Week, vegetables take the spotlight.

When Vegan Action first started its citywide vegan food event, organizers were worried that local restaurants wouldn’t be up to the task.

“We were asking them to challenge their chefs to make something new and exciting,” says Krissi Vandenberg, executive director of the Richmond-based Vegan Action, a nonprofit advocacy organization whose main mission, she says, is “to encourage people to make food choices that benefit animals, the environment and their health.”

But from that first event, seven years ago, area chefs have responded enthusiastically. “The restaurants have recognized that there’s a demand to have something more than just a black bean burger or a hummus appetizer, and they are keeping many of these items on their menus after our event and even adding more.”

This year’s 7th annual event – now called V72x2 Vegan Food and Drink Week  – is slated for Jan. 23-28. It has grown from an initial 22 restaurants, cafes, bakeries and food trucks to more than 30, and expanded from three to six days. Once again, the culinary competition will see eateries across the city offering special plant-based menu items not normally offered on their menus, each competing to see who receives the most customer raves in both savory and dessert categories.

“We have always had a good amount of vegan options on our regular menu,” says Chip Cooke, chef at 821 Cafe, who was once a vegan himself. “So from that perspective, I don’t find it to be all that challenging. Although after five years of participating and offering multiple dishes each year, trying to remember everything we’ve offered and not repeating things is my hurdle right now.”

Kimchi Corn Waffle from 821 Cafe. Photo provided by 821 Cafe.

Some of the special items 821 Cafe has offered up for Vegan Week over the years now show up often as house specials, he says. “We’ve done vegan chicken and dumplings, vegan French dip, vegan meatball banh mi, vegan chicken pot pie, and a vegan Cuban sandwich. Last year, our friends at Buttermilk Bake Shop hooked us up with some vegan glazed doughnuts and we served them with Impossible burgers with vegan bacon and vegan cheese. Those sold out rather quickly.”

Cooke says that the cafe’s offering for this year’s V72x2 event will be a variation on one of their upcoming regular menu items, vegan chicken and waffles. “We’ll be offering up a kimchi corn waffle with a gochujang [fermented Korean chili paste], glazed vegan fried chicken topped with a spicy cucumber salad.”

Participating eateries have to submit their items to Vegan Action before becoming officially part of the competition, and many of the items are still being evaluated. “We need to double check to see that, say, the bread doesn’t include animal ingredients, that kind of thing,” says Vandenberg.

So far, the featured offerings include a “cool guy crunch wrap” with barbecue jackfruit (topped with vegan mac and cheese) from Devil’s Lettuce in Short Pump, a vegan biscuit with soysage gravy from WPA Bakery and quite a few pizza options – Zorch Pizza will offer a vegan chick’n za-fredo and Pizza Bones will do an herb potato pizza (the participating Hop Craft Pizza & Beer won the challenge a few years ago with its pickleback pizza, now a popular item on its regular menu).

Cool Guy Crunch Wrap at Devil’s Lettuce in Innsbrook. Photo by Scott Elmquist

“Some of our restaurants have more regular vegan options than others,” says Elizabeth Kincaid, chief executive officer of RVA Hospitality, which oversees four different Richmond-area eating places (And Dim Sum, Bar Solita, Tarrant’s and Tarrant’s West). “What’s cool about the event is we bring in products that we don’t always carry, like vegan cheeses. It’s not enough to just take something off of a dish and say, ‘oh, we took the cheese away and made it vegan.’ Technically that’s true but this week is really about leaning into it and really appreciating that lifestyle and using unique ingredients.”

The trick is to think outside of the box, says Sean Rapoza, Kincaid’s husband and RVA Hospitality’s food and beverage director. “Before, our vegan dish would be our four vegetable sides on one plate. Or a salad. Or using things like impossible meats, the meat analog. But the real challenge is to get creative.”

Sean Rapoza and Liz Kincaid pictured recently at And Dim Sum. Photo by Scott Elmquist

Kincaid says that her vegan friends don’t eat out a lot. “Most of them are amazing cooks in their own right. And that’s the tricky thing about this event, no one is going to let you get away with doing something halfway. Not to generalize, but most vegans cook at home because a lot of restaurants don’t offer things that are exceptional for them. In order to compete with what they can cook at home, we have to do something that they wouldn’t cook themselves.” As one of her vegan friends told her, “I’m not going out just to have marinara pasta. You’ve got to do something exceptional.”

This year’s V72x2 offering at And Dim Sum will be soup dumplings, which are normally made with meat filling, and utilize gelatin that consists of meat-based stock. And Dim Sum’s alternative will use tofu, mushroom, onion and carrot fillings with a gelatin consisting of agar-agar, derived from seaweed. “We’ve already tested it with our customers and they love it,” Kincaid says.

This year’s participating restaurants — each creating their own special one-of-a-kind vegan dishes — will also include Cobra Cabana, Elegant Cuizines, Garnett’s Café, Get Tight Lounge, Gold Lion Café, Hot for Pizza, Intergalactic Tacos Food Truck, Minglewood Bake Shop, Nomad Deli & Catering Co., Philly Vegan, Scoop, Smashed RVA, Soul N’ Vinegar, Sticky Rice, Charm School Study Hall, The Roosevelt, Timber Pizza Co. and Buttermilk Bake Shop; of folks visit five or more participating restaurants, they’ll be eligible for a free sweet treat from Ruby Scoops Ice Cream & Sweets. Ninja Kombucha will also be creating a special kombucha for the event – the V72 Carrot Ginger Special.

“We picked the month of January because it’s traditionally a slow time for restaurants,” says Vandenberg. “We wanted to create an incentive for folks to go and patronize those restaurants, not just vegans but maybe others who just want to try a vegan option… the ultimate goal is to have more creative and delicious vegan dishes available throughout Richmond.”

For more on V72x2 Food and Drink Week, go to its website here.  

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