The word vegan is no longer a dirty word reserved for hippies, “health junkies” and animal activists. With the level of concern about personal health, climate change and mass production livestock at an all-time high, plant-based diets are sweeping the country, and California is on the front edge of the lifestyle.
Going plant-based means embracing healthy eating through vibrant veggies and fruits, along with healthy meat-free substitutes, grains, nuts and seeds. Leading the brewpub-based vegan charge in the San Diego-area is chef Robert Gaffney of Bagby Beer Company in Oceanside, who has recently unveiled his new plant-based additions to the menu.
PACIFIC recently chatted with the busy chef to find out about his new menu and thoughts on living vegan.
PACIFIC: What was the inspiration for creating a plant-based menu?
ROBERT GAFFNEY: A priority of mine is to show different options, because sometimes you get a stigma with vegan food. There are so many varieties of grains and veggies, and there is a large palate to work with for different textures on the plate. It’s an eye-opener for people who don’t eat veggies regularly. And I’m never bored.
How were your plant-based ideas accepted here at a brewery restaurant?
At other jobs, it might be scoffed at, but here is encouraged. I want to thank Jeff and Dande Bagby for that.
How often do new flavors come into play? Is the menu always the same?
The menu evolves and changes on a whim. Sunday brunches very rarely run the same, but there will be at least three vegan items on the brunch. We have vegetarian options too, like the red velvet pancakes, which are one of our most popular dishes.
How long have you been a vegan?
A couple of years. I was never a big meat eater, and I came from a family who made a lot of vegetables, where everything was homemade. It cleans your palate, and it cleans your soul. It’s always been a big part of my life, and I’m an animal lover.
Was there a singular moment that turned you vegan?
When I worked in a meat-heavy restaurant, one of the owners went through heart surgery, and he shunned vegetables. I wanted to incorporate more vegetables on the menu, and one time they asked me, “What are you gonna become, a vegetarian?” That was a defining moment. I went vegan and dropped 40 pounds within three months.
What are a few must-try items on the plant-based menu?
For regular meat eaters, I would recommend The Impossible Burger with smoked ketchup, house mustard and pickles, and a house sauce that mimics thousand island but is more complex. And The Optimist Pizza, which has vegan Italian sausage, so you still have that flavor. We also make a vegan mac and cheese with seitan chicken and truffle oil, so there is always something here for you.
What would you say to people who have never eaten plant-based or don’t think it’s for them?
Open your mind, this is good! Give it a chance. There are other healthier alternatives that mimic those flavors you enjoy. For instance, I’ll make a vegan version of grilled cheese, and our tomato soup is vegan. Side by side it’s difficult to tell. If you are able to mimic those flavors without hurting animals and the environment, why wouldn’t you?
Follow Chef Robert’s plant based adventures in cooking on Instagram, @chef_robert_gaffney.
Bagby Beer Company 601 S Coast Hwy., Oceanside, 760.512.3372, bagbybeer.com