Plant-based Cooking Camp Reflection

“You must be imaginative, strong-hearted. You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true – anyone can cook… but only the fearless can be great.”

–Chef Gusteau, in the movie Ratatouille

Chef Gusteau’s words could have been the theme of Young Chefs’ first vegan and vegetarian cooking camp last week. Of the six campers, only one followed the vegan dietary pattern, while two were lacto-, ovo-vegetarians, and the three others were omnivores, like me. Everyone agreed to try plant-based cooking for a week, and that meant sometimes stepping out of our comfort zone.

Mixing vegan chocolate chip cookies
Mixing vegan chocolate chip cookies

Before the camp began, I asked the campers’ mothers what the children would like to learn how to prepare themselves, and I created vegan menus based on those food preferences. All of us, through experimenting with cooking and unfamiliar tastes, expanded the limits of our souls.

Using the immersion blender on pizza sauce
Using the immersion blender on pizza sauce

Because campers wanted to make both mac and cheese and pizza, we learned about substitute ingredients for a nondairy food that kind of tastes like cheese, including nutritional yeast, aquafaba, cashews and coconut milk. When we made a tasty tofu ricotta topping for the pizza, I relented a bit for the sake of the non-vegans and included mozzarella as an alternative topping. Some tastes are acquired over multiple tastings, rather than being instant hits.

Tofu "ricotta"
Tofu “ricotta”

My own favorites dishes were Indian vegetable biryani, vegan raita (by Vaishali Honawar) and blackberry coconut ice “cream” by Gena Hamshaw in Food 52 VeganWe experimented with a chia lemonade by freezing it, making lemon chia sorbet, but I was probably the only one who enjoyed chewing on chia seeds in the sorbet.

I’ll post more about the plant-based camp tomorrow.