October 1, 2023


Travel Adventure

Chefs from Ontario universities train to cater to student demands for plant-based foods

4 min read

Hold the pork.

That’s what chefs from Ontario universities did when they gathered at Western’s Saugeen-Maitland residence this week in London for a culinary training program aimed at ramping up plant-based choices at student residences.

Instead of the standard pulled pork, for instance, sandwiches with shreds of soy-ginger jackfruit — a tropical tree fruit that, if prepared just right, tastes like pulled pork — were among the menu offerings as the get-together wrapped up with a catered lunch.

Twenty-four chefs took part in Humane Society International’s Forward Food program, to explore and experiment with vegan cooking, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Other participating schools included the University of Guelph, University of Windsor and Hamilton’s McMaster University.

The food is getting rave reviews.

Glenn Dupont, a chef at Western’s Elgin Hall residence, said he was never a big fan of chickpeas, but that all changed when he made chickpea and walnut sliders during the training. 

“I really would actually make this for myself and my family,” said Dupont, who typically sticks to meat and potatoes at home. “It tastes absolutely excellent.”

man in white chef jacket smiles
Chef Glenn Dupont serves chickpea sliders to guests that he prepared during the plant-based culinary training, which attracted chefs from universities across Ontario. (Michelle Both/CBC)

At Western, the residence dining halls already offer one or two vegan meals a day, he said, but this training will add more options to their recipe book.

“All the dishes are very colourful. There’s lots of colour.” 

Pushing plant offerings on campus

The London university is already boosting plant-based food options in its residence dining halls, with plans  for 40 per cent of the menu items to be plant based by January.

It’s an “aggressive goal,” said Colin Porter, Western’s director of hospitality services. And it doesn’t stop there.

By January 2025, they’d like to push the plant-based options to 50 per cent, he said. The university conducted a similar training in 2019, but due to the pandemic, they didn’t get traction, he said. 

Porter said there’s increased demand from students for plant-based and healthier food options, and it’s another step toward sustainability and being “good custodians of the planet.” 

strawberry and herbs on crostini
Chefs at the workshop served up strawberry bruschetta on crostini. Most of the recipes used in the workshop are from chef Amy Symington’s cookbook, she says. (Michelle Both/CBC)

“We do feel it’s our responsibility to meet that challenge as well as to be responsible when it comes to our sustainability,” said Kristian Crossen, Western’s executive chef for hospitality services. 

“Plant forward is certainly not a trend for us. It’s a movement and we’ve been moving this direction for some time.” 

The training is a way to get their creative wheels turning and put culinary muscles together to inspire menus and new dishes going forward — and the chefs are eager to learn, he said. 

Better impact on environment

Andrew DuHasky, a chef at Western’s Ontario Hall, was busy in the kitchen toasting pumpkin seeds while preparing black bean burgers as part of the training. 

chef in black shirt flips pumpkin seeds on a pan
Andrew DuHasky is the the unit chef Western University’s Ontario Hall residence. (Michelle Both/CBC)

Residence dining halls already offer “just about every option you could possibly want,” he said. What this new venture will change is getting more vegan and plant-based dishes to more people. 

“It becomes an option for someone who might also still eat meat, but would then be more willing to try different dishes,” he said. “It’s the direction everything is going [with] the concerns that we have about food shortages and food security.”

It’s about simple substitutions, says chef 

Chef Amy Symington, a culinary specialist with the Forward Food program, said the shift to plant-based cooking is a lot about using herbs, spices and citrus to bring flavours instead of salt, sugar and unhealthy fats. It’s an approach that’s good for health, the environment and animal welfare, she said. 

Plant-based chef training at Western University

Chefs Amy Symington and Andrew DuHasky were on hand at a plant-based culinary training event at Western University.

“There’s so much literature and research out there that just indicates how eating lower on the food chain is just beneficial environmentally,” said Symington, a cookbook author and PhD student in nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto.

She said the price is also right. 

“With cost inflation, everything’s going up, particularly animal-based proteins,” Symington said.

“If you can make simple substitutions using plant-based ingredients like legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and can save a few dollars and still make it tasty, there’s no reason why chefs wouldn’t.

“It doesn’t have to be bad tofu, vegetable burgers. It can be wonderful, tasty, beautiful recipes that are cost effective.”


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