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Meatless, if only on Monday

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Restaurant and Foodservice

This post is by SmartBlog on Restaurants and Restaurant SmartBrief contributor Janet Forgrieve.

Chicago is a top restaurant market, home to Morton’s The Steakhouse and famous for the stockyards that have produced its top-flight beef for generations. What you may not know is that the Chicago area also boasts the country’s largest vegetarian food festival. Thousands of herbivores and omnivores alike flocked to nearby Naperville on Saturday for the opening of the fifth annual Veggie Fest, to taste the vegetarian fare and learn more about a meatless diet.

Vegetarianism also became part of one of the summer’s biggest stories when The New York Times pondered whether herbivore and former first daughter Chelsea Clinton’s wedding should serve meat to the guests. Clinton, her fiancé and her family opted not to restrict the fare at the reception to vegetarian, but others are increasingly choosing to tailor their wedding menus to fit the bride and groom’s ethics and preferences, The New York Times reports, and a growing number of caterers are catching on.

At last count, only about 3.2% of Americans followed a strict vegetarian diet, and most of us aren’t eliminating meat as we strive to eat a healthier diet, but more of us are increasingly opting for some meatless meals and a growing number of chefs are more than happy to oblige. While the options at many eateries still are limited to salad and/or pasta with vegetables, some upscale chefs are shaking up the plate and putting veggies center stage. Alain Ducasse, an omnivore who grew up eating a seasonal diet that was heavy on produce, began creating vegetarian menus 20 years ago in the kitchen of the Louis XV hotel in Monaco. He’s finding favor these days among guests eager to savor flavorful veggie entrees such as broad bean velouté and artisan pasta with spring onion, green peas, black truffles and Parmesan at London’s upscale Dorchester hotel. Far from the stereotype of boring “rabbit food,” Ducasse and other chefs often enjoy the challenge of creatively preparing product. “It can actually be more challenging preparing vegetables than meat. You have to let them speak for themselves,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

Celebrity chef Mario Batali isn’t a vegetarian either, but he believes more people are moving in that direction and more restaurant menus are likely to reflect the shift in the coming years. Batali, who confirmed a rumor that his next cookbook is likely to be a vegetarian one, eschews meat until dinnertime and altogether on Mondays and Tuesdays, a pattern sparked by his concerns about the meat industry’s impact on the planet and continued because it makes him feel good.

Batali’s not the only one. Advocates for Meatless Mondays are a diverse group that includes fellow celeb chef Wolfgang Puck, former Beatle Paul McCartney and 50-year Madison Avenue Ad Man and “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin” creator Sid Lerner. Like most pushing the meat-free Monday message, Lerner still eats meat, just less of it, he told NPR. These days, instead of the giant steaks he used to consume, Lerner says he has a bit of meat on the side — more like a condiment than a main dish.

Are you considering Meatless Mondays at your restaurant? Are veggies taking up more space on your plates these days? Are you getting more guest requests for veggie meals?

Floortje via iStock