Helllooooooo lovely internet world! It is I, the Jersey City Vegan! I am back in blogging business. In case you didn’t know, I got married last month and therefore had taken quite the hiatus from blogging. The wedding itself will be its own forthcoming blog post, once I have our profession photos and all, as our wedding was entirely vegan from start to finish!
Back to what brings me here today…
On the evening of October 30th, I had the pleasure of attending Chop’t Creative Salad Company’s #VeganTastesBetter event. I learned from one of the founders, Tony Shure, that they as a company have taken a great interest in vegan food. I mean, of course they’re a salad company so that itself by nature is a vegan food. But their whole foundation is based on getting people to make healthier food choices, even if it means they’re having a salad with steak on it. But back to what Tony was saying…
“Vegan food is the future,” he said, much to my absolute delight! Chop’t wants to be on the forefront of that, and that is what this tasting was all about. I’m not sure how many vegan folks were there… in fact, I would venture to guess that Melissa & I may have been a minority. But, I think that is a good thing. To have an omnivore, or anyone really, choose to eat a vegan meal, and to have that vegan meal stand on its own two proverbial feet up against other meals is really kind of a big deal! In this animals-as-food-centric world, we need more meals like this available to everyone! Not just a humus wrap… the bane of my existence… something that is just thrown on the menu to satisfy a quota. Chop’t has gone above and beyond that – they have taken time, thought and massive creativity to develop and deliver delicious vegan food.
To start off, they offered up a selection of bites. I think their goal here was to gauge different flavor profiles and combinations to see what people thought of them. The first one pictured is my favorite of the evening, the Adobo Tofu with pickled onions & plantain chip and jalapeno pesto dressing. The tofu’s adobo seasoning was deliciously smokey, paired with the sweetness (and crunch!) of the plantain and the tart of the pickled onion & olive was a delight to my taste buds. Five out of Five stars.
Next up was the Braised Chili Tempeh with mango, red pepper, cilantro and a garlic lime vinaigrette. This was a delicious manifestation of everything you could want when it comes to sweet and spicy. The dressing, albeit delicious, was a tad off for me to go with this bite but I still gave it 4 out of 5 stars.
Last up was the Lemon Pepper Tempeh with nori and pickled cucumbers finished with a chili cashew dressing. Oh. Heavens. To. Betsy. I am a fiend for that chili cashew dressing. It’s not on the menu yet in stores, but golly I hope they bring in and sooner rather than later! I think this dressing was better suited for the last bite, and I’d bet if you swapped the dressings therein would lie the rub for scrumptious flavor combos for these two! Even though I went gaga for the dressing, this one got three out of five stars because of the mis-matched dressing.
At this point in the evening, we were hard at work filling out our forms about the bites when we were approached by Tony himself. I didn’t know he was the founder at the time, and to be honest I thought it was a little weird that this “random guy” was so interested in our thoughts. It soon came out that he was the founder, and like a goober I was just like oh my gosh! Of COURSE you would be asking us all of these questions! *points at self* Goober. Anyway, we had a fantastic discussion about veganism, why we are vegan, and thoughts about what they could offer to better make a vegan experience at Chop’t. I learned that one of the biggest complaints is “contamination” of ingredients to which I offered my suggestion – move the tofus! Tofu currently lives on the side of the choppings station along with the meats and dairy. By switching them over to the veggie side, there will be much less risk of “contamination”! I was really impressed at Tony’s desire to know what the guests want – I witnessed him asking many times that night, “what would YOU like to see?” or “what would YOU like to have?” or “what do YOU think would make it better?” And don’t you worry, I totally suggested they look into carrying Beyond Meat!
And now for the real stars of the evening – the fully realized vegan salads! Their wonderful Chef Aneesha (sorry I don’t recall your last name, but you’re fabulous!) spoke about how she isn’t into “faking it with food” and how cooking without meat or dairy has had her really focus on her technique. She and her team have been using new and/or honing their techniques in the kitchen using plant-based ingredients to create dressings (in particular) that are creamy and delicious.
The Berkeley Harvest salad is the new seasonal salad that will be making it’s debut this month! This salad features quinoa, lemon pepper tempeh, local roasted kombocha squash and beets, served over a medley of romaine lettuce, spinach and kale with their Meyer lemon Dijon vinaigrette. I’ve yet to see a salad joint offer tempeh, so props to Chop’t for catching on with that one! The nutty richness of the tempeh, paired with the earthy squash & beets and the tang of the dressing leaves your taste buds feeling warm on the inside and crisp on the outside, just like a perfect autumn day! Four out of five stars.
The Mexicali Vegan (TM) is the newest addition to the Chop’t Classics menu! A robust mix of avocado, hearts of palm, tomato, black beans, tortilla chips and jalapeno, over romaine and mesculun lettuce finished with their zesty Mexican Goddess Dressing, the Mexicali Vegan is as zesty as it sounds! It’s like your salad took a trip to Cancun for spring break but without the terrible hangover and bad decisions. As a vegan walking into a salad joint, how awesome is it to be able to walk up and order a vegan salad as-is! People (read: non-vegans) might be surprised to hear that, but it’s true! And again, to have it not be some humus bullpucky is even better in my book! Four out of five stars.
Last, but certainly not least is the Vegan Summer Roll salad. My taste buds surely died and went to heaven. The Vegan Summer Roll is Satay tempeh, Way Better Sweet Chili tortilla chips, vermicelli rice noodles, pickled broccoli & carrot slaw served over purple cabbage, romaine lettuce and cilantro topped with chili cashew dressing. Y’all. This is a banh-mi in salad form! I am a FIEND for any foods Asian-style and spicy and this salad is IT! It had the spice, it had the tang, it had the crunch – it is like the salad chupacabra I’ve been looking for all my life. Much to my chagrin, this was just some kind of tester salad and there was no info given to me as to when I’ll be able to put this salad in my belly 5x a week. I fear I will have to wait until next summer… but oh, it will be worth waiting for! I wish I could have given this salad ten stars, but had to settle for five out of five stars.
They had this fun little ingredients guessing game set up where you could win free stuff (salads, I think!). I felt like I was on Top Chef, but vegan and without the pretentious egos. I haven’t heard yet if I won, so I probably didn’t, but it was fun testing and guessing none-the-less!
As you can see, this was a pretty exciting event! I’m a huge fan of Chop’t as it is, (it being one of the few options I can go to for lunch in the vegan wasteland that Midtown East can be) but now after hearing about what kind of steps this company is making towards embracing vegan food I’m like a Chop’t superfan! Their whole crew was awesome, and the event was simply a delight. I loved feeling like my suggestions were being heard, that they cared about vegans as customers instead of just an afterthought and that they gave me a bottle of that freaking delicious chili cashew dressing to take home! This is a company leading the way when it comes to how it views the vegan diner – something I’m proud to have contributed towards by attending this event! Thank you guys so much for being so fantastic and open-minded. I really love this place!