I confess. I am an omnivore. I’ll eat almost anything if it resembles food, so I’m not put off by the thought of eating vegan. My more carnivorous friends are understandably somewhat skeptical. I can’t blame them. Many vegan meals leave me flat, feeling as if something is missing.
Well, meat obviously, my carnivore friends say. Meat, butter, cream, all provide a richness that few veggies can muster: avocado being the main exception. Even vegans seem to agree, concocting endless meatless dishes that try to replicate meat: vegan chili, vegan burgers, vegan stews. But why? If one wishes not to consume animal products, why does one wish to prepare dishes that pretend to be animal products?
|Be Love’s Mac & Cheese is truly a culinary creation, filled with veggies and nuts and a wonderfully savoury coconut-cashew cheese sauce, writes Allan Reid.|
For vegan cuisine to shine, it seems to me, it must glorify the grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables and tubers that are its essential ingredients. And in recent years Victoria has witnessed a mild explosion of really good vegan food on local menus: Mostly in the form of rice bowls and grain bowls.
And so, I wandered into Be Love dragging a few unsuspecting carnivores behind me. Be Love is not a large place. It is a tall block of a room, stark white above, warm dark wood below, set under a soaring skylight. Yes, there is a fully stocked bar, trimmed in rough-hewn wood that provides a rustic contrast within the modern plainness of the space. This bar serves some fantastic organic wines: The Anthony Buchanan Pinot Noir (Okanagan) is exceptional, with a complexity of flavours unexpected in a pinot noir. The space is bright thanks to the skylight and the one-and-a-half storey glass façade. A series of tall, vertical art pieces keep the ceiling from soaring away.
I had heard Be Love is a great diner, but I hadn’t realized it was completely vegan. We arrived on a whim and found the place packed (Mental note: reservations recommended). There are about a dozen and a half tables and several stools at the bar. We managed to squeeze in at a high table (fit for eight), sharing it with a family of four already seated.
And then the menu. Conversation stopped as my friends read through list after list of veggies, nuts, beans, and grains sprinkled with strange ingredients: raita, nori, brassicas. I was not surprised that their eyes quickly focused on the one recognizable dish on the menu: Mac ’n’ Cheese. Despite my rant above, something in the description of this dish called even to me. Perhaps it was just my internal carnivore growling.
Forget KD. Forget even your mother’s rich and stringy five-cheese baked casserole. To paraphrase from our favourite Flying Circus: This is something completely different.
Brown rice macaroni and assorted vegetables (zucchini, spinach, kale and cucumber) are coated in a rich and savoury coconut-cashew cheese sauce, over which a handful of herbed walnut parmesan crumbles are thrown.
This is as creamy as any good Mac ’n’ Cheese should be, but not nearly so heavy. The vegetables may scandalize Mac ’n’ Cheese purists, but they are far from out of place, or unwelcome, and they round out the dish, making for a more balanced meal. The walnut parmesan sprinkle provides a mildly spicy heat that elevates and excites the pallet, but diners who prefer to avoid even mild spice can ask to substitute an almond parmesan crumble instead. Finally, this bowl is served with a multi-seed biscuit: birdseed, if you wish, but tasty birdseed.
Be Love’s Mac ’n’ Cheese is comfort food, and also a culinary creation. I suspect you’ll forget it’s vegan.
1019 Blanshard St.