Oliver." Like most humans, I love to eat (and, arguably, it shows via the extra fifteen or twenty pounds I can always "stand to lose...") My love for food notwithstanding, I have been a vegetarian for more than twenty-three years, and a vegan for the past eight or nine of those. I became a vegetarian after my daughter was born and her mom, a very compassionate animal lover, declared that she was going to adopt a vegetarian diet (along with many pets). As the dutiful husband (who did not do as much of the cooking as she did) I went along for the ride... and it stuck. The more I learned about and ate vegetarian, the more I came to believe it was the right choice for me, both for compassionate and health reasons. When I finally gave up dairy as well and became vegan, my path to becoming a business associate's most hated travel partner was complete.
On The Road Again
Throughout my career I have traveled a lot for business, and from the perspective of many of my business partners and co-workers over the years my choice of a plant based diet has been the object of much frustration. Dining out is an integral part of business, especially when traveling. For some reason, everyone I travel with gets overly concerned that wherever they choose to go eat there will be nothing for me on the menu and I will starve (or at least ruin the flow of their dining experience by having an empty plate while they feast on meat, cheese and other contraband). I always try to assure them... "Relax," I say. "Let's go wherever you want. I can always find something to eat. In fact, why don't we go to that great steakhouse you mentioned." And I always do find something great (and vegan) to eat. That's because I have learned how to make a good steakhouse a vegan's best friend...
A Good Chef Is Inherently Creative
Here's how I have enjoyed some of the best vegan dishes I've ever had at some of the finest steakhouses in the world. It is simple, really. I toss aside the menu and throw myself to the mercy of the chef. My theory, already proven at countless restaurants all over the globe, is that cooking is a creative pursuit, and great chefs love to be creative and almost always rise to occasion when asked to create a masterpiece meal from limited ingredients. Based on my own experiences, a great chef at a fine steakhouse is even more inclined to jump at the chance to be more creative than prepping the perfect rare or medium filet mignon, an act they repeat day after day, serving after serving. So, when it is my turn to order, I put down the menu and simply say "I am vegan. Please tell the chef they can prepare whatever they want for me, as long is it is vegan, and I will happily enjoy it."
What Happens Next...
Occasionally I will get a question or two. Are there certain vegetables you don't like? What about rice, couscous or quinoa? I always reply, "Whatever the chef wants to prepare is fine. I'll trust them." And this simple process has led to absolutely delicious and beautifully prepared and presented off-menu vegan dishes that have delighted my palate and surprised my dining partners time and time again. Even better, more often than not, the chef themselves will come out from the kitchen and visit my table to see what I thought of their vegan creation, giving me a chance to thank them in person for a delicious meal (and always impressing the rest of the guests at the table). Good times.
So there you have it. That's why I have come to believe that a good steakhouse is a vegan's best friend. As I've tested this theory during my travels, I often will post a picture of particularly impressive vegan dishes I am served. In the video below I've compiled all my Instagram "food related" posts from 2014. Enjoy!
I'd love to hear from other vegetarians and vegans. If you have similar tips and tricks for getting a great meal from a "regular" restaurant, please share them in the comments. Bon Appetit!