Vegan station draws carnivores

Bigger, better vegan station draws even the carnivores

Assistant chef Thoune Thongsavanh works at the vegetarian-vegan station in the new Commons.

Students wander by, leaning over to read the descriptions: Asian fried rice salad. Yam and carrot casserole. Fried tempeh with braised mushrooms. Tofu with wild mushroom sauce. Virgin piña coladas. Fresh grapes. Baby carrots with red pepper hummus. These are just a few of the offerings in Bates’ vegan bar.

The opening of the new dining Commons in February 2008 lifted the quality and variety of Dining Services’ offerings even higher. And the vegan bar, a longtime Bates staple, now serves some of the most ethnically diverse and delicious food in all of Commons.

Students who never wandered into the low-ceilinged side of Old Commons now find themselves daily checking the vegan bar for new varieties.

“A lot of different types of student are coming,” says Michael Landry, vegan bar chef. “There’s definitely a group that is very loyal to the vegan bar, but a lot of people just walk by and say, ‘Wow, what’s that?’ And they try it.”

“We’ve more than doubled what we’re buying for the vegan bar,” says Christine Schwartz, director of Dining Services.

With better resources and much more space to work with, vegan bar chefs have infused an alluring vitality into the space, creating new and different recipes on what seems like a daily basis. The open space between the hot food line and cold bar often serves as an experimental showcase, with a different salad or cold noodle dish appearing most days. And beautifully carved squashes, peppers or other foods often decorate the vegan bar.

“It’s so visually appealing,” says Schwartz. “You walk by and you just get sucked into it.”

Old Commons, where the vegan bar was only open at dinner, had approximately four vegan choices per meal. Now, the bar is open for lunch and dinner. There are four full-time chefs, and offerings include the hot food line; the cold bar with its fruit salad, hummus and vegetables; and a vegan dessert featured at the nearby bakery.

“The move relit the fire in my brain,” says Landry. “Now we have so much opportunity to do different things and try new recipes.”

“It’s using what you have,” says Schwartz. “The chefs will go in the kitchen that morning, and say, ‘What do we have?’ And they’ll work with that. The possibilities are just limitless.”

The results attract a crowd that is often not even vegan.

“In a sense,” says Schwartz, “in the old Commons, people didn’t perceive the vegan bar as a part of Commons. It was just ‘the vegan bar.’ Now it’s a part of a larger dining experience.” Students often grab food from the vegan bar along with their other choices, as opposed to limiting themselves to one particular station.

In the 2008–09 academic year, Landry has seen a three- to fourfold increase in the number of students visiting the vegan bar, disregarding the significant increase after the move in dining spaces.

“I love the station that I work in and I look forward to coming to work every day,” says Landry. “That’s what I’m here to do, to create food, put it out there and make people happy.”

— Becca Chacko ’10