Monday, August 4, 2014

Shufflin' Off to Buffalo for the WNY VegFest

I'm honored to have been a part of the inaugural Western New York VegFest held Sunday, August 3, in the beautiful Marcy Casino at Delaware Park in Buffalo, NY.  It was a marathon road rip - 14 hours of driving in a 48 hour period - and I felt like a kid in an indie punk band touring on a shoestring budget, stuffing my face with chips and chocolate the whole way there and back, but it was worth it.  In fact, it's adventures like these that add to the excitement of this humble traveling vegan chef's life.

I should've done some research on the location before my travels because since it was held at The Marcy Casino, I was expecting crowds and flashing lights and loud noises and gamblers with glazed-over eyes sitting around shiny machines.  Apparently, back in the day, this name also referred to gardens, which was the case here.  And thank goodness because they were GORGEOUS.  I was happy that the only noises were from birds and music and people having a good time.

I wish I had had more time for a stroll of the grounds and to take more photos, but I needed to find where I'd be presenting and setup my table for the food demo.  These pictures are of the building where the presenters spoke, flanked by some lush and lovely perennial beds.  (For more photos, check out this spread in The Buffalo News.)

How could you have a Veg Fest without an eggplant with a face cutout?  I didn't have time to put my head in there, but maybe somebody can Photoshop it with the one below for me. (thanks, Jerry for this rare candid!)

I had a few minutes to wander around before my presentation and get photos of vendors setting up.  It was the proverbial "calm before the storm" where the day started out slow and sleepily like a dark and cloudy morning in bed, but then the pace picked up rapidly as the minutes ticked by and the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds.

I was looking forward to meeting Esther the Wonder Pig who was scheduled to be at the event; however, due to the incredibly complicated logistics of transporting a 500 lb. pig across the Canadian border, her dads Derek and Steve, chose to stand in for her.  And they did a good job of it for the 5K Tofurky Trot fundrasier for ASHA Sanctuary

Here they are getting ready...

for the big reveal.  

Inside, Amie Hamlin of the NY Coalition for Healthy School Food, started off the festival with her presentation about how to get vegan food on school menus.  She gave a synopsis of the impressive work her group has done to bring healthy options to schools all over the state, including an entirely vegetarian school in Queens.  One shocking fact she shared is that until 2012, tofu was forbidden as a protein alternative on NY school menus.  Fortunately, her group has gotten that rule revoked and they now offer soy-based meat and dairy alternatives in many schools.  

I setup my little table inside the presentation alcove and talked to many passersby who were interested in some quick and easy recipes for their families.  Most people were looking forward to my presentation when I told them there would be free food samples at the end.  

By the time I was ready to start, nearly every seat was filled.  Melinda Shaw, one of the festival co-founders, gave a brief introduction and I snuck this photo before running up to grab the mic from her.   


I spoke about how to achieve culinary balance through color, taste and texture and make food appealing to even the staunchest skeptics.  For the food demonstration, I plated Spring Quinoa Pilaf with Cornmeal Crusted Tofu, Cashew Horseradish Creme and Parsley Pistou garnished with Nasturtium blossoms, radish sprouts and red pepper dice.  Everyone agreed that they would happily share what I made with family and friends.

All of these recipes can be found in my cookbook, Easy Peasy Vegan Eats, which is available on Amazon. 

Thank you to Albert Brown and Melinda Shaw for all of your hard work and coordination of this incredible event, Elizabeth Hoeve Miklasz for being the bright ray of sunshine on a chaotic morning, and to all of the the volunteers who pitched in with table and chair set up, A/V technical support (thank you Amie for the laptop!), and food distribution during my presentation. You all did a tremendous job, and I wish you continued success for next year's Veg Fest!

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