December 11, 2018 – Matt Beaudin likes to push the envelope. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s executive chef has broken new ground in forming partnerships with farmers and fishermen to bring local bounty to his menus. Now he’s championing another innovation: a winter menu for the aquarium restaurant featuring mostly vegan and vegetarian dishes.
It’s all part of Beaudin’s ongoing commitment to the environment, as well as a way to “get people talking,” as he puts it.
“I hope it inspires people to get excited and to understand that vegan and vegetarian food doesn’t have to be boring,” says Beaudin, who plans to launch the seasonal menu around the beginning of January. “There’s a huge message in there.”
And it’s also a call to action of sorts: Beaudin hopes it will help aquarium visitors realize that it’s time to give fish, as well as other animals, a break from our plates. “Save the fish and try something different,” he urges.
Hearty selections such as winter squash tostada, pumpkin-filled ravioli, and cauliflower mac and cheese take advantage of the rich warmth of roasted cool-season vegetables.
Beaudin and chef de cuisine Adam Young also played with protein substitutes, resulting in menu selections like the highly sought after Impossible Burger, as well as an Beyond Sausage and pepper sandwich, crispy fried “shrimp” and grits (the real-looking breaded “shrimp” made from seaweed and algae) and “tuna” poke with the perfect look, taste and texture of actual tuna.
The menu will also continue to offer a California grass-fed beef burger and fish and chips made from the sustainable catch of the day, which highlights the aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.
Although Beaudin is committed to sustainability in his work (he received a 2017 Seafood Champion award from The Ocean Foundation’s SeaWeb project), he admits that developing the new menu wasn’t easy for him.
“I’ve never been a vegan or vegetarian, and it has been one of my biggest challenges,” says Beaudin. “I fought it and fought it, but then I decided to embrace it.”
He and Young spent four months doing research and development of the new menu items, refining each one until it met with their approval.
It might seem strange to launch a mostly vegan/vegetarian menu at this time of year rather than spring, but Beaudin wanted to take advantage of all the wonderful winter vegetables that are available now, which are enormously satisfying and able to be braised, stewed and roasted in the same way that meat and fish are.
The result? “I would sit down and eat everything on this menu,” says Beaudin.
Getting the Impossible Burger is also a big coup, since Impossible “meats” are only carried by a few other Monterey Bay area restaurants. The plant-based burger patty is made from wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein and heme, an iron-based molecule that gives meat its flavor and aroma. The company discovered how to take plant-based heme and incorporate it to capture those important elements in its products, according to the Impossible Foods website.
Beaudin and Young worked hard to make their menu selections healthy as well as delicious, ideal for diners who want to keep their New Year’s resolutions to choose more healthful ways of eating.
Beaudin says he doesn’t mean to get on a soapbox about having people eat vegan or vegetarian, but wants more people to see it as an option, and one that is desirable instead of being unusual.
“There’s so much about vegan and vegetarian food that I didn’t know when I started this,” he says. “I’m really excited about it now.”
Kathryn McKenzie, who grew up in Santa Cruz and now lives on a Christmas
tree farm in north Monterey County, writes about sustainable living,
home design and health for numerous publications and websites.