open-face vegan sandwich

Some students training for work in the food industry want to focus exclusively on the awesome potential of plants. They’re pursuing succulent sandwiches, elegant pasta dishes, and decadent desserts. Often without butter. Or eggs. And definitely no fish. Or meat.

A public technical school in South Florida is accommodating that vocational passion. McFatter School of Culinary Arts, which is part of McFatter Technical College, offers a Culinary Vegetarian & Plant Based Specialty program, emphasizing the versatility, nutritional value, and wholesome flavors of fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains.

vegan strawberry shortcake with whipped coconut cream
Vegan strawberry shortcake with whipped coconut cream. Image: Photo: McFatter School of Culinary Arts

On Trend

The sizzling plant-foods trend in the restaurant industry prompted the school to add a program that would produce vegan-savvy professionals.

“These restaurants need professionally trained cooks and that is why we felt the need to start this program,” says Patti Lang, chef instructor at McFatter Technical College.

Plant-based foods are regarded as a top dining trend for 2018, according to the Forbes article,”Top 5 Dining Trends To Watch in 2018.” Forbes attributes that status to a trend report from the international food and restaurant consulting firm Baum + Whiteman, that calls plant-based dining the trend of the year.

Students in culinary program focus on vegan dishes. Photo: McFatter School of Culinary Arts

Plant-Based Training

In addition to preparing dishes that showcase the natural flavors, textures, and vibrant hues of plant foods, students study techniques to incorporate fruits, nuts, and other plant foods into traditional recipes as nutritious substitutes for dairy, eggs, and other animal products.

Pureed garbanzo beans or bananas, for example, replace eggs in some dishes, Lang says. Almonds play a featured role in dairy-free ricotta. Pureed butternut squash steps in for vegan mac-and-cheese. And for whipped toppings, some chefs rely on coconut cream, cashews, or liquid from canned chickpeas.

Other elements of the McFatter program include working with nut milks, plant-based cream sauces, juicing, smoothies, and using a dehydrator.

Grilled vegetables and tofu with a romesco sauce. Photo: McFatter School of Culinary Arts

Plants on the Plate

In addition to their health and environmental values, plant-based foods are delightful to work with, Lang says. They offer vibrant colors, appealing textures, and rich flavors. “The food is clean and you really taste what you’re cooking,” she said.

While roasted vegetables, salads, and fruit plates are staples in vegan dining, the potential of plants offers plenty of room for innovation.

Erykah McCormack, a recent graduate of the McFatter plant-based program, enjoys adapting traditional favorites and international dishes with a vegan twist. Her repertoire includes jerk cauliflower, crabless crab cakes made with artichoke and hearts of palm, and dairy-free macaroni and cheese.

Quinoa sweet potato cakes with avocado and heirloom tomato salad
Quinoa sweet potato cakes with heirloom tomato and avocado salad. Photo: McFatter School of Culinary Arts

For the Future

Brian Karam, a certified chef de cuisine with the American Culinary Federation and corporate chef with LG Electronics, agrees that shifts in the food industry are boosting demand for chefs familiar with vegan foods.

“Emphasis on plant foods is more than a trend,” Karam says. “It’s changing the food service industry and the choices [customers] will make when dining out now and for a long time.”

Feature image credit: McFatter School of Culinary Arts

By Patti Roth

Patti began her writing career as a staff writer for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Still based in Florida, Patti serves as editor for Fort Lauderdale on the Cheap. She regularly writes about environmental, home improvement, education, recycling, art, architecture, wildlife, travel and pet topics.