Where's the beef?

VegFest showcases new vegan food entrepreneurs, solar cooking & animal-free foodie classics

VegFest showcases new vegan food entrepreneurs, solar cooking & animal-free foodie classics

VegFest, June 2012
Chocolate cups by Vegeria, San Antonio's first vegan eatery. The business partners plan on entering the Houston market by the end of the year with their food delivery company, Smirking Chick's. Photo by Joel Luks
VegFest, June 2012
The Free Cookie Company debuted its dairy and gluten-free giant, individually-wrapped cookies. While some gluten-free baked goods suffer from a gritty texture, these moist sweet cakes were tender and fresh. Photo by Joel Luks
VegFest, June 2012
Zibble whips up vegan mini-cupcakes, chocolate and vanilla (six for $5), and vegan frosting also in those two flavors so customers can mix and match. Photo by Joel Luks
VegFest, June 2012
In a solar cooker, soul food recipes from Yafah Asiel's The New Soul Vegetarian Cookbook, many of which are on the menu at Garden of Life Vegan Deli, sizzled. Photo by Joel Luks
VegFest, June 2012, group.
Vegan Society of Peace members. Courtesy of VegFest Houston
VegFest, June 2012, people
Attorney, Vegan Society of Peace advocate and Vegan World Radio host Anuj Shah talks to guests about animal rights. Courtesy of VegFest Houston
VegFest, June 2012
Radical Eats' kale and collard greens bánh xèo. Photo by Joel Luks
VegFest, June 2012
Cooks of Garden of Life Vegan Deli served bean thread noodles, carrot supreme, kale salad, spicy BBQ tofu and potato salad. Photo by Joel Luks
VegFest, June 2012, cooks
Yafah Asiel, author of The New Soul Vegetarian Cookbook, demonstrated soul food cooking techniques. Courtesy of VegFest Houston
VegFest, June 2012
Sinfull Bakery's display. Photo by Joel Luks
VegFest, June 2012
A sample of how many convenience foods are vegan. Photo by Joel Luks
VegFest, June 2012
VegFest, June 2012
VegFest, June 2012
VegFest, June 2012
VegFest, June 2012, group.
VegFest, June 2012, people
VegFest, June 2012
VegFest, June 2012
VegFest, June 2012, cooks
VegFest, June 2012
VegFest, June 2012

Every time a vegan is asked, "So, where do you get your protein?" and "What can you eat?," some poor cow goes to heaven. Yet one glance over at the sans bacon or cheese spread at the second annual VegFest Houston, hosted by the Vegan Society of Peace at St. Stephens Episcopal Church, no doubt served up that answer. If a catatonic food comma is what was intended for guests, mission accomplished.

VegFest wasn't just about food, though no one was whining that there happened to be plenty of are-you-sure-this-is-vegan fare everywhere. The gathering of 1,500 — almost double in size from the inaugural affair last year —offered resources for anyone living, contemplating or supporting someone who subscribed to an animal-free diet and lifestyle. 

Yes, in the mix were the usual suspects of the vegan Houston foodie scene of the likes of Dylan Carnes of Sinfull Bakery, who was flaunting her mega cinnamon rolls and everything bars. Celebrating her 46th birthday — and proudly so — was the sassy Staci Davis of Radical Eats; she was whipping up kale and collard greens bánh xèo (inspired by an experiment this reporter concocted). Raw veganista Pat Greer of Patricia Greer's Raw Vegan Kitchen led a food demo on easy techniques to incorporate more raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds into one's diet.

But just as full of life were two vegan food entrepreneurs that were breaking into the business that day, and one slated to roll out prior to the end of the year.

New vegan food companies in Houston

Avoid being difficult. Non-vegans are just waiting for you to live up to the stereotype that all vegans are a bunch of righteous pains in the behind.

The Free Cookie Company debuted its dairy and gluten-free giant, individually-wrapped cookies in two flavors: Chocolate chip and chocolate swirl. While some gluten-free baked goods suffer from a gritty texture or mimick the feeling of being licked by a flirtatious kitty cat, these moist sweet cakes were tender, fresh and hit just the right balance between sugary goodness and hefty stickiness, the kind that begs some finger licking.

The secret, a company representative said, is the owner's secret gluten-free flour mix.

Keep an eye out for Free Cookie Company's food truck, which is expected to roll out by the end of July. The crew is hoping to offer vegan crepes, cinnamon rolls and homemade coconut ice cream.

From the faraway land of Katy comes Zibble, a whimsical baking company founded by three women: Mother-daughter Melanie Blake and Amy-Lee Goodman, and Rhonda Heffernan.  In a way Zibble feels like an extension of their lifestyle: Using something everyone loves, frosting, Zibble's philosophy is to try to "make this world a little sweeter for all."

Zibble whips up vegan mini-cupcakes, chocolate and vanilla (six for $5), and vegan frosting also in those two flavors so customers can mix and match. More flavors are planned for release in the near future. The cakes are moist and the frosting is silky, not too sweet — just right.

As San Antonio-based caterer Smirking Chick's — also the brains behind Vegeria, San Antonio's first vegan eatery — prepares to enter the Houston market by the last quarter of 2012, you'll see them more and more at trade shows and vegetarian/vegan-themed get-togethers. The company focuses on convenience foods, snacks and meals suitable for vegan/vegetarian parents, kids and babies, with delivery options available. 

 If there was one curiosity that had VegFest guests puzzled, that was a reflective concave apparatus that harnessed the energy of the sun to heat a suspended cast iron skillet.

Think stroganoff, lentil veggie nuggets, mac and cheese, date brownies and raw lemon bars. Amy Browning and chef Fred Anthony Garza, whose chocolate cashew butter cup was one of their more indulgent offerings, are tapping into an underserved market of busy parents and professionals who have chosen a vegan diet.

Cooking with the sun?

If there was one curiosity that had VegFest guests puzzled, that was a reflective concave apparatus that harnessed the energy of the sun to heat a suspended cast iron skillet. In this solar cooker, soul food recipes from Yafah Asiel's The New Soul Vegetarian Cookbook, many of which are on the menu at Garden of Life Vegan Deli, sizzled at the hands of exquisitely dressed dames in white tunics and head wraps. 

Such was the demand that the long lines depleted some dishes, among them bean thread noodles, carrot supreme, kale salad, spicy BBQ tofu and potato salad. 

Thoughts from Victoria Moran

Amid lectures by Anuj Shah, Alan Clune and cardiologist Dr. Baxter Montgomery, speaker, author and ethical vegan Victoria Moran got it right when she suggested to think of the journey. Don't talk about subtracting foods, switch that paradigm and concentrate of adding new ingredients to your diet. Enjoy the ride. And never, never forget the animals.

Vegans, she said, are no longer on the fringe of society. Her book Main Street Vegan addresses concerns of those who embrace this lifestyle and have to maneuver through the mainstream world.

She suggested: If you find yourself in a situation where something is not perfect or not to your liking, avoid being difficult. Non-vegans are just waiting for you to live up to the stereotype that all vegans are a bunch of righteous pains in the behind.

It's about doing the best you can.