At the end of May, UBC Food Services, in partnership with Humane Society International/Canada, The Humane Society of the United States, and Vancouver Humane Society, hosted the first Forward Food Culinary Training and Summit in Canada. Chefs and food service professionals from across the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and as far as Winnipeg gathered at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver Campus for the event, which has helped over 1,700 food service professionals in the United States meet growing demand for healthier, more sustainable and cost-effective menu items through plant-based culinary training. UBC joins a list of prestigious universities that have hosted a Forward Food event, including Dartmouth, Harvard, Northwestern, Rhode Island School of Design, Tufts, and the University of Colorado-Boulder.

The event consisted of a two-day culinary training experience followed by a one-day summit. The culinary training helped chefs refine their plant-based cooking skills, challenged them to think differently about their menus, and offered hands-on training led by Chef Wanda White, former Executive Operations Chef at the University of North Texas, who opened the first vegan university dining hall in the United States. The one-day summit that followed was geared toward food service and nutrition professionals, offering insights into the latest trends in both implementing and marketing plant-based menu items. The summit included a series of speakers kicked off by Adriane Carr, the City of Vancouver’s first Green Party Councilor, a “pulled” jackfruit tasting, lunch at the UBC Farm, and opportunities for attendees to share learnings and insights in a peer-to-peer environment.

Culinary training participants learned how to prepare delicious plant-based entrees that appeal to guests of all dietary preferences. Many chefs learned the importance of focusing on the fact that these dishes are “just good food.” It doesn’t matter if they are vegan or vegetarian; what matters to the majority of customers is that chefs use their creativity to produce a dish that is visually appealing, flavorful, and delicious. That’s what will keep the customers coming back for more and what will ultimately drive more demand for plant-based menu items that are good for our health and environment. Plant-based menu items often have a lower food cost as well, allowing us to pass that on to students who are on a tight budget. Chefs were encouraged to describe menu items using the ingredients instead of simply labelling them as vegetarian or vegan, which makes many potential customers who don’t identify as vegetarian or vegan think the menu item isn’t for them. Focus on what the dish offers instead of what it doesn’t!

“It was amazing to hear from and spend the day with so many forward thinkers. I liked that the plant based message was not “all or none” instead that any reduction, no matter how small, has a great impact on your health and the environment. The food was also out of this world.”

– Alice Wyche, Island Health

Kicking off the culinary training

When chefs arrived on the first morning of the culinary training there was a feeling of apprehension in the room. Many seemed to be wondering what they had gotten themselves into! However, once they had the recipes and ingredients at their disposal, the atmosphere changed dramatically to one of excitement and intrigue. Training day one flew by with the most memorable moments being the great conversations and the delicious lunch the chefs created. The 100% plant-based dishes were all mouthwatering – to some participants’ surprise!

On the morning of the second day of culinary training, the excitement in the room remained. The chefs were asked to share what they had learned on the first day. The testaments were inspiring – and made all the work planning the event worth it! One UBC chef proclaimed that he was so excited to share his experience with his wife and brainstorm some plant-based recipe ideas that he missed the end of the hockey game – a rare occurrence for him! Another chef reflected on a demo where Chef Wanda made aquafaba (bean water) meringue and stated we would never be pouring that “liquid gold” from the chickpea can down the drain again! A chef from the interior of British Columbia said, “It was awesome to be part of something that can make a difference to so many. It gave us a new way to look at the way we do our menus and how we present our food. It was inspirational.”

Chefs who previously viewed vegetarian dishes as something they had to have on the menu and that required little thought were now excited to get creative with plant-based dishes that wowed their guests. Many chefs shared that their mindsets had shifted: It wasn’t about creating a dish for vegans, it was about creating delicious, healthy, and sustainable menus for all! A chef from Whistler challenged the others to go back to their kitchens after the training to create a unique plant-based dish they could be proud of and to continue to share with each other while they implement more plant-based menu items.

Why UBC Food Services hosted Canada’s first Forward Food Summit and Culinary Training

UBC Food Services is passionate about the many environmental and health benefits of eating more plant-based foods, including a reduced risk for chronic disease. This event was an opportunity for our food services team and other institutions to raise awareness of these benefits and to better meet the growing demand for plant-based offerings in food service operations across Canada.

Our focus is on whole plant-based foods instead of meat and dairy analogues. Meat and dairy analogues can be good transition foods for those looking to eat more plant-based but ultimately aren’t a healthier option as they are often highly processed. UBC Food Services plans to incorporate some of the recipes featured in the culinary training into campus menus, including at dedicated vegetarian stations in all three residence dining rooms, starting September 2017.

The demand for plant-based foods from students is increasing – a trend not unique to our campus. Many students are passionate about health and sustainability and are great champions of our goal to create more plant-based menus. UBC Food Services is excited to be a leader in this area and hopes other institutions will follow suit. The Food Forward event is a testimony to UBC Food Services’ passion for sustainability, commitment to wellbeing, and a great demonstration of our new Food Vision and Values. We also believe that being a leading institution in driving more plant-based menus can have a meaningful impact on recruitment and retention of students.

In an effort to highlight the benefits of reducing our population’s overconsumption of animal products, the cities of Vancouver, North Vancouver, New Westminster and Port Moody each passed proclamations earlier this spring declaring Monday, May 15 Meatless Monday. This, along with the high level of enthusiasm for plant-based meals among chefs and food service professionals in British Columbia, made UBC Vancouver the prime location for Canada’s first Forward Food Culinary Training and Summit.

Since the summit, attendees from hospitals, residential care facilities, universities, colleges, and large hospitality companies have gone back to their organizations to have meaningful conversations with their senior leadership about the importance of implementing healthier and more sustainable menus.

“[We] gained some valuable insight that we will be able to incorporate into our contract, which contains seven facilities. We will be presenting a summary of what we learned and our experience at our manager’s meeting in June with some sample menu items we think could be incorporated into long term care menus.”

– Magda Schwartz, Compass Canada

Hosting the Forward Food culinary training, in addition to the summit, was a way to ensure we were walking the talk – and actually driving change – instead of just discussing it! We are excited to see what attendees of this sold-out event do to ensure that healthier and more sustainable menus are implemented at large institutions across British Columbia and beyond. Now, go get creative with plant-centred plates and please share your successes with us!


For high-resolution images, click here.

For media inquiries, please contact:

Colin Moore
Director, Food Services, Student Housing and Hospitality Services
The University of British Columbia

Melissa Baker
Manager, Nutrition and Wellbeing, Student Housing and Hospitality Services
The University of British Columbia