Los Olivos’ executive chef Arnold Zavalza is creating new dishes with complex flavors and innovative ingredients — that just happen to be vegan.
Veganism is the animal-product-free movement that market research firm Baum + Whiteman reports as the “mega trend” of 2018.
The residential chefs at Cal Poly Pomona are seizing the opportunity to meet the needs of students who want to try the trend, or who have already made it their lifestyle.
Zavalza says he has been experimenting with serving students vegan food over the years.
His culinary team is learning to embrace vegan recipes by becoming better at combining flavors to create the illusion of the tastes that animal products bring to the pallet, using plant-based ingredients.
“Kale salad with quinoa pomegranate seeds and shredded apple which I infuse with feta-style cheese, but it’s not really feta; what it is, is just marinated tofu, so that component offers the protein that you need with the rest of the ingredients…The tofu is marinated in lime juice so it offers a little bit of sourness and herbs so that makes the dish fuller, bolder, more enjoyable. That is one of my favorites,” said Zavalza.
Kitchen operations supervisor Fionna Espana says one of the dishes they create that makes her most proud is the pistachio crusted seared tofu over roasted vegetable root hash because “the pistachios give it a nice crunch, it’s hearty without being super heavy, and [it] has a comfort food feel to it.”
To create these alternative dishes, Zavalza often draws inspiration from dishes that are traditionally made with meat protein and exchanges the animal ingredients for plant-based options.
He uses ancient grains, legumes and root vegetables in many of his dishes because they have recently become more widely available.
“The general population is getting familiar with and used to the fact that legumes are whole foods that sustain and provide all the vitamins and minerals that the body needs,” said Zavalza.
Zavalza uses ingredients kept in-house to create replacements for meats, rather than primarily reaching for processed commercial meat substitutes.
He prefers to use vegetables because they allow him the opportunity to create new dishes on his own, rather than limiting himself with flavors and concepts from food manufacturers.
He keeps the kitchen stocked with vegetables grown on the CPP campus.
“Whatever they grow, I offer it here and turn it into something else,” Zavalza said.
Espana shares in the same culinary exploration, saying that her experience of being challenged to create vegan dishes at Los Olivos has introduced her to new food items, different textures, but the same quality.
“I say, ‘If we don’t have it, let’s make it! What’s the flavor profile?’” said Espana.
Zavalza describes a steak substitute he creates made from eggplant as being another one of his favorite dishes.
He uses a thick slice of eggplant, grills it until it becomes tender and serves it with a mixture of tomato sauce, garbanzo beans and herbs.
“It’s a lot like eating a vegetarian lasagna, but it also looks and is served almost like a steak,” said Zavalza.
Main dishes balanced with plant-based proteins and herbed vegetables are not the only foods the chefs cook up daily, they also create vegan baked goods such as muffins, including traditional blueberry, and desserts like a moist chocolate cake made with applesauce in place of eggs.
Zavalza also explores replacements for cheeses that mock the real thing, as they are needed in dishes as well.
He blends cashews with lime juice and garlic until it is silky to make a base for “cheese,” then adds hunks of tofu to the mixture to mimic the texture of chunky blue cheese.
For a parmesan-style cheese, Zavalza found that combining cashews, pistachios, granulated garlic and herbs resemble the texture of parmesan cheese makes an ideal topping for sprinkling over a salad.
“It has the effect of parmesan cheese on your taste palate when you’re consuming the meal,” said Zavalza.
A dish he has yet to premiere at Los Olivos Commons is his vegan crabless cakes. Traditionally, this dish is made with lumps of crab meat; but for this, he substitutes the crab meat by cutting up an eggplant and blending it with vegan bread crumbs, dijon mustard, vegan mayonnaise, garlic, chopped parsley and a sprinkle of rice flour.
After the ingredients are properly integrated, he puts the mixture into small patties which are then grilled and served with a sauce he called “dijonaise”.
“I call it ‘dijonaise’ because it is an equal mix of dijon mustard and veganaise with a squeeze of lime. If you mix it all together it has a very nice sharp, creamy texture that goes well with the vegan crabless cakes,” Zavalza said.
Zavalza is currently searching for a new line of vegan items to bring to Los Olivos soon, just in time to cater to the popular vegan food trend of 2018.
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