Changing Minds and Hearts on Vegan Night at The Independent in Gembrook

Oh, how things can change in just a couple of years in vegan food travel. I had blogged about a long lunch at The Independent Gembrook in 2015. At the time, my husband and I decided to dine there because there seemed to be enough side dishes on their menu, which read as vegan that could be ordered for a substantial shared lunch. We left the restaurant after our ‘DIY’ crafted long lunch feeling full and fulfilled, knowing that we were satisfied in experiencing Argentinean cuisine, sans animal-based dishes.

Fast-forward to November 2017, The Independent Gembrook has hosted its fourth Vegan Night. Diners booked in to experience Argentinean food over multiple courses, with or without matched drinks, and all crafted by Head Chef Mauro Callegari. Never during that lunch back in 2015 that I would see The Independent Gembrook host these nights on a vegan level. On further investigation, The Independent Gembrook now features its standalone vegan section on its regular menu. Again, my husband and I took the car through the rolling, winding hills and bushland of The Dandenongs in Melbourne’s outer east, to feast on eight share dishes over three courses. Only this time, I had to factor in gluten-free into the experience. Luckily, all dishes were customisable so I wouldn’t miss out and I was assured at the time of booking this would be taken care of by the kitchen.

Among the starters, I was served sweet potato crackers to dunk into the smooth white bean and olive dip before a serving of chickpea fritters. Classic dishes like smoked maple carrots with chilli, coriander and peanuts was relived (a noted favourite from 2015) and many more delectable dishes made their debut – a bowl of white gazpacho with watermelon, Argentinean roasted broccoli and cauliflower, and a hearty coconut potato and capsicum stew aside fluffy gingered white rice (together with condiments of toasted mandioca and kaffir lime chutney. To finish, gorgeous tropical tapioca crowned with fresh fruit and toasted coconut finished the feast off delightfully. Sweet and light, almost as if I was eating a puffy cloud.

Despite the culinary highs experienced at The Independent Gembrook’s Vegan Night, a weight within me was hard to ignore. During usual lunch and dinner services, the restaurant does prepare and serve suckling pig on request (pre-orders prior are mandatory). I understand that this is part of traditional Argentinean cuisine, and it’s my decision to support the vegan option in my travels. Some may say that to dine on Vegan Night, or from the vegan menu, one is still inadvertently supporting the venue financially in order to serve animal-based meals. This is an argument that’s prevalent in the vegan community and one of many that’s encountered regularly.

But, what if we as vegans did support the vegan option at non-vegan establishments? We are making a concerted effort to show businesses, through our patronage; there is a strong demand for vegan food practices. To book for a table of two on Vegan Night translates to two less customers eating animal products in the public domain, equating to the dollars and attention not being spent on such industries.

While there’s one tradition in supporting non-vegan eating habits, there is the burgeoning, counteracting tradition of living the vegan lifestyle which is gaining momentum. Historically, tradition has a means to hold on to old methods and beliefs without question. Equally, tradition does have the ability to embrace newer ways to express it in a vegan context.  Just look at the many omnivores deciding to become vegan?

All that is needed is the foresight to recognise this. One’s tradition is another’s drive and desire to change what is no longer needed in the world. Ripple effects can only follow, for the good for everyone including animals. Supporting businesses in their potential to cook what’s possible couldn’t be any more grassroots to the process in changing minds and hearts.           

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