Liz Delaney / The Silhouette

 

Tucked away in the basement of the newly risen Phoenix, Bridges, the vegetarian/vegan restaurant caters to alternative tastes. “It’s a growing need. More and more people are making these choices,” said Leigh Laidlaw, its award-winning chef.

“I (also) get a lot of people who have dietary restrictions (because of) allergies, gluten intolerance, celiac disease, lactose intolerance…”

The most popular items are the chili, soy chicken nuggets and sweet potato fries. “But I like the Aloo Gobi,” said Leigh, “a potato and cauliflower curry. And I love the lentil curries  – over rice, pretty simple, very good for you and tasty.” Leigh will be doing a demo in April on how to cook easy healthy vegan meals (see MacFit for details).

Fresh out of school, chef papers in hand, Leigh moved to San Francisco to hone his skills in the cradle of the California cuisine movement. As a result he is passionate about fresh, local, organic and seasonal.

“Seasonal is huge. Unfortunately the academic year revolves pretty much backwards around the growing season. I’ll use a lot of Ontario root vegetables in the fall and winter because they’re local and they’re good. In fact, I just made roasted butternut and cinnamon soup earlier today.”

Leigh features a different entree every day. “I [research] other universities and vegetarian restaurants around the world just to see what trends are big.” Then he experiments.

“And if I don’t like the way it looks chances are I’m not going to serve it. It’s got to be aesthetically appealing. More often than not you eat with your eyes so I try to make sure things are colourful as well as nutritionally balanced. You can’t just have a salad and expect to have enough sustenance for the day.”

Leigh won gold for his expertise in the 16th Annual Chef Culinary Conference. Campus chefs from across North America competed in teams of four and had 40 minutes after opening a ‘black box’ to design a menu that included every item. They were marked on everything, even their garbage. “They wanted to look at all your bones when you were finished to make sure you had butchery skill.”

“I enjoy putting together the menu compositions – I enjoy seeing the finished products.” And Leigh likes to interact with the students. “It’s good to get feedback, negative or positive. And that’s one thing – students are honest.”

Check out the specials and kosher options on Facebook, and to see, said Leigh, “if I’m making chocolate mousse or banana bread.”

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