One of the great pleasures of my job is connecting with people committed to work that's both meatless and meaningful. In some special occasions, that connection keeps going. "It's like building community," as my friend Agata Kalicki puts it. Two weeks ago, I visitited Agata and her husband Reno, a fab couple I met last year. The vegan cafe they'd just opened at the time is now a favorite island hangout. Agata doesn't know if they're making many vegan converts, but beet burger and grilled cashew cheese sandwich sales are brisk. Their son, Xero is now 2, gorgeous and entirely mobile, but not averse to a bite or two of vegan pumpkin cheesecake before he's off on new adventures.
This post originally ran on on June 17, 2013.
You and your partner are a hot young couple. You have a gorgeous eight month-old son. You live on a tropical island. Do you really need more? For Agata Kalicki and Reno Ciantar, the answer was, yes. "We found something was missing on the island," says Kalicki. So she and her husband just opened Bread and Chocolate, Grand Cayman's first (and only) vegan cafe.
Best known as a diving haven and a tax haven, Grand Cayman has no recycling program, "animal welfare is a little low on their list," and the local speciality, called mannish water, is a soup "where they stew down parts of the goat they couldn't use for curry." So is opening a vegan cafe brilliant or crazy?
"We talked about it for ages, we looked at locations, Reno worked on a business plan," and Kalicki sensed a definite interest. She'd noted their market had been carrying more plant-based products. And they'd disappear from the shelves "even when I didn't buy them," she says. "I thought, the vegans are hiding."
Since opening two months ago, Bread and Chocolate has coaxed them out. "I'm finding there's a lot more vegans than I thought there were," particularly among the island's expat community. "The locals aren't necessarily vegan, but they're coming in for the food. We're busier than I thought we'd be, considering we're in Cayman."
With menu items from waffles to vegan BLTs, it's classic cafe fare gone plant-based. "We didn't want to freak people out. We have stuff even a meat-eater would recognize as food."
Originally from outside Toronto, Kalicki grew up eating "boiled meat. Sorry, Mom." In Ciantar's family, the meat was poached, but in either case, "it was gray meat. I never thought I could stop eating it." Then Kalicki began reading about animal welfare and food production and the last time she ate mannish water, "I wound up feeling for the poor little goat. I stopped eating land animals, then, what, I'm going to kill fish? I'm vegan now. It's an animal ethics thing for me." She and Ciantar are raising their son to be vegan, too. "Heck, yeah."
Bread and Chocolate diners ask questions about "the whole vegan thing," and the couple is there to provide answers and resources. "I feel a responsibility," Kalicki says. "There's been times I've struggled to eat something vegan. But if we could switch off the amount of meat people eat, we'd have resources to feed everyone."
This is a big deal when you're on an island. Bread and Chocolate sources their greens, callaloo, tomatoes and mangos from Cayman's farmers market, but most of the food has to come from somewhere else and "everything's more expensive."
Having a meat-free menu saves costs. "We use a lot of dry beans and chickpeas, we make things in small batches, we make our own bread. That keeps costs down and works to our advantage with freshness," says Kalicki. "There's something about the perfect taste of food that makes you want to dance."
Bread and Chocolate regulars seem to agree. "Lunch is stupid busy," and if the concept of vegan is new and a little odd to them, they're crazy about the bacon they can't believe is made from tempeh and the chocolate chip cookies made without eggs or dairy. "It's food they wouldn't have tried otherwise, and they're pretty excited about it."
Kalicki is pretty excited, too. "We have regulars who bring in new friends all the time -- that's making me happy. It's like we're building community." Out of Bread and Chocolate. It's just what Grand Cayman has been waiting for.
from Bread and Chocolate. Used by permission
2/3 cup vegan mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon brown mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon red onion, minced
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 sheet of nori, torn into small bits
dash of tamari *
dash of white balsamic vinegar
Add all ingredients to blender and blend on high until nori is evenly distributed. Dressing will be thick.
Makes approximately 3/4 cup dressing.
* Similar to soy sauce, but thicker, richer and naturally gluten-free. Available in
Asian markets, natural food stores and many supermarkets.
romaine lettuce (about 3 cups of leaves, torn and loosely packed)
1 carrot, shredded
a small handful kalamata olives
1 slice red onion
2 teaspoons Caesar dressing
Gently toss romaine lettuce, shredded carrot, sliced red onion, and chopped kalamata olives with dressing until evenly coated. Serve with wedge of fresh lemon.
Serves 1. Double or triple as necessary.
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