This week I caught up with two of my favourite Sydney Chefs - Simon and Tom from Caveau, a hatted restaurant in Wollongong - just over an hour south of Sydney. I’ve had the pleasure of dining at Caveau and was impressed with their vegetarian and vegan options so thought I’d chat to the boys to get a bit more insight on the ‘greener’ side of Caveau!
When designing the menus for Caveau, how important do you think it is to try and cater for everyone?
It’s extremely important now. People are very clued in on what is good for their body in regard to allergies and intolerances, and also there are more and more people turning to vegetarian or plant based diets, so there’s a huge demographic of people who need feeding and are sometimes forgotten about by other restaurants. Also, because of our slightly rigid menu structure with the set tasting menu, we must be able to offer alternates to each dish.
It's often said that vegetarian food is much harder to make interesting, do you agree?
Somewhat! The conception is sometimes harder for a meat eater to come up with because usually, you start with the protein and then add vegetables to compliment. With a vegetarian dish you just have to come at it from a different angle. I think it’s also important to talk to vegetarians and vegans, to see what they like to eat and what they cook. In saying that, food always comes down to the same principles no matter if its meat, fish or vegetables – start with good quality produce, cook it in the right manner, and put things together that go well together. There’s a reason tomato and basil for example, is a classic combo, it works!
When creating the vegetarian menu, do you do that in conjunction with the meat menu or do you approach the two totally separately?
It is in conjunction with the ingredients we have in at that time, so in that sense it is mirrored with the meat menu. This is important as one week we may have 20 vegetarians in, the next week none, so this helps us cut down on any potential waste. For example, on our current menu, we have black garlic on a fish dish, which pops up on an asparagus dish on the vegetarian and vegan menu.
How do you see the dining trends changing over the past few years? Is there more demand for vegetarian food?
There has definitely been a steady increase. I think as much as anything there has been an increase of people wanting quality, well thought out vegetarian dishes. I think vegetarians have gotten fed up with eating a sad looking tomato salad or a nut loaf.
You source so much of your produce locally, including the meat, eggs and vegetables - is it safe to assume you let the produce 'drive' the creative process for Caveau?
100% right! When we start developing a new menu, the first question is ‘what can we get?’ Whether that’s a game bird that’s suddenly come into season, or if cherry season has started, or our veg grower has some produce that’s starting to come up - we work from there. It would feel a bit disingenuous to put say a tomato dish on when they weren’t in season and at their best.
What's your favourite ingredient in the Caveau kitchen right now?
Probably not the best answer for a vegetarian’s website, but we just got in some 60-day dry aged heritage beef. It’s all from old dairy cows and has amazing depth of flavour. On the greener side of things, asparagus season is just starting! There is nothing much better than local, in season asparagus, it puts the imported stuff to shame and is another ingredient you won’t see on the menu here out of season.
See all the exciting things the Caveau boys are up to on the daily via their socials;