Whenever you eat vegan food in a non-vegan establishment, you really are at the mercy of the place. I recently found out that one of my favourite non-vegan vegan food suppliers was maybe not taking my food choices as seriously as I was.
Does this story have a happy ending? Read on…
The Gallery Cafe in Bethnal Green has been a staple of the vegetarian eating scene for many years. It has long been a go-to place for inner city diners looking for a meal without meat. Everything is suitable for vegetarians and only two dishes contain dairy products: the halloumi wrap and pizza with animal-sourced cheese. Everything else is advertised as suitable for vegans.
But the story isn’t as simple as that.
I was contacted a few days ago by a concerned person who had seen me bragging on Facebook about the best vegan burger in the UK. Of course, this was in relation to my wondrous experience eating the vegan burger (their name, not mine) at The Gallery Cafe a few weeks ago.
My concerned informant told me that the burger patty I ate was fried in the same oil that is often used to fry halloumi cheese. I was a little skeptical owing to the number of hysterical stories about cross-contamination that we vegans hear, but my conversation buddy had an inside line. They work/have worked for the cafe very recently. (The person has asked me to protect their identity)
I of course went overboard with the questions. Was this a one off? Are they sure? How big is the fryer? Was the oil changed between vegan and non-vegan cooking?
My informant came back with the same answer every time. They were 100% confident vegan and non-vegan items were fried in the same oil. Not just once, but as an ongoing practice. Some of the vegan items fried from time to time in the same oil as the cheese included falafel, burgers, chips and sausages. Making them, from time to time, not vegan.
I’m all about hearing all sides of the story, so I waddled down to the Bethnal Green location as quickly as my chubby, queer frame would permit and asked to speak with the chef. The chef at first assured me they always separated the two sections of the fryer into vegan and non-vegan. I asked the chef if this was the case for all of the staff in the cafe. The chef repeated that they themselves always ensured to fry vegan items separately. I then asked wether I could take this to indicate that some staff members might not be so diligent. The chef said it was possible.
I then spotted the manager of the establishment and asked for a moment to discuss my concerns. The manager assured me all staff were under strict instructions to never fry vegan and non-vegan items in the same oil. My line of questioning was exhaustive and the conversation ended with the manager stating that if this had ever happened in the past, I could rest assured it would never happen in the future.
Before I even got home that evening, there was an email waiting for me from the manager stating the cafe had purchased a new fryer solely dedicated to the frying of halloumi. The original double fryer, I have been told, will be emptied and refilled. All staff have been instructed again to never confuse the two fryers.
So, in the past the cafe had a fryer with two sections. I believe it was their best intention to keep the two sections separate. However, my source informs me when the cafe was swamped with orders, the staff would use whichever side of the fryer was available. I have no reason other than to consider this as highly probable.
Now I am convinced (by the manager’s email & further staff feedback) that the cafe has a controlled and dedicated procedure for keeping the vegan food vegan. As of today!
Next time you are in, please thank them for taking this step to ensure your chips and burgers aren’t fried with cheese fat. I will leave it up to a healthier vegan than me to take on the challenge of why sausages and burgers are deep fried. I’m happy enough if they are vegan LOL.
Disclaimer: I am hosting the 2013 London Vegan Beer Fest on the grounds attached to The Gallery Cafe. These plans in no way affected my decision to question the cafe. My desire to eat vegan food and for vegan food to be truly vegan, inspired me to approach them.