Each TUCO Academy event aims to offer TUCO members unique opportunities for learning and development at low prices; Vanilla Black is no exception.

Undoubtedly one of the Academy’s most popular events, to date, Vanilla Black has been run 9 times, and 75 delegates from 37 universities have experienced owner Andrew Dargue’s concepts of vegan and vegetarian dishes.

vanilla black foodIt is estimated that demand for meat-free food increased by 987% in 2017 and going vegan was predicted to be the biggest food trend in 2018. What’s more, 1 in 3 brits have now stopped or reduced their meat consumption. With these statistics in mind, veganism within university catering is becoming impossible to ignore. It is now imperative that we stop and take the time to understand our customer needs and expectations when it comes to catering for meat-free dietary requirements.

But creating great vegan dishes is not easy. Gone are the days where hummus, risotto and falafel on their own are acceptable vegan and vegetarian dishes. Meat-free students are on the hunt for inventive and tasty dishes, and they want a variety of options to pick from. Andrew Dargue of Vanilla Black tells TUCO; “When we opened Vanilla Black 15 years ago with the aim of changing the perception of vegan food, cooking without meat and fish, and especially dairy, we were faced with huge challenges that really puts the skills of a chef to the test… Imagine walking into a food pantry, removing all of the meat, all of the dairy, eggs, honey.. everything that comes from an animal, and then having to create an incredible, versatile menu. It requires a lot of knowledge, skill and creativity.”

To an extent, UK universities are coping well with the vegan demand. Many institutions recognise that students who are not necessarily vegan or vegetarian are opting for their meat-free menu options. According to the Vegan Society, a staggering 92% of plant-based meals consumed in the UK in 2018 were eaten by non-vegans. The appeal of the healthy, and ‘cruelty-free’, option is growing, with millennials and Gen Z bringing meat-free dishes to the forefront of our outlets.

In order to keep up with student expectations and compete with external catering and retail units, it is essential that university caterers are up to speed with the vegan and vegetarian market. This is where learning and development plays a vital role. Samantha Potts, Academy Coordinator explains: “So often we find that people aren’t 100% sure what vegan students can and cannot eat. It is imperative to first understand the vegan, vegetarian and plant-based market so that we can create exciting dishes that appeal to our target market. The Vanilla Black development day offers an opportunity for delegates to learn all about veganism, try vegan produce at Borough Market and speak to a professional chef and vegan restaurant owner whilst enjoying a 3-course vegan meal.”borough market

The Vanilla Black development day is a 2-part experience which is run seasonally to give different experiences throughout the year. It is not unusual for delegates to attend a Vanilla Black development day more than once. Over the year, the market transforms and so does the Vanilla Black menu.

The first half of the Vanilla Black development day focusses on networking and brainstorming around veganism and vegetarianism. The group meets in Rabot 1745 Café for an initial welcome drink and introductions. Each institution will have prepared a short description of their current vegan and vegetarian offerings, along with what they are looking to get out of the event.

The group then split into teams of two and take to Borough Market, armed with a map, £20 cash, and some clues to decode. What you gain is a high-end selection of produce to take home with you to experiment with at your own leisure. The winning team each get a copy of Dargue’s recipe book, which can be signed during the restaurant visit. The treasure-hunt clues are changed each year to keep items On-Trend and relevant.

The second half of the development day takes part a short tube ride away in Chancery Lane -nestled away and almost hidden, lies Vanilla Black. Here delegates will receive a warm welcome from the team’s front of house, before enjoying a delicious 3-course meal selected from the main menu including drinks. In response to member feedback, Andrew Dargue will also offer delegates the opportunity to visit the kitchen, seeing the cooking and plating processes for themselves. A real insight into successful vegan catering.

foodConversation over lunch will be tailored to veganism and vegetarianism. Delegates will be encouraged to consider tricky topics such as; ‘is veganism just a trend?’ ‘how do you currently compare against other institutions?’ ‘what do vegan students say about your food?’ ‘how could you improve your large-scale catering food menus?’, and ‘what more could you offer?’ This open discussion around the table is tailored to get the most out of your time on the event and is often said to be one of the most useful parts of the day.

Following the meal, the group will enjoy tea and coffee and be joined by Andrew Dargue. Andrew will offer the group a private, and very honest talk about his business and catering for vegan and vegetarian clientele. Each delegate will also receive a small box of ingredients to take home for further experimentation.

Vanilla Black offers fine dining which is both extraordinarily well presented and delicious in taste. It is truly inspirational and perfect for TUCO members in all university catering roles from chefs at all levels looking to gain new skills, to heads of catering wanting to mix up vegan menus, to marketing teams looking at food presentation.

Vanilla Black is currently scheduled to take place in 2019 and once again in 2020, and now includes an improved treasure hunt basket, and a behind-the-scenes kitchen visit. Places are currently available on the 19 September 2019 date.

The development day is offered at £99.00 + VAT and includes welcome refreshments at Rabot Café in Borough Market, cash to complete the Market treasure hunt, a 3-course meal with drinks at Vanilla Black restaurant, a presentation from owner Andrew Dargue after the meal and a Q&A session plus an extra gift to take home with you in addition to your bag of Borough Market purchases.

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"What I will take away from this tour is that with some thought and imagination you can make vegan and vegetarian look and taste amazing."

– Delegate from Exeter University

"The best part of the development day was speaking to Andrew following our meal to understand his processes and views on vegetarian meals out of home."

- Delegate from TUCO

If you would like to learn more, or are interested in attending this event in the future, please contact [email protected]