An Interview with Verité Vegan Catering, and Roast Beets with Arugula and Toasted Almond Granola

by Gena on April 15, 2011

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Great responses to the raw, vegan tomato bread! I’m already excited for another sandwich.

I’m thrilled to bring you guys an interview today with two of the most inspiring, enthusiastic, and talented young vegans I know. They’re my friends Cassie Karopkin and Daphne Cheng, and they’re the culinary dream team behind Verité Catering. Verité is one of the few entirely plant-based catering companies here in NYC and nationwide (in fact, it’s the only one I can think of off the top of my head). Within months, Verité has made a splash in the fine dining world, catering parties, special events, gallery openings, private dinners, and dinner parties.

Full confession: Cassie is one of my closest friends. So I’ve watched Verité thrive with pride and excitement. I met Cassie over two years ago, and from the moment I shook her hand, I knew she was destined to do wonderful and inspiring things for the vegan world. She’s infectiously enthusiastic, tough-minded yet encouraging, and wise beyond her (very modest) years. It gives me so much joy to see her join forces with another passionate young woman, and to watch the two of them create food that’s as sophisticated as it is compassionate. To quote from the company’s mission statement: “It is our mission and our pleasure to create dishes that are both simple and elegant, daring and familiar. We believe in foods that are kind to our bodies and to the planet…we believe that our food showcases a compassionate and forward-looking ethos.”

And so it does. I’ve tasted Verité food, and I can attest to its excellence. Without further ado, I’d like to share a short interview with these vegan entrepreneurs. I’ve asked them to share their thoughts on creating a “fine dining” experience with vegetables as a primary ingredient, on creating vegan food that holds its own for an omnivore audience, and on the intriguing title of their company. I’ve also asked them to share one of their favorite recipes, and they haven’t disappointed me! I can’t wait to try their roast beets with arugula and almond granola, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

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1) Be truthful: how did you come up with the name “Vérité” for your new business?

“Vérité” means “truth” in French, and it has significant meaning for us in various ways. It represents the truth in the ingredients we use, which are organic and non-GMO. Without being preachy, we believe we are educating people about what truly healthful foods are. We don’t believe in gimmicks, fad diets, heavy marketing, “superfoods”… just honest and simple whole plant foods.

2) Try to sum up the ethos of Verité catering. What’s your mission?

We want to feed you delicious food, whether you are omnivorous, vegan, pescatarian, raw, gluten-intolerant… whatever your lifestyle and diet choices may be. We want to inspire your palate to develop an appreciation for plant-based cuisine and realize that it is completely satisfying in its own right. Our approach is to appeal to your taste buds and alleviate the fear of vegan food being bland or boring. The goal is to help people realize not only that they won’t miss eating animal products, but will actually crave plant-based cuisine. Whether one chooses to completely eliminate or simply cut back on animal products, we support any reduction in their consumption.

3) What sort of services do you offer?

We cater any size event ranging from an intimate dinner for one or two to a cocktail party for hundreds.  Our skills are versatile, and we also offer private and group cooking lessons.

4) Tell me a little bit more about your backgrounds, and what led you to the work you do.

Cassie: after studying mathematics in school, I delved into the world of actuarial science. Once I discovered veganism, though, I became immersed in health and nutrition. After I quit working at an auto insurance company, I began practicing as a colonic hydrotherapist. Many of my conversations with clients were focused on diet and nutrition, and I became interested in preparing the different meals I was describing to my clients as being healthful and delicious. I eventually entered culinary school, where I met Daphne, and we created Vérité as a way to spread the love of healthful eating. Now I am able to bring together wellness and culinary arts in my daily experience and share it with people who are embracing healthier choices in their own lives.

Daphne: I also originally came from a math background and became fascinated with the culinary arts when I was fifteen. I am completely obsessed with every aspect of enjoying a meal, from shopping for ingredients, to slicing and dicing with my beloved damascus steel knife, to taking photos of a beautifully plated dish, to finally devouring it all. I can spend hours wandering about the aisles of Whole Foods, getting lost in food and finding inspiration. With such a fervor for cooking, it only made sense to attend culinary school and dive into the food service industry.

5) As a vegan, I’m always conflicted in my thinking about how much vegan entrepeneurs should emphasize the veganism of their work. I know you’ve said that clients often don’t realize your food is vegan, and that you market it simply as great food. I think this is brilliant, and I like that it shows “foodies” that vegan cuisine is on par with any other high quality cuisine.

At the same time, I think it’s important to ultimately share vegan values. How do you navigate this tension, between wanting to draw attention away from vegan vs. non-vegan labels, and focus on the food’s quality, yet also wanting people to know what veganism is about?

We don’t feel as though we are misleading anyone into eating vegan. We are a catering company that serves good food; it just so happens that our dishes don’t include animal products. We don’t blatantly advertise ourselves as a vegan company as we don’t want to alienate anyone with the oftentimes polarizing word, “vegan.” The sad truth is that some people have preconceptions and will refuse to even try something if it is labeled vegan. We like to let our food do the talking. Most of the time, the guests at our events don’t know they are enjoying a meatless meal until they rave and ask us about it. The overwhelming positive response we get from people after tasting our food is what our company exists for.

6) You both have strong interest in nutrition. Can you tell me how you balance your enthusiasm for good health with your desire to make food that’s accessible and delicious?

It’s really easy when you are working with plant-based ingredients, because you don’t really have to put that much thought into making a dish that’s both flavorful and healthful. We truly believe that the most health-supporting foods also happen to be the most delicious.

7) How do you select your ingredients?

We only prepare foods that we would want to eat ourselves, and we almost exclusively eat organic and locally grown food. We purchase our ingredients from local, organic farms and purveyors and eco-friendly food service suppliers. In a pinch, we rely on farmers markets, food co-ops, and companies like Whole Foods that share our principles.

8  ) Unlike other vegan food companies, you’re very spare with meat analogs and cheese analogs. I love it! Tell me how you satisfy using veggies as the centerpieces of your meals.

Vegetables do the work for themselves. As chefs, we have the creativity and the skills to reveal and showcase the flavors that are naturally found within them. While we honor requests for meat substitutes if a client desires them, we generally don’t feel the need to have such a dish as part of a gratifying meal. Our clients tend to agree.

9) What’s an average selection of food at a Vérité event?

There is no average menu here at Vérité, as we custom create each menu specially for our clients. We rarely ever repeat a menu item unless requested and enjoy creating new recipes regularly. Our menus can vary from light, raw to incredibly rich and decadent. Some sample menu items include baby arugula with seared trumpet mushrooms in lemongrass chili vinaigrette, cucumber celeriac vichyssoise garnished with wild rice popcorn, butternut squash risotto with baby spinach and fresh basil chiffonade, rosé poached pear with cashew crème tart. And the list goes on.

10) Wow. Can you share one of your favorite recipes with CR readers?

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Mélange of Roast Beet with Arugula and Almond Granola (serves 4)

Ingredients:

For the salad:

¾ cup baby arugula
2 trimmed rhubarb stalks, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices (optional)

For the red and golden roast beets:

1 pound red medium beets
1 pound gold medium beets

Roast beets at 350 degrees until fork tender (about 45 minutes). Allow beets to cool and remove skin. Cut into medium dice. Try to keep red beets away from golden beets to preserve color.

Red beet puree:

1 pound medium beets
½ cup orange juice
zest 1 orange
1 date
salt to taste

Roast red beet at 350 degrees until fork tender (about 45 minutes). Once cool, peel off skin and combine in blender with orange juice, zest, date, and salt. Blend until smooth.

Granola:

½ cup slivered almonds, toasted
½ cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoon melted coconut oil
⅛ teaspoon almond extract
¼ teaspoon salt

Toss granola ingredients together in a bowl and transfer to a baking dish. Bake at 300 degrees for 15 minutes.

Directions:

Arrange beets, beet puree, and granola on a plate and garnish with baby arugula and rhubarb. Serve! This dish can be broken up and used separately as well.

Thank you, ladies! What a delicious treat.

For those of you who are interested in having Vérité cater a wedding, party, dinner party, or any other special occasion, contact them through their website or by emailing Daphne or Cassie individually. And New Yorkers, take note: Vérité hosts a special dinner party once a month or so, called “dinner with true friends.” They invite individuals in need of a friend—whether because they’re new to the city, new to a plant-based diet, or simply want good company—to a five course dinner, limited to 12 guests. They donate 50% of the ticket price to a different charity, which is decided at the end of the dinner by all attending. What an amazing idea! The next dinner with true friends is on Sunday, May 22, and you can purchase tickets here. I’m definitely going to try to attend, though the end of May promises to be wacky for me, and you should, too.

And readers, take note: we have a Green Recovery submission coming soon from Ms. Daphne, who has bravely shared her story with me. I can’t wait.

And now, let the weekend begin!

xo

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Ela April 15, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Awesome! And another green recovery story under there too… So inspiring…

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Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) April 15, 2011 at 4:48 pm

What a wonderful interview..thanks to all you ladies for teaming up on it!

“from the moment I shook her hand, I knew she was destined to do wonderful and inspiring things for the vegan world”– I meet people like that or have started reading blogs of certain people, and sure enough, 6-12 mos later, they are a massive rising star and I love that! It’s so wonderful to watch people blossom into something amazing like you have with Cassie’s business.

And I love question #5..how to balance promoting but not alienating the whole issue of vegan food…It’s a delicate balancing act, indeed. I love their response..that “We like to let our food do the talking. Most of the time, the guests at our events don’t know they are enjoying a meatless meal until they rave and ask us about it.”

Amen.

Have a great weekend! :)

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McKella April 15, 2011 at 6:21 pm

That is beautiful food and a beautiful mission statement!

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FoodFeud April 15, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Awesome! Good to know! Can’t wait for more vegan catering companies.

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caronae April 15, 2011 at 7:52 pm

I would totally love to wind up at an event they catered some day. That probably won’t happen for a while, given my current Bohemian student lifestyle, but I can dream.

Confession: I despise beets. I feel really guilty about it too since they’re a very Persian food and I’m Persian, but I just can’t get into them…

Lovely to meet you today!

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Katelyn @ Chef Katelyn April 15, 2011 at 8:37 pm

I love that you use coconut oil instead of canola!! Coconut is one of my favorite products as of late – I used to be so afraid of the saturated fat, but as Brendan’s books have convinced me, it is GREAT fuel and does not get stored as fat (as long as you’re not eating it by the spoonful:))

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Gina April 15, 2011 at 10:05 pm

I had their raw pizzerts at the NYC Vegetarian Festival! So delicious :)

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Ada April 16, 2011 at 7:42 am

I had the pleasure of sampling some of Verite’s offerings at the Vegetarian Food Festival and was highly impressed, your friends should be very proud of themselves:) I also love the concept of dinner mates jointly selecting a charity to donote the proceeds to, what a great idea!

It was so nice to meet you yesterday, Gena! I hope we see eachother again soon and good luck with the end of the semester, I still am in awe of your ability to balance nutritional counseling, blogging and the post bacc. Let me know if you ever want a study-mate or need some assistance with gen chem.

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Kathleen April 16, 2011 at 10:19 am

Love seeing this interview with my dear friend! I agree, I knew Cassie was destined for great things from very early on in our friendship. I’m so thrilled she found such a dynamic partner in Daphne and so excited for their quick success. I can’t wait to see the power of vegan food grow through the both of them! Great interview Gena!

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Claire @ Un Bello Aperitivo April 16, 2011 at 10:26 am

Wow, this is great! It’s nice to see a catering company with such a poignant message as theirs, and the fact that they don’t use fake meats in their dishes. Way to go, ladies!

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sasha@blyssfulhealth April 16, 2011 at 10:42 am

Thanks for sharing. Although I don’t live in the area, the beets look great. The colour is so vibrant. I love when people promote healthy food and they just look really healthy as well. Such a good way to promote eating for your health.

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melissa April 16, 2011 at 5:31 pm

omg that looks so amazing! congrats cassie!

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Randi April 16, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Oh wow! I hope I have the pleasure of enjoying their catering at some point.

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Dori April 17, 2011 at 10:06 pm

I went to Dinner with True Friends last Sunday and Verite’s food is AMAZING. And I’ve had their special frosting cookies on more than one occasion and they are the best cookies I have ever had — not even exaggerating. LOVE this interview, and I can’t thank you enough for introducing me to Cassie!

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Gena April 18, 2011 at 10:13 am

She’s life changing, isn’t she?

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Lexica April 18, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Ah, the “v-word” issue. It’s a tough one for businesses. As a customer, on one hand I understand why a company like Verite might choose not to emphasize “vegan! vegan!” On the other hand, I know if I’m given a choice between Restaurant A, which has vegan-acceptable food but doesn’t use the “v-word” on their menu or promotional material, or Restaurant B, which uses the word “vegan” in their materials, I’m probably going to choose Restaurant B in order to reward them.

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Gena April 18, 2011 at 8:38 pm

We see eye to eye on this one!

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Cassie April 19, 2011 at 12:11 am

I actually personally agree with this! On the other hand, my goal is to convert the world. It seems that the majority of people don’t want to know about it if it’s vegan, so we have been using this approach… and so far, so good!

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Liz Longacre April 19, 2011 at 9:57 am

Love this, you ladies are simply amazing. I think the way you convey your message is genius and the best way to reach the largest audience. I agree, you are wise beyond your years and as someone who’s tasted your food, you are also skilled far beyond your years. I can only imagine where you’ll be 10 years from now! So excited for you :)

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danny April 19, 2011 at 10:27 am

Math vegan entrepreneurs!!! :D

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Marta April 19, 2011 at 6:37 pm

love this Gena! these girls basically encompass all of the attitudes I have towards food :) AND they’re showing by example, couldn’t love them more. this beet dish is the first thing I’m making when I have a second to spend in the kitchen. I don’t know how you do it, balancing school and a seriously impressive culinary life, but I just can’t. such a downer too cuz the kitchen is my stress relief. can’t wait to be done for the summer, week and a half left!

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Sarah April 21, 2011 at 10:00 pm

I am so excited to read this post! What a perfect description of Cassie, she is such a light. I always introduce people to Cassie with the warning, that after you meet her your life is guaranteed to improve. As for Verite food, it is beyond this world good! It is no surprise that those two gems make magic in the kitchen!

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