A vegan chef is a professional cook who specializes in preparing meals without any kind of animal products. These chefs may work at a restaurant or catering business or assist the prepackaged food industry in developing tasty and affordable vegan meals for customers. Vegan chefs are in high demand in areas where vegan and other vegetarian diets are popular for moral or health-related reasons. While some types of vegetarians may continue to consume fish, dairy, eggs or honey, strict vegans refuse to consume any of these items or use products tested on animals.
A vegan chef must learn to work with a much different list of ingredients than a traditional chef. Many of the techniques and recipes taught in a culinary academy rely on ingredients such as meat, dairy and fish that are derived from animals. It is difficult to replace these ingredients within a recipe without changing the taste, appearance and texture of the resulting dish, but vegan cooks find healthy substitutes and alternative preparations for many popular recipes.
It also is important for a vegan chef to make sure his food is providing a sufficient amount of protein, as well as certain vitamins and minerals. Many recipes developed by vegans rely on soy- and wheat-based proteins in place of meat, poultry and fish. Milks and creams derived from plants can replace cow’s milk in some recipes, and vegan chefs have developed creative substitutes for eggs and other ingredients. Thanks to chefs and nutritionists, vegan and vegetarian meals and recipes are widely available in many areas.
In addition to the no-animal rules, some vegans have adopted additional restrictions on their diets, such as an emphasis on local ingredients and raw foods. In response to this, vegan chefs have altered their menus and shopping habits to reflect the needs of their customers. The raw food movement provides a particularly difficult challenge for vegan restaurants, because the diet is limited to fruits, nuts and vegetables that aren't cooked beyond 118® Fahrenheit (48° Celsius).
With the rising popularity of vegetarianism in the late 20th century, several culinary arts programs emerged to train chefs in the preparation of vegan dishes and help them find careers within the food service industry. These are expensive and time-consuming programs, requiring students to spend many hours studying and working in kitchen environments. A person seeking to become a vegan chef should look for accredited culinary programs and carefully research the field before committing to a course of study.