This February, vegan chefs Babette Davis and Chris Tucker will team up to take Las Vegas foodies on “a culinary journey.” Over two days, the duo, both renowned chefs in the plant-based space, will treat attendees to a feast of plant-based cheeses, cocktails, and cooking demonstrations as part of an event called Cooking With the Stars. But while it’s set to be a weekend of delicious food, it’s also an event with a mission: to save the Vegas Vegan Culinary School & Eatery from closing its doors for good.
Vegas Vegan Culinary is all about finding the joy in cooking
Founded by Heather Heath in 2021, Vegas Vegan Culinary, which prides itself on being non-accredited, is a space where people can simply enjoy learning to cook. They can learn new recipes, understand different ingredients, improve their skills, and most importantly, have fun. The school also offers a deli and a vegan food delivery service, too.
But like many vegan businesses in the US right now, Vegan Vegas Culinary is under threat of closure.
The plant-based restaurant scene has been struggling for a while. This is partly due to an ongoing hangover from the pressures of the pandemic, but also because, while plant-based foods are rising in popularity, vegans still make up a relatively small number of the general population. Nearly 332 million people live in the US, and only around one percent of them are vegan.
Vegas Vegan Culinary
“When looking at the restaurant space from a macro level, we take into account the type of food a restaurant serves and the clientele base they attract,” Tucker recently told VegNews. “The clientele base for plant-based eateries is drastically smaller from inception. If these restaurants aren’t capturing a flexitarian audience, their [chance] for survival is slim.”
More mainstream restaurants are capturing the flexitarian market
Research suggests that more than half of young Americans now identify as flexitarian. Many chains and non-vegan restaurants in the US are stepping up their plant-based options to cater to these changing preferences. In fact, last year, research suggested that nearly 50 percent of restaurants in the US now offer plant-based options.
This means that vegan businesses have more competition than ever. And it’s not just happening in the US. In the UK, the vegan food market is bigger than ever. Every supermarket has a plant-based range, and fast food giants like McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC all offer vegan burger options.
“Too many startups are competing with established companies that have launched vegan lines and with supermarkets that are investing in own-label plant-based ranges. We’ve lost some brands and we’ll lose some more in the next 12 to 24 months.” — Matthew Glover, co-founder of vegan campaign Veganuary, to the Guardian
Vegan burger chain Neat Burger, for example, which is backed by Lewis Hamilton and Leonardo DiCaprio was forced to close half of its London locations last year.
Reviving the vegan food scene
But while many vegan restaurants are closing, some have been brought back from the brink. In 2023, vegan restaurant Nic’s on Beverly in Los Angeles was set to close due to financial issues, but a massive public outpouring of support helped the much-loved eatery to keep its doors open.
With Cooking With the Stars, Davis, Tucker, and Shabnam Islam, MS—who will attend the cooking demonstration to help teach attendees about the nutritional benefits of plant-based cooking—are hoping to do the same for Vegas Vegan Culinary.
“When we heard the news of our friend Heather’s place, Vegas Vegan Culinary joining the statistics, we had to jump in and help,” Tucker says. “Our main goal for this [event] is to show people how easy it is to cook with plants. We are pulling in some of our favorite brands like Meati Foods, Banza Pasta, and Rebel Cheese to show people that being plant-based isn’t about sacrificing anything, but gaining so much.”
The event promises to be fun, educational, and delicious, but on top of helping Vegas Vegan Culinary stay open, it’s also about keeping the general vegan food scene alive.
“We have to spend our money in our community. It’s so important that our dollars are going to businesses and brands that we are ethically aligned with.” — Chef Chris Tucker
“Yes, it’s fantastic that mainstream restaurants are jumping on the plant-based train, but our mom-and-pop vegan joints are where we need to focus our dollars,” he added. “Tell your friends. If you have a great experience somewhere, let everyone know so they can go and support the establishment as well.”
To learn more about Cooking With the Stars, which will take place on February 17 and February 18, and buy tickets, click here.