Michelin-recognized chef Matthew Ravenscroft is making waves in the culinary world, including a recent partnership with Hellmann’s Canada for Veganuary. The collaboration involved a unique challenge for the chef: to “plantify” traditional barbecue restaurant menu items using Hellmann’s Vegan Mayo.
Working with renowned Canadian barbecue establishments Barque Smokehouse, Beach Hill Smokehouse, and Jane Bond BBQ, Hellmann’s and Ravenscroft aimed to showcase that meatless dishes can rival the juicy and smoky flavors traditionally associated with barbecue.
For the first time, these iconic meaty joints in Toronto and Calgary introduced meatless versions of their signature dishes, featuring Hellmann’s Vegan Mayo. Throughout Veganuary—the month-long challenge encouraging consumers to incorporate more plant-based options into their diet—curious Canadian foodies have been able to savor vegan takes on barbecue favorites.
Each restaurant partner is offering two items created by Ravenscroft and inspired by their most popular meat-centric dishes, showcasing that plant-based alternatives can be just as delicious. The featured vegan barbecue menu items include Barque’s Nashville Hot King Oyster Mushroom Sandwich, Beach Hill Smokehouse’s Dry-Rubbed Mushroom Brisket, and Jane Bond BBQ’s BBQ Vegan Brizket.
Ravenscroft sees the collaboration as an opportunity to demonstrate that plant-based cooking and eating can be both exciting and satisfying, even in the realm of barbecue. “For me, it was fun to connect with chefs who have mastered their craft and open their lens a bit more to showcase the power of plants. That’s why I love cooking in general—we’re always learning from one another,” Ravenscroft tells VegNews. “In what world would I normally be in a barbecue restaurant learning about the fundamentals other than a campaign like this?”
Creating vegan barbecue
Since first partnering with Hellmann’s for a campaign last year, Ravenscroft has become more inspired by the possibilities that Hellmann’s Vegan Mayo offers beyond being a condiment. The chef was impressed by the great taste and versatility of the vegan mayo, prompting him to explore its potential further.
“The most fun thing I’ve made was powderizing Hellmann’s Vegan Salad Dressing—not because it’s terribly technical or complicated (you just add maltodextrin to it); but for me, it was like, ‘Wow, okay, this is so fun and so unexpected,’” Ravenscroft says.
“In terms of how I use it at home, that’s a different story—using Hellmann’s Vegan Mayo in a marinade or a glaze produces fantastic results. It’s great for binding and adding a creamy richness to sauces.”
Drawing inspiration from traditional meat-centric barbecue styles, the Veganuary collaboration aimed to create dishes that not only cater to plant-based enthusiasts but also entice omnivores to explore the world of plant-based cuisine. The chef highlighted the importance of flavor in driving the development of recipes, emphasizing the need to create dishes that stand out in terms of taste.
“That felt important—creating a balance of making a great eating experience for plant-based people, so they didn’t feel like they were missing out, while making dishes that are great in and of themselves and encourages omnivores to give it a try,” Ravenscroft adds.
Advocating for plant-based options
Though not strictly vegan himself, Ravenscroft has continued to advocate for vegetables throughout his career. Reflecting on his successful stint at vegan restaurant Rosalinda and his current position as culinary director and executive chef at vegetarian restaurant Gia, Ravenscroft remains committed to his mission of getting more people to embrace plant-based eating.
“Honestly, my mission has been unwavering over the years and remains true to this day: get more people to eat their damn veggies. And cooking more plants, and cooking alongside chefs, and alongside the internet, and every day we just push that ball forward a little more,” Ravenscroft says.
He believes in the endless possibilities of cooking with plants. “I’ve yet to meet anyone who has eaten every plant in the world that is available to us and that may never happen (who am I to say!),” Ravenscroft says. “I love to see how showcasing what can be done with plants has a positive impact on people—it’s empowering to learn how to cook vegetables, enjoy eating them, and treat them with love.”
“To me, someone who can cook carrots and have people exclaiming ‘OMG’ when they eat it is a hallmark of someone who truly understands cooking and what they are doing in the kitchen,” Ravenscroft says. “If you can turn a cabbage into a dish that gets people excited, you know how to cook.”
Changing the food culture
Ravenscroft aims to empower people to enjoy and appreciate cooking vegetables, noting the positive impact it can have on individuals and the broader food culture. “Once we start to recognize the amount of labor, time, and love that goes into plant growing, I think our lens of food would change dramatically,” Ravenscroft says. “It could encourage us to waste less, to enjoy the act of cooking (and eating) more, and to see the possibility in what we can achieve by getting more creative. Learning to cook vegetables better is such an empowering feeling, like ‘Wow, I did that!’ and it’s a great landscape to learn more about food from the seed to the table.”
The chef is especially enthusiastic about the evolving trends in the plant-based culinary space, noting a shift toward more refined and creative dishes. He sees plant-based eating taking center stage, captivating even omnivores. “For me, plant-based eating seems to be stepping into more refined spaces, which is exciting because it highlights the range of potential and possibilities. People are going to see what plants can do and that the results can be nourishing, beautiful, fun, and captivating while being totally plant-based,” Ravenscroft says.
“It almost feels cheeky to see it happening—something that felt more on the outside of the culinary scene before is stepping to center stage and blowing people away.”
In fact, Ravenscroft recalls a time when he was a teenager witnessing the total lack of creativity when it came to cooking vegetables. “I remember being a teenager at my dad’s wedding and getting a vegan main [dish] and it was—I wish I was joking—giant thick-cut tomatoes and giant thick-cut onions and, at the time, I was like, ‘Do these people know how to cook?’” Ravenscroft says. “But the reality is that there was nothing too inspired to aim higher for. And now, we see what can be done and people, even omnivores, are getting super excited by it.”