One of the most memorable compliments Elaine Meder-Wilgus ever received came from a guest at a vegan wedding reception she catered. “I thought I would have to stop at McDonald’s on the way home,” he told her, “but I’m absolutely stuffed.”
The notion that vegan food is better suited for rabbits is one of many misconceptions the owner of Webster’s Bookstore Café challenges with her cooking. A vegan chef for 12 years (she caters non-vegan events, too) and a vegan eater for the past six, she looks forward to sharing the multitude of preparations and flavor profiles inherent in plant-based cooking at the upcoming Vegan Feast, a 6-course adventure in eating paired with poetry, plays and performance, held Thursday, Sept. 5 at Webster’s Bookstore & Cafe in downtown State College.
Here’s why you should buy your ticket now:
1. You won’t believe your tastebuds.
Meder-Wilgus is collaborating with Webster’s chef, Corey Elbin, whose past professional experience includes cooking for employees of a West Virginia farm and running its community supported agriculture program, and Webster’s catering manager, Kristi Branstetter, who studied at the Université du Vin in Provence, France.
Eschewing the tired entrée-with-two-side-dishes presentation, the team opted for a main course of several small plates that work together to create “flavor bombs.” Think grilled eggplant layered with roasted poblanos and curried mashed potatoes; polenta with nectarine pepper sauce and grilled mushrooms; and pasta with spicy olive sauce. The small plates will be served family style so you can sample them all.
2. Summer was made for plant-based cooking.
Vegan Feast will use fruit and produce from K. Schlegel Fruit Farm, Green Heron Farm, Jade Family Farm, GroundWork Farms and Patchwork Farm. A trio of soups comprising chilled cucumber, melon, and gazpacho — “the-end-of-summer-harvest personified” — will tempt our tastebuds and highlight the agricultural abundance that surrounds our community.
3. Help Provisions celebrate our Fall issue.
Have you heard? The Fall issue is hitting mailboxes and newsstands any day (and each guest at Vegan Feast will receive a copy!). It features a recipe for vegan oven-roasted Brussels sprout tacos with kimchi cream from Kristin Messner-Baker, chef and owner at The Vegetable Hunter in Harrisburg, which offers a completely vegan menu and prides itself on changing minds. “Some people think just because they eat meat they can’t eat vegan food,” she says in Provisions’ fall issue. “This isn’t a cult. It’s for everyone.”
4. Vegan food has come a long way.
Consider this: Tofu doesn’t appear once on the Vegan Feast menu. But you can try a “beetball,” made with shredded fennel, pea shoots, and decadent cashew cream. “We’re really playing with the earthiness of the red beets paired with the bright flavor of the fennel,” Meder-Wilgus says. “We’ll pickle that a little bit, so you get this beautiful, top-of-the-mouth flavor on top of that earthiness. Plus, I love making cashew cream. I could eat it by the spoonful.” (Us, too.) Bring your questions; Meder-Wilgus will introduce each course and explain her choices.
5. Support local arts.
Incorporating poetry, plays and performance into a food event makes perfect sense to the owner of the coffee shop that doubles as a community space. “I think of food as being another art form,” Meder-Wilgus says. “It’s a way we can transcend our everyday lives.” These short arts pieces, “almost like an amuse-bouche,” bring a slower pace to the meal, which will allow those who are new to vegan eating a chance to savor the food. So what can we expect? She’s keeping this portion of the evening a surprise, but says that a few local poets “may be” working on pieces just for the event — ensuring that this feast provides ample nourishment for the body and the soul.