Barbecue isn’t just about meat, as vegan chef Shannon Martinez proved at last year’s Beer & BBQ Festival.
Martinez, who is co-owner of hip Melbourne vegan eatery Smith & Daughters, sold out a weekend’s worth of prepped food at last year’s Beer & BBQ Festival in the first three hours.
“The vegan stall was insane and super busy,” Martinez remembers. “In Adelaide you haven’t got as much on offer in terms of vegan food compared to Melbourne, so I had a lot of my customers — who come down and see us from Adelaide — all there. They were there most of the weekend, too.
“The point of barbecue is not the meat it’s just a style of cooking,” Martinez adds. “It’s good to be included in that because there are plenty of people out there who still love beer, who still love barbecue but don’t want to eat meat.”
Martinez opened Smith & Daughters with Mo Wyse in 2014. Originally a Latin American-influenced eatery, the Fitzroy restaurant and bar currently has an Italian flavour to go with its punk rock aesthetic. Wyse and Martinez added a corner store called Smith & Deli in 2015 while the Smith & Daughters cookbook came out a year later.
While Wyse is vegan, Martinez is not, even though she cooks vegan food by trade. Smith & Daughters attracts a non-vegan clientele and Martinez believes the best vegan dishes are found at non-vegan restaurants, such as Africola. Intriguingly, Africola’s Duncan Welgemoed (who is Beer & BBQ Festival’s food ambassador) went vegan for a month a couple of years back. Now, his restaurant is known Australia-wide for its plant-based dishes. Martinez believes chefs going vegan, even for a little while, will make them a better cook as they will be out of their comfort zone.
“I cooked at Franklin in Hobart at Dark Mofo with them, just helping them out for an event. It was the first time I cooked non-vegan food in public for five or six years. I said to Duncan, ‘You guys have it so easy. The fact that I want to put cream into a dish, here, you can just walk to the fridge and grab a bottle of cream. You have no idea what I have to do when I have to add some cream — it’s a two-day process.’”
While Martinez’s blood sausage (that features a wine and beetroot reduction in lieu of the blood) won’t be on the menu, she will keep things faux-meaty with a beyond burger (a plant-based burger that looks, tastes and feels like the real thing) with ‘slaw, crispy bacon and hot cheese sauce and tater tots with pickled jalapeno cheese sauce. Occasionally, Martinez gets some unwelcome feedback from omnivores and carnivores about her vegan recreations.
“I get a little bit of, not backlash from meat-eaters, but comments like, ‘Why don’t you let the vegetable shine and just be a vegetable?’ and that sort of stuff. That’s really easy for a meat-eater to say … Vegans are still craving the foods they grew up with.”
While plenty of vegan restaurants have opened since Smith & Daughters, Martinez believes what they offer is unique.
“You have these two extremes of vegan food — junk food Lord of the Fries stuff, which is great, you need that, and then at the other end you have chia seed bowls and green smoothies. I don’t go down either of those sides; I try to stick to the middle ground of regular, every day dining of good sandwiches and pastries and that sort of thing. That is the market that isn’t being focussed on, it’s just one or the other. I can tell you right now that vegans are not all healthy people; they are not all into green smoothies.
“At the restaurant, and it’s fucking freezing [in Melbourne] at the moment, we are doing things like vegan oxtail stews with polenta, and handmade gnocchi: really hearty and comforting food. That’s what I feel like is missing, that side of it still.”
Finally, Martinez says she would love to open something in Adelaide. “It’s a dream I want to make happen. I haven’t looked at place or anything yet but I would be pretty happy about it if it happened, for sure. I was looking in Sydney but I really love Adelaide, and I feel much more comfortable there than I do in Sydney.”
Beer & BBQ Festival
Friday, July 6 to Sunday, July 8