Humane Society Chef Promotes Better Health, Bigger Profits, With Plant-Based Cooking Workshop for MCCC Culinary Students


WEST WINDSOR – There’s very little doubt: a plant-based diet is good for those concerned with animal welfare, it’s good for the environment, and is better for personal health. But for Mercer County Community College (MCCC) Culinary Arts students, you can add one more thing to the list: It’s good for business.

“I personally feel this is more than a trend,” said Chef Frank Benowitz, MCCC Culinary instructor, regarding plant-based foods. “This is the wave of the future.”

To keep students abreast of the latest dining trend, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) brought in two plant-based nutrition experts to demonstrate philosophy and technique as it pertains to offering great tasting meatless dishes. Kate Watts, Food and Nutrition Manager for HSUS, said Americans are opting for plant-based nutrition for a variety of reasons: animal welfare, health, and sustainability amid growing global environmental concerns. And the effect is undeniable, with sales of plant-based foods up 11 percent over the past year alone.

This trend, she said, means that those working in the restaurant and hospitality industry would be well served to add vegetarian and vegan dishes to their repertoire, and to do so in a way that appeals to even the most discerning gourmand.

“You can learn to make delicious plant-based food,” Watts said. “But the goal is not to call it plant-based food – just good, delicious food. If it looks good and is tasty, people will eat it and demand will grow.”

Chef Amy Webster, Culinary Specialist for the HSUS, led the MCCC Applied Kitchen Skills class with the finer points of plant-based food preparation, working from a menu that included multiple entrees, side dishes, and desserts. Students prepared dishes such as cauliflower buffalo wings, crabless crab cakes, sriracha lime tacos, risotto croquettes, and vegan versions of chocolate chip cookies, zucchini bread, and chocolate mousse, among many others. And all were prepared with an attention to flavor and appearance to please any palate.

Webster said plant-based cooking is one of the hottest culinary trends of 2020, one that shows no signs of slowing down. Since 2015 HSUS has trained nearly 11,000 chefs, cooks, and other food service professionals in the art of plant-based cooking, but the training at MCCC marks the first ever with culinary students.

“This is really a great time to learning about this,” Webster said. “It’s very important to give the same attention to flavor that you would any other food. We want to make sure this is going to be tasty to everyone you serve it to.

“The flavor is still there. It’s just a different base.”

Benowitz said his first introduction to plant-based cooking was this past fall, when he and Chef Doug Fee, HRIM Program Coordinator, attended a workshop at Rutgers University. Although skeptical at first, Benowitz said he was quickly convinced on the merits of vegetarian and vegan cooking, particularly after sampling the rich flavor that was possible when using the right techniques.

“Having these recipes on your menu will attract more guests, and create a more enjoyable dining experience,” Benowitz told his students. “This is more than a trend. This is the future.”


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Kate Watts, Food and Nutrition Manager for the Humane Society of the United States (standing, left), Chef Amy Webster, Culinary Specialist for the HSUS (seated, left), Chef Frank Benowitz (standing, fifth from left), MCCC Culinary Instructor and Chef Doug Fee, MCCC Culinary Program coordinator (second from right) with students in the MCCC Applied Kitchen Skills Class following a workshop on the preparation of meatless and vegan meals.


Chef Amy Webster (right), Culinary Specialist for the Humane Society of the United States, gives a demonstration on the preparation of vegan nachos during a workshop for MCCC Culinary students.


MCCC Culinary Instructor Chef Frank Benowitz assisting students in the preparation of risotto croquettes.


Chef Doug Fee, coordinator of the Culinary program at MCCC, works with a student in the preparation of vegan raspberry bars.