Catering for vegetarians and vegans at events

There is no denying that the number of vegetarians and vegans in our society is on the rise. Whether it is for religious beliefs, moral choices or a desire for a healthy meat-free lifestyle, more and more people are opting to stick to a vegetarian or vegan diet.
As a result, almost every café and restaurant in town has at least one vegetarian option on the menu – with many having a lot more! Entire restaurants and at least one shelf at the book store are also dedicated to the cuisine! 

Events, functions and weddings are no different. Caterers are getting a lot savvier at designing menus suitable for this growing section of society and are finding ways to create dishes that even please the more traditional carnivorous crowd. 

To find out a little more about catering for vegetarians at events, we caught up with Miccal Cummins from Sydney-based caterer Gastronomy. We get the low-down on what event planners should consider when designing menus and what’s hot on the menu for vegetarians. We also take a look at some of the events Gastronomy have worked on that have been exclusively vegetarian or vegan – including the delicious menus they have created!

What ratio of canapés should be vegetarian/ vegan for cocktail events?

We generally make a third of the canapés vegetarian or vegan at cocktail style functions. This is not just for special dietary requirements, but helps keep the menus balanced. Having all meat canapés can be heavy and it is good to break up the flavours.

What is the best way to cater for dietary requirements at conferences?

Conferences are generally the easiest event format to cater for dietary requirements. With a bit of forewarning we can create special meals for most dietary requirements. With conferences, the guests have pre-registered so there are less surprises. We know their names and often they are wearing name tags so they are easy to find.

Forget the usual mushroom risotto or pumpkin ravioli, what is Gastronomy serving vegetarians at banquet events in 2015?

Vegetarianism and veganism is very well established in Asian cultures. We take inspiration from Chinese and South East Asian cuisines and apply our palates and techniques to keep our vegetarian options fresh, nutritious and delicious. Recent examples include:

Balinese spiced eggplant - Gastronomy
Balinese spiced eggplant, silken tofu and zucchini with sesame scented beans and sprouts, lime and spicy tomato sambal.

Potato, cauliflower and spinach dumplings - Gastronomy

Potato, cauliflower and spinach dumplings, chickpea puree, roast baby beets, fennel, lentils, caramelized walnuts

Sweet potato, spinach and red quinoa fritters - Gastronomy
Sweet potato, spinach and red quinoa fritters with pomegranate and Persian fetta

Warm salad of soba noodle - Gastronomy
Warm salad of soba noodle, wakame, edamame beans and miso soy dressing
Having said that, I would say there is always a place for mushroom risotto! Some of these classic dishes have a bad reputation because a version can be created that is bulked up with cheap products and it becomes heavy and dull. I think with classic dishes it is about updating them and keeping them fresh, using different combinations of wild and exotic mushrooms for unique flavours and cooking with a little bit of love.


Case study: 2015 Gandhi Remembrance Ceremony and Oration
UNSW Venues, Randwick
This is an annual event to commemorate India’s Martyrs’ Day, the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination on 30 January 1948. It is delivered by a person whose life work exemplifies Gandhian ideals, this year it was his granddaughter Ela Gandhi.


Create a menu that is 100% vegetarian - Gandhi was a strict vegetarian and wrote about it as part of his ethical code. The event was vegetarian in his honour.
The team at Gastronomy were required to cater a formal lunch for 10 guests, a finger food reception on the lawn for the remembrance ceremony (200pax, Library Lawn, UNSW), followed by light refreshments during the oration (250pax, Clancy auditorium foyer, Clancy building UNSW).


Formal lunch
Heirloom tomato, cucumber and basil chilled soup 

Main course
Sweet potato, spinach and red quinoa fritters, Persian fetta and pomegranate 

Mango jelly, mango dome, mango salad and Caipirinha macaron
The remembrance ceremony
The remembrance ceremony was held outside on a lawn by the Gandhi bust where there was of course no kitchen. As a result, all the catering was prepared in Gastronomy’s Alexandria kitchen and taken to the event just before service. Gastronomy created a menu of light refreshments with an Indian influence.
Crushed potato, olive and chive galette with onion and crème fraiche
Stuffed vine leaf, olive and semi dried tomato skewer
Provolone, semi dried tomato and artichoke and potato tortilla
The oration 
The oration was held after the ceremony and lasted just under an hour. The client wanted to again provide light refreshments for their guests.
Mixed vegetable pakoras with chat marsala
Zucchini fritters with beetroot dip 
Mini turmeric and cumin spiced lentil and polenta patties with tomato and coriander


Case study: Nan Tien Institute official opening
Nan Tien Institute, Wollongong
This was a two day event to celebrate the opening of the Nan Tien Institute in Wollongong.
The NTI is the first Buddhist tertiary education provider to be government accredited and was officially opened by Venerable Master Hsing Yun, Founder of Fo Guang Shan and Nan Tien Institute and attended by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.


Following Buddhist dietary guidelines, the menu had to be vegetarian with no onion, garlic or shallot. This is based on The Five Precepts, one of which is to avoid harming any living things. In addition, they avoid onion, garlic and shallots as they are considered pungent spices. 

The event required Gastronomy to provide catering for a series of events over two days.
Day One: Welcome dinner
- Formal dinner for 383pax

Day Two: NTI campus grand opening
- Two cocktail parties for supporters and friends for 60pax and 150 pax
- Public food fair for 600 pax

Nan Tien Institute official opening
Images of the event from Sylvia Liber Photography


Dinner menu 
Entrée (served alternately) 
Roast tomato soup with parsley and fresh flowers 

Whipped sweet corn soup with creamy coconut foam and basil oil 

Main course (served alternately)
Grilled whole mushroom, lemon thyme parmesan crusted pumpkin, carrot ginger butter, baby zucchini, spinach poppy seeds 
Potato, cauliflower and spinach dumplings, chickpea puree, roast baby beets, fennel, lentils, caramelized walnuts 
To accompany main course, served in bowls on table:
Soy and sesame fried rice with green peas, carrot and cauliflower 

Sweet potato, edamame, roast capsicum and semi dried tomato
Sour dough bread
Dessert (served alternately)
Individual raspberry upside down cake with edible flowers and tofu cream (Vegan) 
Caramelized pineapple parfait, coconut tuile and lemongrass vanilla gel, with pineapple salad 
Canapés menu
9 pieces per person (selection of 9) 

Pink grapefruit, cashew and toasted coconut salad on bamboo spoon (vegan)
Turmeric and cumin spiced lentil and polenta patties, tomato and coriander (vegan or with a yogurt dipping sauce)
Mini steamed bun of mushroom, Chinese broccoli and water chestnuts (vegan)
Cauliflower dumplings fresh coconut and mint chutney (vegan)
Scrambled tofu and green mango betel leaf – (vegan)
Persian style feta, Dijon, fresh herbs and shaved red radish in potato bread buns (contains dairy)
Beetroot and goat cheese mille feuille on crispy baguette with baby rocket and walnut oil
Lemon thyme and parmesan crusted roast pumpkin batons with ginger and tomato dipping sauce
Bite-size crepe with fresh mango and coconut caramel 

Gastronomy is a multi-award winning caterer based in Sydney. Catering for memorable events in boardrooms, private homes and iconic Sydney venues.