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Vegetarian Chefs Should Cook Bacon

If you have a strictly vegetarian restaurant, the large base of your clients will be vegetarians, and you’re not convincing people to avoid factory farms.

Chef Howard Dubrovsky is best known for being one of the earlier adopters of molecular cuisine at the now-shuttered LAB in Toronto (compressed fruit cubes with beakers of honeydew-jasmine syrup, anyone?). But one of the more peculiar aspects of Dubrovsky is that he's been a vegetarian for most of his life and yet he will always put a few meaty dishes on his menu, such as maple-candied bacon at his most recent stint at Fonda Lola. He's currently working on opening a pub on the city's east end. Aside from getting some dollars from the carnivorous crowd, there's a method behind the chef's apparent contradiction.


I guess you call me an lacto-ovo in that I'll eat cheese, eggs, and baked goods, which I'll never give up on. I stopped eating meat 21 years ago when I was 14 while growing up in Montreal. At the time, the concept of ethical farming was becoming popular, and I wasn't a fan of factory farming. As a teen, becoming a vegetarian was the only real positive move I could make.


I began my culinary career in baking and pastry, because it was the easiest way to avoid cooking meat. I eventually wanted to push the agenda of being aware of where your meat is coming from, how it's affecting the environment, how the animals are treated, and that people tend to go too heavy on the meat proteins and don't balance it out with more vegetables in their diet. But trying to get that message out without cooking meat is very difficult because at that point you're preaching to the converted. If you have a strictly vegetarian restaurant, you'll get omnivores and flexitarians, but the large base of your clients will be vegetarians, so you're not forwarding a position they don't already have. That's why I started to cook with meat.

At all the restaurants I cooked at—LAB, Fonda Lola—my menus are typically 70 percent vegetarian so I can show the importance of eating balanced. I can showcase ethically raised, non-factory-farmed meat in a non-preachy, non-vegetarian way to the public. I don't want to be in-your-face about it and put up posters of happy cows, or include names of farmers on the menu—that gets tiring—so I get the message across by having the servers know where the meat comes from if customers ask about it, building good relationships with local farmers, and talking to food writers.

READ MORE: Most Die-Hard Vegetarians Are Actually Pretty Wishy-Washy

Maybe had I become a vegetarian later on in life I think I'd be more open to eating meat again, meat that meets my standards of being raised right. But it's been 21 years and I don't think I'd be me if I ate meat now. By that I mean part of the fear is that it'll become a slippery slope. Maybe I'll order meat at a restaurant and forget to check who the beef supplier is. The truth is, I know a lot of chefs who are wonderful at pushing ethical, sustainable, healthy, locally farmed, all that stuff, but will still go to McDonald's. There's a very good chance that if I open the door even just a little bit, things can get shady. Even people with the best intentions will slip up, so to make sure my actions aren't going to jeopardize my message, I won't make it a possibility at all.

I do taste meat, I just don't eat it. I'll do a wine tasting with the food, if you get what I'm saying, and I have a litre of water beside me to rinse. When new cooks work with me and ask me to taste something, I'll spit it out with gusto. It's gets me every time. Hey, I don't like things going out of my kitchen when I'm not confident about the seasoning or texture. I'm not saying this is an easy thing to do; the forbidden fruit is always just above your head. But I've been doing this for the last seven years and it's been going great.

As told to Karon Liu