Lentil and Sweet Potato specialWEB

Having been a vegan for nine years, I understand the challenges of finding quality vegan food that is not only healthy, but tasty as well! It has been even more difficult to find restaurants willing to cater to my dietary needs because, on top of my vegan restrictions, I’ve had to also change my diet to exclude gluten due to health problems. However, as I was exploring the city during my first week at Trent, I came upon a small, hidden gem on the north end of George Street called The Food Forest.

The Food Forest is run by owners Adam Deck and Katie Tuma, who have prided themselves in providing raw, delicious, gluten-free vegan dishes to the Peterborough community.

For those of you who are unaware of what raw food is, it consists of a variety of whole foods which are cooked under 105 degrees Celsius, so as not to denature the natural enzymes that exist within the food. This food revolution is slowly beginning to make its presence felt across the country, and Peterborough is straight in its path.

While the price of raw, vegan, and gluten-free food is on the rise, The Food Forest does an excellent job finding the financial balance between affordability and profit margin. As a starving student, I am very cautious with my expenses, but this is one place where I am more than willing to splurge on their delicious fare.

“Our goal is to represent the spectrum of veganism, [and] to cater to not only vegans, but transitional vegans and non-vegans, ” said Deck. “It serves as an outlet for local sustainability and awareness.”

The term “food forest” was inspired from the owners’ main common interest, permiculture.

“We wanted it to serve as a symbol for self-sustainment and as a guide for inner growth and awareness,” Deck explained.

“Katie and I have noticed that it’s hard to find vegan-friendly places here in Peterborough, let alone worrying about allergies and cross-contamination. The Food Forest is a place where you don’t have to worry about that. You actually see what goes into your food.”

I have eaten here twice so far and I was satisfied both times. The first time I ate here was with my mother, who had come down all the way from Curran, over four hours away. The second time around was on the following weekend, when my sister accompanied us.

When we walked in, we were greeted with arms wide open by co-owner, Tuma, who proceeded to seat us at a beautiful church pew-like bench. The first thing that caught my eye was how similar the restaurant’s menu and ambiance was to a number of my favourite vegan restaurants in Ottawa. It gave me a sense of commonality, a nice, familiar feeling of home.

For beverages, I had the Mango Orange Sorbet, a water-based smoothie containing mango and orange, sweetened with raw agave syrup. One of my other guests had the Minty Green Chocolate Chip smoothie, with homemade coconut milk, cacao nibs, and peppermint essence. All of these smoothies were made from home-grown produce provided by local farmers, as well as from their own garden. They also offer delicious fair trade organic coffees, teas and juices from local vendors.

When we asked what the daily special was, we were delighted to hear that it was sweet potato and lentils, topped with a maple molasses sauce and served with garlic coconut butter and gluten-free baguette. My eyes lit up at the thought of eating this dish, and, after a very brief discussion, we decided to share a plate.

The first bite provided me with a slight tingle of spice on the tip of my tongue, shortly followed by a hint of sweetness. The dish, which to me resembled a cross between a curry and a casserole, had the perfect balance of spice (from the chili) and sweetness (from the maple, molasses and sweet potato). The flavours were robust and rich throughout, and the heartiness and earthiness of the lentils provided a nice, fulfilling start to the meal.

For the main course, one of my guests had the toasted tomato sandwich with garlic coconut spread and Daiya cheese, whereas my other guest had the garden pesto sandwich with homemade vegan basil pesto and fresh greens.

I chose to go with the Living Taco (a personal favourite of Deck’s) with a homemade chili walnut ground and cashew sour “kream”. I am extremely fixated on their Living Taco because of its complexity and bold flavour. The balance between the spiciness of the walnut ground, acidity of the fresh lime juice and the sweetness of the sour “kream”, makes this the best vegan taco I had ever tasted. This is the perfect dish to satisfy any herbivore or carnivore alike.

Finally, to cleanse our palate, we indulged in gluten-free peanut butter cookies, banana muffins, and a rich date pie with coconut whipped cream and bananas. Their desserts proved themselves to be truly delicious, as my sister (who works at a vegan bakery in Ottawa), compared them to the quality of her bakery.

The Food Forest is also very proactive with animal rights and food education. An employee, Toby Rowland, runs a group called the Animal Equity Society, dedicated to the protection in ethics and welfare of animals. They have meetings and potlucks which allow members to discuss issues affecting Peterborough, and teach them how to become proactive in their communities.

Do not be fooled by the simplicity of the ingredients, as each menu item carries its own unique presence to the palate and develops a complex flavour profile in your mouth. Don’t take my word for it, though, and head down to The Food Forest to judge for yourself.

The Food Forest is located at 641 George Street North. More information can be found on foodforestcafe.com.