Agata Kalicki and her husband Reno Ciantar are two individuals who passionately believe that a diet free from meat and dairy can be just as delicious as a meat-based one. They opened Bread & Chocolate last year, with the aim of offering healthy, mouthwatering food.
Agata says business has been brisk at Bread & Chocolate and people are slowly discovering that vegan food does indeed taste good – even if it is hard to imagine a life without bacon in your BLT.
One look at the menu and it’s easy to see why customers are heading back time and time again. Think hearty dishes like shepherd’s pie, made with vegetable and lentil mince, smothered with mushroom gravy. There’s filling sandwiches, such as the creatively named Angus Beet Burger – a pickapeppa infused shredded beet, brown rice, and lentil patty, with fresh garlic aioli, lettuce, tomato, and red onion on a whole grain bun – as well as plenty of sweet treats too, including the signature French toast, stuffed with chocolate hazelnut butter and bananas, then dipped in coconut and tahini batter. It’s enough to whet the appetite of even the most dedicated meat eater.
Agata says her decision to eat a vegan diet was based entirely on animal ethics. “The more I learned about how animals are kept and processed, the more I wanted nothing to do with the entire industry, meat, dairy, all of it,” she says, adding that it is often animal cruelty that turns people away from consuming meat and its by-products, followed by health concerns. She says she first made the switch to a meatless diet seven years ago after a helping of mannish water brought back childhood memories of a goat at a local petting zoo.
“That day I just felt so horribly guilty,” Agata says. “For years I wanted to stop eating meat, but I always thought that I couldn’t. I’m Polish, the diet I grew up on was very much meat, potato and vegetable. Eating meat for me was a part of my life.”
It was a slow process at first for Agata, who cut out land-based animals first, followed by fish and then finally all animal-based products. However, she believes it was this gradual change that helped her stay on the right path.
“I don’t think I would have made it if I had gone straight vegan,” she says. “When I first cut out meat, I really didn’t understand my options. It’s a huge learning process. I had to re-learn how to cook. You have to become a bit more creative with food, to find tasty options. This is one of the main stumbling blocks people come across – knowing what to cook instead of meat. You just have to be prepared to invest time. Start slow, try recipes that are simple, but satisfying.”
Agata suggests trying meatless substitutes such as veggie burgers. Asian cuisine she says is also very adaptable to a vegan diet.
“If you make a stir fry, chances are it will still taste good if you remove the chicken,” she says. Beans, she adds, should also become your new “best friends”.
But it’s not just learning how to cook vegan and create interesting dishes that is the only challenge. Shopping for produce requires a vigilant eye.
“You have to read every label. You won’t believe the things that contain animal products,” Agata says. “There’s lactose in everything. I don’t even bother going down the cookie aisle. The other day I picked up a bag of popcorn and it even had a fish product in it.”
But things are starting to change. Supermarkets are stocking more and more vegan friendly produce, restaurants are adapting their menus to offer more vegan dishes, and vegan and vegetarian friendly cafes are starting to pop up across Cayman, including Jessie’s Juice Bar, and Island Naturals Café.
“We have discovered a few closet vegans, but mostly our customers are just looking for a healthy alternative,” Agata explains.
She hasn’t converted anyone to veganism yet, but is happy to serve people food that she believes in and is passionate about.
“At the very least we have changed some minds as to what vegan food can be,” she says.