August 30, 2023

Vegan Chef Challenge Coming to Princeton Eateries Starting Sept. 1

By Anne Levin

Two dedicated vegans intent on promoting the benefits of a plant-based diet have chosen Princeton as the inaugural location for a competition that involves local chefs and local diners.

The Vegan Chef Challenge starts Saturday, September 1 and runs through the end of the month. During that time, chefs from more than 17 restaurants — including Mediterra, Nomad Pizza, Planted Plate, Tipple + Rose Tea Parlor, and Jammin’ Crepes — will vie for diners’ votes on favorite plant-based menu options created for the competition. The winners will be announced in October.

In the process, organizers Steve Fenster and Cherise Daly hope, local diners might decide that veganism is the way to go.

“We find a lot of college towns that have restaurants offering vegan, but Princeton is severely lacking,” said Daly, who lives in the Asbury Park area. “Some restaurants do offer vegan options, but Princeton only got the first [all-vegan] one a year or so ago — Planted Plate.”

Daly and Fenster took their inspiration for the Vegan Challenge from the nonprofit Vegan Outreach, which has been promoting veganism since 1993. Vegan Challenge events are held in locations across the country.

“Cherise and I both run local vegan organizations, and we decided to try it in New Jersey,” said Fenster, who lives in Pemberton. “We selected Princeton as the area for our first challenge because it is fairly centrally located. And there are several restaurants in Princeton, where we can hopefully encourage chefs to offer more vegan dishes.”

Daly and Fenster have each followed vegan diets for years. “The biggest thing to me is eliminating the unnecessary horrors that face animals raised for food,” said Fenster. “The killing of animals is key. There is also environmental degradation, pollution, and health. It has become evident over the past number of decades that eating a plant-based diet is much healthier.”

Along with the eateries named above, additional restaurants in Princeton, Lawrence, and Skillman are participating in the Vegan Challenge. As of this week, they include Lady and the Shallot, The Perch at the Peacock Inn, The Mint,

Whole Earth Center Deli, Le Bon Gout, Say Cheez Café, Amazing Thai, Savory Leaf Café, LiLLiPiES Bakery, Blue Bears Special Meals, and Sahara Restaurant.

Each restaurant has been asked to add three special vegan options to their menu. The offerings can be entrees, desserts, appetizers, or even a drink.

Most of the eateries approached about the challenge were immediately interested. “Some of them said, ‘Absolutely. Sign us up right now.’ One put up a poster,” said Fenster. “We hadn’t even talked to them about it, so that was great. A few were a bit hesitant but ended up signing on anyway. It’s increasing in crazy numbers, day by day.”

During the month, Fenster and Daly plan on organizing meetups at some of the restaurants, where people can get together in small groups to share a meal. They will also offer a free “10 Weeks to Vegan” program, which helps people transition to a vegan diet. Each week, participants learn to replace one animal product with a vegan version, while getting tips, recipes, and product recommendations.

For instructions on voting and additional information, visit

“There is a lot less suffering that needs to happen,” said Daly. “We’ve developed as a human race. We really don’t need to be eating animals anymore for survival.”