For Chef Catrice Davis-Ford, veggie cooking is familiar

November 20, 2012|By CHRIS COPLEY |
  • Catrice Davis-Ford, chef at Vegetarian's Pursuit Cafe, shows dishes including mock chicken salads, wraps and pasta dishes using textured vegetarian protein. The cafe is in the Review & Herald Publishing Association plant, south of Hagerstown.
Photo by Yvette May/Staff Photographer

Editor's note: This is part of an occasional series of profiles of local restaurant chefs.

Catrice Davis-Ford loves to cook. She cooks as chef at Vegetarian's Pursuit Cafe south of Hagerstown. And after work, she happily cooks at home for her husband and youngest son.

Davis-Ford, a Seventh-day Adventist, cooks strictly vegetarian and also prepares dishes for vegans.

For some people, vegetarian food is strange and foreign. But Davis-Ford pointed out that some meatless dishes are pretty familiar. Take haystacks.

"Haystacks is wild among Adventists — it's like a staple meal," Davis-Ford said with a laugh. "It's a plate with chips, and you make a bean chili with textured vegetable protein in it, (and put that on). And you have this whole range of toppings — you have your lettuce, your black olives, your salsa, your sour cream, almost just like you can find (in a Tex-Mex restaurant)."

Davis-Ford showed The Herald-Mail samples of veggie dishes she serves in the cafe.

On this tray, you've got wraps, a pita sandwich, a chunky "meat" sauce over noodles, something that looks like chicken salad ...

Our (menu) includes mock meat — equivalent to meat. It's made from soybeans or from (wheat) gluten. We try to work with the consistencies of the different products, to where it's tasty, it's flavorful, it's palatable.

These are a few or our wraps, which are one of our popular things for catering weddings or different events. A lot of people get the wraps. It's quick. It's easy. You can still socialize while eating.

So I have some made with vegetarian meat — mock meat. (She indicates sliced, soy-based lunch "meats" displayed near the wraps.) These are (mock) chicken slices. This is Wham — it's equivalent to ham. This is the (mock) turkey. And this is the (mock) corned beef — it's pretty popular here, because we do our Reubens with it when we do hot sandwiches.

This (pointing to "chicken" strips in a chicken-beef-broccoli stir-fry) looks like real meat. It's faux meat?

We call it mock meat. There are many different kinds. This is made out of soy protein, the chicken version.

It looks. Just. Like. Chicken.

(She laughs.) It's the chicken version. And this right here (points to realistic "beef" strips in the same dish) is the beef version. Morningstar puts out the vegetarian (meats). Now I see them advertising everywhere. 

My son and daughter were vegetarian or vegan for about 11 years. And we found all kinds of mock meats in the grocery store.

That's right. When you embrace eating vegetarian and educate yourself, you don't really miss it. You really don't.

(She points to cubes of "chicken" in the noodle dish.) This is another type of textured vegetable protein. It's a chicken product, different from (the "chicken" strips). This dish is more like a chicken fettuccine alfredo. I made a white-based sauce, I cut up the (mock) chicken, and mushrooms, celery and carrots, and put it over a bed of noodles.

Is this Alfredo sauce vegan?

No. It's milk based. But I make Chicken a la King, which is similar to alfredo. It's is my mother's recipe. I (can) use nondairy creamer as my base. I make a roux and add nonrairy creamer for the sauce.

You make dishes here?

We try to make whatever we can from scratch. If it's at all feasible. Some of the things we do is homemade potato salad, pasta salad, coleslaw.

And this (she points to a scoop of what looks like chicken salad) is more like the Waldorf chicken salad. It's a regular (mock) chicken salad, and I just added some dried cranberries, nuts and apples.

Proper diet is a key aspect of Seventh-day Adventist theology, isn't it?

They believe we have one body, which we're responsible for. And that we need to take care of it at all costs. And so we don't put any alcoholic beverages in our bodies, or smoking, and we try to make sure we eat a healthier diet. And that includes staying away from meat.

Vegetarian's Pursuit is a private business, not part of the Review & Herald?

Yes. They were looking for a chef to come and be an independent business owner in their establishment. Cater to their employees, but also provide public food service, as well. I agreed, and they put together a package I could not (turn down).

Where did you get your training as a chef?

I was raised Adventist. My mother was a health nut. She was a vegetarian chef, as well, in Brooklyn (New York) at Brooklyn (Seventh-day Adventist) Church and School. Then, I think when I was 17, 18, I worked in a health-food store with a little lunch counter. That was all the experience I had.

Then I (worked with) a chef at the Hermitage at Cedarfield in Richmond, Va. It's a (retirement) facility, but it's upscale. I did an apprenticeship with the chef there. His name is Robert Ingegni. So that's where I got my start. I started off in the pastry department, actually. I loved baking. He took me through the program. I was able to get my (food) service aide (certification) through him. But I fell in love with catering. I like the display of it. I like to see people happy, eating it. I like the art of food.

Then I heard about a job at a bakery called the Baker's Crust. It seemed like a great opportunity to advance. They were looking for someone who knew catering, and was a vegetarian. And I worked with them for a couple years. We catered mostly to the corporate area there. The Baker's Crust was in a corporate area, so we did a lot of box lunches, party platters, we did receptions in the evenings. We did all kinds of stuff. It was fabulous. I loved it.

Then you came here.

Yes. When they first opened, they hired people to run the cafeteria. But then they began to look for someone else to run it. How I heard about it is through my aunt, (Marjorie Chambers, who now works at Vegetarian's Pursuit). She was working part time here, assistant to the editor of one of the magazines. And she said, "Catrice, I think is an opportunity here." As I talked with someone from human resources, I realized I could not pass it up. Oct. 9, 2006, is when we opened. I'll never forget that day.

Have you always been vegetarian?

As I got older, and could make decisions for myself, I tried meat. I don't know if it just that I wasn't raised on meats, but I developed a sensitivity. It just did not agree with me.

So you recommend vegetarianism as a good diet.

Yes. I was listening to a CD by (former beef rancher, now vegan activist) Howard Lyman, and he was talking about how (livestock in) the meat industry was being (contaminated). And in my mind, it was confirmation. I'm doing the right thing.

I think it has to be a personal decision for what reason you decide it is for. Whether it is for religious (reasons) or for the health aspect. Because it isn't just Adventist people who feel more health conscious.

Do you have advice for people who want to try vegetarianism?

It's just a mindset. You've determined this is what I want to do, for whatever reason is important to you, whether it be health reasons, this is what I want to do. It's an adjustment.

Do you have a family?

Yes, I have three boys — 16, 26 and 31. The 16-year-old is at home. My middle son is in Richmond. And the oldest son lives in New York with his wife.

I married a man who was diabetic. I made special meals. He could not have a lot of carbs. He could not eat a lot of sugars. But I lost him to diabetes.

I married again, and the husband I have now has diabetes as well. He loves to eat, but knows — with God's help (she laughs) — he knows that he has to take responsibility for himself. Not that I'm comparing the two, but it's a matter of what you choose to do.

Family food traditions make a difference to kids.

That's the way it was with my boys. The oldest one, he enjoys cooking. And he loves tools, too. Kitchen tools. (She laughs) He's always telling me about this new tool.

My middle child, he enjoys cooking, too. I made sure they were in the kitchen seeing some of the things I did. I said, "Whatever you decide to do with your life, you need to know how to make a meal for yourself."

My youngest child — I'm still working on him. He has a different personality. His approach to cooking is "Put it on my plate."

What do you outside of cooking for fun?

Scrabble. And Words with Friends. I love word games. I grew up with games, and I have eight brothers and sisters. We didn't have a television. We entertained each other. (She laughs.) My husband plays with me sometimes. I have the Scrabble Deluxe Edition, the one that swivels.

So your family likes your cooking?

I ask my husband, "What do you have a taste for?" He says, "Whatever you want." He never fusses. The 16-year-old is another story. I put food on the table, and he'll say, "Can I order pizza?" He's exploring his options.

If you go ...

WHAT: Vegetarian's Pursuit Cafe

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday; catering also available

WHERE: In the Review & Herald Publishing Association plant, 55 W. Oak Ridge, south of Hagerstown

CONTACT: Call 301-393-3082 or email

MORE: Open to the public.

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