Gehn Shibayama earned the nickname “Super Vegan” in 2018 by eating a vegan diet for the entire 188 days it took him to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. He’s an organizer of VegNV, a Reno-Sparks vegetarian group, and runs the Reno Vegan Chef Challenge, along with vegan nutrition expert Kelly Farrell. The month-long event started in Sacramento in 2011. For the Reno version, chefs at 33 restaurants will add vegan dishes to their menus for the month of April. Diners are invited to rate these dishes at renoveganchefchallenge.com through April 30.
How did you go about contacting Reno chefs?
We asked our vegan community for recommendations about which restaurants they want to see more vegan options [in]. We also looked at Yelp and also Google reviews and found all the good restaurants. We visited about 70 restaurants.
Were the chefs receptive?
The response really varied. Sometimes we didn’t get to talk with owner or chef at all. And sometimes, small places actually, we were able to talk to the chef or owner at the first meeting. … I went to Sacramento three times to do the research. I spent about 10 days. I went to 15, 16 restaurants and talked to the chefs, took a lot of pictures of their menus and foods. I showed the pictures to chefs in Reno, and it really helped them to see how seriously restaurants [in Sacramento] are taking Vegan Chef Challenge.
What were some of the foods you showed them pictures of?
Some Mexican food, vegan tamales and also vegan curry, tofu scrambles, artichoke hearts.
After a chef signs up, does your group work with them on recipe development? Or do you provide them with any info or resources?
They’re on their own. … A lot of restaurants actually told me they get vegan requests all the time, so they already have some good vegan dishes which are not on the menu. So, they just need to expose those good vegan dishes.
Would you list some dishes that chefs came up with in Reno?
Moroccan cauliflower couscous served with harissa. Vegan chocolate cake with strawberry confit and coconut chantilly.
You hiked 2,650 miles on the PCH, eating only a vegan diet. What was your favorite food to eat during that trip?
My favorite food was coconut milk powder. … My typical dinner was dehydrated rice plus dehydrated vegetables, which I cook in my pot, and I add a protein called TVP, or textured vegetable protein. I use this to make a soup. But it’s just a soup. It doesn’t really taste good, so I put the coconut milk powder in it, and it makes the soup really rich and creamy. Every night, I looked forward to it.
If people in Reno want to learn more, where should they look?
Go to the website. I wrote a FAQ. A very common misunderstanding is, it’s like an Iron Chef, where chefs come to one event location and just cook, and only selected guests can eat those dishes. That’s not Vegan Chef Challenge at all. Vegan Chef Challenge menus are offered at each participating restaurant, and everybody can go to those restaurants and taste it, and then rate those dishes. … So everybody’s a judge.