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Eat Your Greens (Lots of Them), Courtesy of Our Top Chefs

The inaugural Vegan Festival & Competition on Nov. 18 will paint Venue Naples with every shade of the plant rainbow and support two worthy causes in the process.



Going green for the day has never been so chic—or tasty.

With the help of organizer Michelle Stephens, top chefs throughout the Naples area will band together on Sunday, Nov. 18, for the inaugural Vegan Festival & Competition, a food fair and friendly culinary showdown at the stylish Venue Naples event space.

Chef Brian Roland and his molecular gastronomy-inclined Crave Culinaire team will of course be on the roster (the site, after all, is their home base). Joining them are a bevy of local talents—ones you may expect, such as Raw Delicious, but most from outside the solely plant-based box, such as Kareem’s Lebanese Kitchen, Pelagos Café, Epiphany Gluten-Free Bakery and the new Yana Eats. That was the point—and the beauty—of what Stephens envisioned.

Bonita Springs mom Michelle Stephens started Mahaan Aasha: The Great Hope Foundation after visiting India and seeing the plight of orphaned children. The group now raises money for young ones in need throughout the Subcontinent.

“I wanted to include restaurants that were not obvious choices. Yes, we will have chefs who specialize in raw, organic and vegetarian dishes, but I ultimately wanted to bring together chefs from across a spectrum of cuisines,” she says.

The way the lunchtime affair will work is this: Attendees must buy general admission ($5 in advance and $6 at the door) and then food tickets at $1 a pop (most nibbles will be priced less than $7). Everyone there will then be allowed to vote on the day’s best dish.

The idea for this sprouted because Stephens was inspired by how many people she knows who have been experimenting with green eating—and she decided to partner with the SWFL Veg Fest to help spread the word. She was also motivated to put together an event that could simultaneously raise money for causes she cares deeply about, with money going to one in this community, Literacy Council Gulf Coast, and one a world away, Mahaan Aasha: The Great Hope Foundation (which she founded not too long ago). As a mom to an elementary-age daughter, she was struck by how many orphaned and impoverished children she saw on a trip to the Subcontinent several years ago and wanted to do something about it. When she was ready to take action, she enlisted chef Asif Syed, a fellow Vegan Festival participant and the owner of 21 Spices in Naples, and he has been a frequent collaborator, supporting her with developing Mahaan Aasha programming and fundraising.

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