THAT PLANT LIFE: Meet the chef who’s behind some of Virtuous Pie’s signature dishes

March 15, 2021

Being part of Virtuous Pie has been a passion for Matt Blandy, Regional Manager and Professional Chef, for over a decade. Originally from Manchester, England, he was hired as a chef at the restaurant’s first location after looking for something that aligned with his personal and professional philosophy about clean eating and healthy living.

Seeds Of Change

Virtuous Pie was founded by vegan foodies Rob Milne and his sons, Ben and Alex. Created to provide great-tasting food for people and the planet, the premise behind the restaurant’s philosophy is a unique one: take something simple like pizza and ice cream and give them a plant-based twist.

Matt notes there isn’t a strong vegan push in the restaurant at all. Rather, the focus is on letting the flavour, texture and unique food choices do the talking for them. “We wanted to appeal to everyone, not just vegans. We get people coming in not even knowing it’s vegan and they love our food. We win them over with taste and that’s what’s important.”

A Growing Acceptance

The restaurant’s offerings have been a hit with those facing dietary restrictions, including lactose intolerances and gluten sensitivities. Virtuous Pie’s cheeses made from nuts or soy are an unqualified success and the gluten free pizza crust has given celiacs something to look forward to. The Mac & Cheese Skillet has no dairy at all: the colour and flavour of the sauce comes completely from the vegetables.

“We have to be ahead of the curve,” says Matt. “When I first became vegan, I’d look at my plate and just remove the protein which left the plants – the fruits and vegetables. But then that’s where the challenge came in for me. I’d ask myself what can I replace that protein with? Because I knew I couldn’t make the same meal all the time or keep substituting with tofu, right?”

“It was about how do I make this interesting? How do I make this appealing to everyone?”

Reaching Out

Part of that appeal came from the restaurant chain’s efforts to work with – and source from – local vendors. The UBC location has been especially beneficial for Matt thanks to its proximity to UBC Farm and having access to fresh herbs and produce. “The basil and kale are amazing.”

“There’s this new generation coming in who are choosing that healthier lifestyle. It’s not even vegan. They want to know ‘where does this come from’ and ‘what impact will this have’?”

“As we grow, one of our bigger challenges will be to figure out how to connect with and support that local community of growers and suppliers.”

“It’s not just about the dishes that I help create,” says Matt. “It’s also about how Virtuous Pie’s own philosophy resonates with people and how it supports local vendors while also encouraging healthier lifestyles and more plant-based eating.”

Dishing On The Dishes

Based on the restaurant’s success, it’s clear that Matt has found an appreciative following. With dishes on the menu sporting names like Stranger Wings, Pesto CBR and Forager, he’s been busy building up a culinary roster for hungry guests.

“Stranger Wings pizza was actually our take on hot chicken wings,” he says. “We use cauliflower that’s dipped in a light batter then baked. There’s a touch of spice and the house-made blue cheese sauce balances it out.”

“The Pesto CBR was an evolution of an earlier dish,” he adds. “The prep or line team is always working together to come up with something new or different. This was a take on a pasta dish with chicken. Someone added pesto, someone added bacon for smokiness and that’s how it evolved.” Collaboration in the kitchen is, according to Matt, not uncommon at all and often results in some truly amazing dishes.

Don’t forget to leave room for some Virtuous Pie ice cream, made with cashew and coconut milk. “Coconut milk has a great texture for ice cream,” says Matt. He notes that cashew milk is neutral and helps to soften the coconut taste while also making for a silky-smooth ice cream experience.

Not sure what you want? Matt suggests an ice cream flight, featuring a scoop of three flavours of your choice. Feeling more daring? Order an affogato – that’s ice cream with a shot of espresso.

Looking Ahead

From hardcore vegans to hungry guests to the culinary curious, Virtuous Pie welcomes them all. “People have really embraced us,” says Matt. “Maybe part of it was timing. But I like to think we’ve tapped into something because we’ve got this really dedicated following and we’re passionate about keeping them.”

Catering to that crowd means coming up with new products or service offerings. “Last year [2020] was challenging for everyone,” says Matt. “We postponed a number of things while we focused on keeping the team safe and the restaurant operating.”

“This year, we’re rolling out a seasonal menu and here at the UBC location, we’ll be offering a small brunch menu – hopefully just before Mother’s Day in May.”

Matt and his team love being part of the UBC community. Everyone – from students and faculty to local residents and visitors – appreciates the menu offerings as well as the unique vibe that Virtuous Pie offers. In addition to the inspired, plant-based fare, al fresco dining is also available thanks to an outdoor patio located on a green street in popular Wesbrook Village where guests can tuck into a tasty pizza and local craft beer while enjoying vibrant Wesbrook activity.