First, let’s just cover the basics. Yes, Chipotle cooks the vegan garden blend on the same grill as the meat. No, that isn’t going to change. But yes, it is vegan. And yes, it is awesome.
There’s been a great deal of controversy recently over the new vegan garden blend at Chipotle, which is currently only served at two locations nationwide (Dupont Circle in DC and Chelsea in NYC). So today I went to the NYC location to see for myself what the controversy is about and sat down with the general manager to get the definitive word on shared grills, frustrated vegans and what to expect from Chipotle’s vegan offerings.
The garden blend is a shredded, soy-based Gardein mock meat. If you’ve had other Gardein products, you know that this stuff not only looks like meat, but also has the texture of meat. It’s cooked in a chipotle adobo and then flavored mostly with mushrooms and carrots. But the controversy lies not in the ingredients, it’s in the preparation.
Rumor #1: The vegan blend is not even vegan because it is prepared on the same grill as meat.
Rumor #2: Chipotle started cooking the garden blend on a separate grill after receiving complaints.
The fact is, according to the general manager, they do use the same grill and there’s no getting around it. Every Chipotle has a grill where they cook the meat and there are no plans to renovate the kitchens to install separate vegan grills. However, there are some important factors in the equation for the vegans that aren’t happy about this. The garden blend is not cooked at the same time as meat, so there’s no chance that a pork piece may slip into your burrito. And they clean the grill before switching to the garden blend. He also acknowledged that there have been a number of calls regarding the grill situation and he regrets the misinformation that has been circulated. So, he added, if this still makes you uncomfortable, he would be happy to cook up a separate batch in a pan for you.
Most important, though—and this is my addition to the kerfuffle—is that it’s vegan. And no animals were harmed in the production of the garden blend. And whether it was cooked on the same grill as meat or not, no animals were harmed in the production of the garden blend. The only thing that will be affected if you eat the garden blend or not, are the chances of this vegan choice being extended into other Chipotles or even carried nationwide (and, for the record, that is a current discussion). The garden blend is an experimental product and is presented as an option on a trial basis. Think of it this way: the more you eat, the more likely it will be that you could stop at a Chipotle in Missouri and get a garden blend burrito bowl or Oklahoma for garden blend tacos (or else it’s just another salad sandwich from Subway—and we’ve all been there). As far as I’m concerned, this could be the biggest revolution in vegan fast food to date. How many other national chains carry something similar that isn’t just another veggie burger?
As for some of the more interesting tidbits that the manager was willing to share, Chipotle is continually experimenting with the vegan offering and you can expect changes and improvements over time. And in the next couple weeks, this NYC location will be rolling out brown rice to complement the usual white rice. Sound too good to be true?
For the past 10 years I have ordered the exact same thing at Chipotle: vegetarian fajita burrito with rice, black beans, peppers and onions, corn salsa, extra guacamole and lettuce. Each ingredient complements the other to perfection; the invariably creamy guacamole with the crunch of the sautéed peppers, the warm beans and the cool lettuce, the hint of cilantro and lime in the rice with the sweet spiciness of the corn. So I’ve never had a reason to even consider switching up my routine. Until today. Today I happily decided to mix up my burrito routine and try something new. Behold, the new vegan garden blend burrito from Chipotle:
This is literally what I’ve been waiting for since I first went to Chipotle. The garden blend is savory, chewy and succulent. Alone, it carries the flavor of the mushrooms, the peppers in the chipotle adobo and a hint of oregano. Throw it in a tortilla, and the flavors bring the Chipotle burrito to a new level. Look at this stuff, it’s what dreams are made of.
I wouldn’t even consider going back to my old burrito after trying this one. This is a recommendation to all vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians, omnivores and carnviores: If you’re in New York or DC, go to Chipotle and try the garden blend; for everyone else, head to your local Chipotle and request it. Demand it. You won’t regret it. And let me know what you think.
Chipotle – Chelsea West
149 8th Ave.
New York, NY 10011
Chipotle – Dupont Circle
1629 Connecticut Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20009