Nail bar, chocolate bar, rebar!

A lot of appealing things include a “bar.” If you’ve been to Victoria, chances are you’ve heard of rebar, a much-loved locals-approved diner known for its funky and modern vegetarian cuisine. Did you think healthy vegetarian food was for hippies? Not so. rebar is a destination for almost anyone taking a trip to the Island; it’s a place you can be sure to get a truly delicious and healthy meal, along with a juice bar specializing in fruit and vegetable juice. “Yum!” or “Yum?” you may say.  This made us wonder, ‘what makes rebar’s food appealing anyways?’ so we turned to one of the brains behind the rebar operation, Wanda Urbanowitz, to investigate. Below we find out about the inspiration for her restaurant, co-owned with Audrey Alsterberg, and their philosophy. They’ve also done extremely well with the release of the highly acclaimed rebar, modern food cookbook. Now anyone can whip up rebar’s infamous vegetarian quesadillas and vegan brownies at home! Let’s find out why we’d want to …

BT: What is the inspiration behind your restaurant and cookbook?

WU: Our restaurant and menu are inspired by the desire to make healthy, mostly vegetarian food that is fresh, colorful and full of flavour.  We were inspired by the Greens Restaurant in San Francisco and by chefs like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. Today there are many restaurants with this philosophy, but this was not so in the early days of rebar.

BT:  You’re known as pioneers in BC. What makes the rebar brand of vegetarian health food so appealing anyways?

WU: I don’t think of it primarily as “health food”.  To me it’s just real food.  I think that early on, people develop a taste for fast and processed foods because of the high salt and fat content.  If that’s what kids eat daily then real, or “health” food doesn’t appeal to them because it’s different from what they’re used to.  So you have to start with good food as soon as they begin eating solid food, otherwise [I imagine] it’s difficult for everyone.  Having said that, my 5 and 7 year olds are accustomed to eating “healthy” home-prepared meals but that doesn’t mean they don’t like junk—of course they do!  I will allow them to eat something that I wouldn’t normally choose from time to time trusting that, for the most part, they are very well fed.  The trick is not to be overzealous about it…  let them have a pop at the birthday party or pick out a treat at the grocery store and it will be very special for them.

BT: How do family meals take shape in your home?

WU:  We’re fortunate that we are able to dine together every night. Once the kids are in school and we don’t see them all day, family meal time is really the only regular time we all spend together, so to me, it’s essential that this is a daily part of our lives, as it was in mine growing up. We have no agenda at the table—sometimes it is pure silliness or sometimes we take an opportunity to discuss, explain or tell stories.  Anything goes and that’s how we try to live day-to-day, without too many stringent plans and busy schedules. We’re all busy enough in school and work so at home it’s more relaxed and carefree.

BT: What do you most like to make with your kids?

I bake with the kids; they love to measure and stir!  My favorite—and the easiest—thing to make with them is granola.  They eat it for breakfast and sprinkle it on yogurt and fruit desserts. Here is my Granola Recipe (adapted from the rebar modern food cookbook).

4 cups rolled oats (not quick oats)

1 cup barley flakes

1 cup unsweetened coconut

1 cup sliced almonds, or other favourite nut

½ cup raw sunflower seeds

½ cup raw pumpkin seeds

½ cup wheat germ

½ cup oat bran

½ cup hemp seeds

½ tsp salt

½ cup vegetable oil

2/3 cup maple syrup, liquid honey or blue agave syrup (or any combination of these)

¼ cup water

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup dried cranberries

½ cup dried blueberries

Combine the first 10 ingredients in a large bowl.  In a large measuring cup, stir together the liquid ingredients.  Pour the wet mix into the dry and stir thoroughly.  Spread the mixture out onto two large baking sheets and bake at 250 degrees F for 30-40 minutes or until lightly toasted.  Stir and rotate pans every 10 minutes.  Cool trays on a wire rack and stir in dried fruit.  Scoop into glass jars, seal and store up to one month.

Thanks Wanda! This looks amazing. A very appropriate ending to our health inspection (hmmm, why is “granola” synonymous with the sandals-and-socks nature lover?) Try this recipe and let us know what you think here or on our Facebook page. Facebook followers: we’re giving away a copy of the rebar modern food cookbook this week! 

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