Alexis Gauthier sold 20 kg of foie gras per week. Now the chef, whose London restaurant went fully vegan in 2021, only sells a plant-based version. Since becoming a vegan, he admits, Gauthier Soho has “unfortunately lost a lot of customers”. But he says he’s won over even more new diners, all of them looking for something different and lasting and willing to pay the price for it.
Gauthier is not the only chef to abandon animal products traditionally associated with gastronomy. While the number of meatless menus has been booming for some time in low and mid-priced restaurants, a growing number of the world’s top chefs are starting to put plants at the center of the scene.
Chef Daniel Humm has made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic twice in recent months. First when he announced that his three-Michelin-starred New York restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, would reopen after a pandemic hiatus in June, minus the meat or seafood on its $ 335 menu (though not completely exempt. of animal products. “The current food system is just not sustainable,” he said).
Then, in November, it was announced that he had parted ways with the five-star Claridge’s hotel after rejecting his “bold new vision” of an all-plant menu for his restaurant, Davies and Brook, which serves, between others, foie gras and caviar. The hotel said this is “not the path we want to go”.
And in January, Geranium in Copenhagen, ranked number two by the world’s 50 best restaurants, will unveil a new meat-free menu of vegetarian, plant-based and seafood dishes. Announcing the move, Chef Rasmus Kofoed said that he hadn’t eaten meat for five years at home, “so no longer using meat on the new menu was a logical decision and a natural progression for Geranium.”
Even the Michelin Guide, which rarely awarded stars to vegetarian and vegan restaurants, seems to be moving towards the vegetal. Last year, the ONA restaurant in Claire Vallée (which means non-animal origin) in Arès, near Bordeaux, became the first vegan restaurant in France to receive a star. They also introduced the Green Stars, a new award to recognize sustainability.
Gauthier – whose plant-based menu is 50% vegan versions of classic French dishes like soufflé or foie gras and the other half is more experimental – said many chefs, especially French chefs, fear losing the Michelin stars and remain bound by the “tyranny of the classic”. French gastronomy. “The permanent influence of Auguste Escoffier, author of 1903 The Culinary Guide and former director of the Savoy kitchens, is, according to him, a “mass problem for French gastronomy to advance”.
On the other hand, Gauthier sees plant-based food as an opportunity to be truly creative. “You can write recipes that are totally out of the ordinary and no one can come and say ‘well actually, you shouldn’t do it like that’ because it’s brand new. That’s the beauty of it.
Although animals are not on the menu, he said everything else remains the same. “It’s staying 100% French, the flavors, all the hoopla that you think of when you go to a French restaurant. So far, he said, the switch to veganism has been “a commercial success.” As the chief boss of one of the the few high-end vegan restaurants in London, Gauthier hopes more chefs will follow. “Few chefs are brave enough to embrace a fully vegan restaurant, but many are examining it and testing the water,” he said.
French chef Dominique Crenn stopped serving meat at her three Michelin star restaurant in San Francisco, Atelier Crenn in 2018. Speaking from her farm in Sonoma, where she grows produce for her three restaurants, she has said it was essential for restaurants and consumers to know where products came from and not support factory farming.
But, unlike some, she is not averse to experimenting with laboratory-grown meat. She has partnered with Upside Foods to develop cultured chicken recipes that she plans to serve in her restaurant once regulatory approval is obtained. She said that when she first heard about the concept in 2015, “I thought it was genius because the bottom line is that not everyone just eats vegetables. There are going to be people who are always going to want to eat meat or fish and all that, so I think it’s about finding ways to rebalance this world.
She also plans to cut cow’s milk from her establishments, which she hopes to do in 2022, and when it comes to seafood, she works with artisanal fishermen and mainly serves shellfish. “I’m just looking at what I can do and keep working to get better and more aware.”
In the UK, young people are leading the charge when it comes to switching to a vegan diet, while the availability of documentaries such as Cowspiracy, Seaspiracy and The game changers on Netflix opened conversations on the subject.
But, in many ways, UK institutions have been slow to catch up. The last series of the BBC One show MasterChef: The Professionals drew criticism after presenting just 10 out of 100 vegetarian savory dishes and only two for vegans. Channel 4 The Great British Cake also drew anger after her first vegan competitor, Freya Cox, was forced to use animal products in one of the towers.
And while the past few years have seen a proliferation of low-budget or take-out vegan dining options, upscale establishments have proven to be more reluctant. Peter Harden, co-founder of Harden Restaurant Guides, said Claridge’s “missed a trick” by not picking up Humm’s plant-based menu, but that perhaps indicates the market is not yet. large enough. “They obviously did it because they thought it would be commercial suicide. And I think that highlights the problem, especially for top chefs, is that when people eat out and spend a lot of money, a very large portion of them expect to be able to eat. meat.