It should be understood that a vegan customer can not feel completely at ease in a restaurant that does not offer them a complete and substantial meal. Whatever our eating style, we should be able to enjoy a total culinary experience, from starter to dessert, with pleasure and greed.
However, very often the vegan customer is confronted with the lack of knowledge of the Chef who simply remove the animal protein from a dish to leave only a few sad vegetables on a plate which will sometimes cost the same price.
Some Chefs sometimes make an effort to offer a suitable plant-based dish, but only if they have been warned in advance. And for the customer, there is no guarantee that the dish will live up to their expectations.
Added to this is the distressing question of desserts. Apart from the sad fruit salad, the vegan will not have the right to the gourmet and generous dessert that everyone can hope for.
The vegan customer therefore can not know in advance what they are going to eat. They can not make a choice from a menu they’ve consulted beforehand, and they can not project themselves into this long-awaited culinary experience, looking forward to it.
Because indeed the reality is quite different and many are those who have had the unfortunate experience of it. The vegan customer knows that they will always be missing something, that the dish will not be complete, that it will be sad or bland, that it will be different from that of his neighbours, and that he will leave frustrated. He will often prefer to abstain and go to places where he feels reassured.
Including a core clientele
The customers of the big hotel restaurants today remain mainly people who eat everything and flexitarians looking for novelty. “Veggie” customers, for their part, are not included in the target customers. They are very few in number and their request is too specific, say the Chefs anxious to respond to the majority above all.
This clientele is unfortunately still poorly understood by these Chefs who are only remotely interested. Despite everything, we see them timidly entering this field, with a contradictory posture on the subject.
Indeed, the word “vegan” is starting to enter the communications of luxury hotels and some Top Chefs are using it more and more. But on closer inspection, the so-called “vegan” dishes do not reflect the reality of current plant-based cuisine. In these high-end places, you will mainly find dishes where fruits and vegetables are far too present, while vegan and vegetarian customers expect more sophisticated creations from Top Chefs.
Also, the word “vegan” used to identify dishes on a menu, and the symbol that is sometimes associated with it, are not always put in the right place, nor described in the right way. To say that a plant-based dish does not contain any animal products is true, but only partly. This is forgetting that a plant-based dish takes into account the whole process that makes up the chain, from the product to the plate. A process that the Chef does not always master.
As for service errors linked to a lack of knowledge of the subject, they inevitably cause a certain discomfort between the customer and the staff.
The few traditional Chefs who offer a plant-based offer generally do so in complete confidentiality, without including the plant-based dimension as such or questioning the main people involved.
So if the vegan clientele is not the priority, why specify that a dish is plant-based, and to whom is the identification on the menus addressed?
Using the term “vegan” without really understanding it, just like not targeting the main clientele, is, therefore, a total paradox. It is taking the risk of making mistakes and confusing the consumer. It means not opening up to a growing clientele and falling behind in knowledge of the subject.
Take on a new cuisine
Offering a plant-based cuisine is quite an art. This requires understanding the expectations of a new style of clientele. It is learning to cook differently, apprehending new ingredients, learning new techniques, seeking information from experts, and daring.
Today, the preconceived ideas that some Chefs still have about plant-based cuisine prevents the vegan customer from accessing high-end plant-based food and slow down the profession in the evolution of mentalities.
Plant-based cuisine indeed deserves much more than it is given credit for and it is high time to tell ourselves that times have changed.
In the meantime, it is important to encourage the initiatives of Chefs who dare to undertake differently and who encourage a form of transition. The work of these Chefs is undeniable and their approach honourable.
When we speak of French gastronomy, we are talking about taste, elegance, refinement and gluttony. A plant-based dish must be all of this at the same time and satisfy all customers looking for these qualities.
Perhaps the next step for Chefs will be to better understand the vegan and vegetarian clientele to achieve another form of excellence.
Translated by Malvika Kathpal