Crédit Photo : Brooke Lark

The plant-based question in high end gastronomy

For a spilt second, I see him hesitate, think, smirk… I don’t feel that he is very sure of himself nor very comfortable with my question. This starred Chef is there in front of me and without meaning to, I am embarrassing him. The question was simple: how to make the plant-based version of the dish he was offering that day?

Stories like these, I have plenty to tell.

When I ask Top Chefs if they offer plant-based options on their menu, they invariably answer the same thing. They can be tailor-made, you just have to ask. They can also adapt their menus for their customers with allergies or dietary restrictions.

When I ask them about veganism, some proudly display their gluten-free offer, without understanding that I am talking about something else… As on this dish that I ask to adapt, where the Chef asks me if bread is ok, if I am allowed to eat it!

Vegan does not mean allergic, intolerant, restricted, or unhealthy. It has nothing to do with organic or gluten-free either.

I see how all this is still very confusing for the Chefs and I feel at these moments an irrepressible urge to accompany them towards new knowledge and help them understand what we are talking about.

Too timid efforts

However, there are already a few starred hotel restaurants that offer plant-based dishes. But very few of them clearly display the information and communicate openly about their offer.

At the La Bauhinia restaurant at Shangri-La Paris, Chef Christophe Moret offers his plant-based creations around a monthly “green” dinner, and Pastry Chef Michaël Bartocetti composes the plant-based afternoon tea.

At L’Honoré space of the Mandarin Oriental, Paris, Chef Thierry Marx offers some plant-based dishes.

For the others, the question must be explored …

Indeed, plant-based proposals in large hotels are mostly tailor-made and do not appear clearly on the menu. And when plant-based options are present, they are not completely finished or included in a global approach, sometimes causing some failures. We feel that the will is there but something is still missing.

Biased communication

Also, communication on this subject remains timid and still beats too much around the bush, mainly using trendy keywords related to health like “Green”, “Healthy”, “Detox”. In the midst of all these words, the client can quickly be lost if he is not an expert on these subjects!

In all this, “vegan” remains “the one whose name we must not pronounced”. It scares, it repels, it intrigues… And if the word “vegan” is not yet ready to enter the vocabulary of the Chefs, it is because these two do not understand each other.

Yes, because plant-based diet must be understood to be well done. A plant-based dish does not use any animal products, but it is not vegan if the ingredients used have involved some animal exploitation.

For a Chef to be able to go vegan, he must therefore know the history of his products and understand the values ​​of veganism to know what it means. Because the plant-based diet goes well beyond the well-being and health aspect. Above all, vegans are concerned about animal suffering. Of course, as everything is linked, they are also concerned about the environmental impacts and the positive health effects associated with it. But whatever we say, the vegan are above all defenders of animal rights. But if we hide the essentials behind alternative words, how can the customer find his way?

Here, the role of communication is key, to express and explain an idea. But you have to know what you are talking about and how to talk about it.

So why is this communication around plant-based cuisine in high end gastronomy biased? Is it because of a lack of information? Is it because we do not know in which box to put this new cuisine? Is it because we do not want to scare customers? …

In all this silent confusion, it is normal that Chefs, Communication Managers, Community Managers and other communicators find it difficult to promote a plant-based offer in high gastronomic contexts. Most importantly, as long as we keep beating around the bush, customers will continue to have little understanding of it.

An uncertain target clientele

Furthermore, the clientele targeted by plant-based offers is not always very clear. Today I can identify three main targets:

  • hotel-restaurant customers
  • customers of the corresponding business district
  • customers with allergies, intolerance or health concerns, belonging to a certain social category

I saw that vegans were not considered the main target. This seems normal if we consider the Chefs’ lack of knowledge about the vegan population and its expectation.

Here again, confusion reigns. The “omnivorous” customer will probably be satisfied with this new cuisine that he will consider a trend or a novelty to try, but he will not have understood the power of what he is eating nor the meaning of these new choices. As for vegan customers, they will be frustrated to see that this style of eating that they know so well is not really aimed at them.

Assume plant-based for the future of gastronomy

The Top Chefs are therefore not yet quite ready to integrate plant-based into their menus. And if they do not do it yet, it is because they have their reasons. Reasons which probably keep them in a certain comfort zone but which can nevertheless become obstacles. Tradition, culture, habits, professional training, economy… are these (good) reasons which sometimes prevent a Chef from going further.

But it is time for them to get serious about this new cuisine and the vegan clientele. Because these are customers like the any others who, in addition to being consumers, are actors of change, a force of ideas, proposals and food evolution. A boon for curious Chefs who could join forces and co-create the food of the future with their own customers.

It is time to take action, to see things differently and to evolve the gastronomic professions in line with the evolution of our society.

I remember my discussion with Chef Christian Le Squer from the restaurant Le Cinq. A Chef who likes to understand how the world is changing to better adapt to it, who invites us to wonder about food (re)education and our ways of doing things. He had given me hope for the future of plant-based gastronomy, knowing that it would take time.

Time, yes, it is necessary and it will certainly take more time. But as in a good recipe, many other ingredients are needed. Think differently, break the codes, review the basics and offer a new gastronomy that is audacious and collaborative. For me, that is culinary innovation, and plant-based for sure will be part of it!

Translated by Malvika Kathpal

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