Chef-restaurateur Alexis Gauthier has predicted that his restaurant — Gauthier Soho on Romilly Street — will go “fully vegan” within the next 18 months to two years. Even considering veganism’s recent exponential growth, it is the most high-profile restaurant in the capital to declare such an unequivocal move towards so-called “plant-based” cooking.
Speaking to the National Restaurant Congress last week, and as reported by Big Hospitality, Gauthier, who is no stranger to bold measures, gave an “impassioned” speech about veganism and his own personal vision for the “future of food.” He claims that “if you work in hospitality in 2018 and still look at veganism and plant-based eating as a ‘fad’ or ‘weird’, you are ‘a dinosaur, living in denial.”
Detailing his experiences of the past five years, including his own adoption of veganism, he discussed the events that have led to his belief in the importance and viability of putting (only) vegetables at the centre of what his restaurant does. He called it a “natural progression.”
Specifically citing the effect of anti foie gras protestors, Gauthier said he began to question his relationship with animals — and how they have found their way into diets. Selflessly, though, he said: “I can cook what I’ve been taught for the next 25 years and make money, but do I really want to carry on ignoring what’s happening?”
And yet, the profitability of serving meat might be more nuanced than it seems. Gauthier added: “While it is hard to make this choice because of some existing customers’ love of our classic French meat and fish dishes, actually it is customers driving this move. For example our ‘Les Plantes’ vegan tasting menu gift cards now outsell classic tasting menu gift cards by 2:1. I think we will have to just slowly convince our beloved regulars.”
But Gauthier, who in 2013 released a recipe book called Vegetronic, has for a long time nurtured his own reputation for privileging vegetables, at least within the milieu of French fine-dining in London.
Gauthier detailed his rationale, highlighting the following key points:
• What he called “the fundamental futility of the industry’s approach to sustainability, namely meat production and use in restaurant menus.”
Asked what specifically about sustainability elsewhere irked him and if he believed it to be a ruse, he told Eater:
I don’t think it’s a ruse, I think people are genuinely concerned and want to do the right thing. But it’s like we are all living in denial. It’s good for business to be seen to be doing something, like supporting small scale farming, rearing animals with less antibiotics and space to live. But deep inside we all know that it’s not how the animals are farmed, but the fact we are farming them in the first place. If we really wanted to be sustainable we would stop eating meat altogether. It’s very simple.
• He also claimed that “we are living on the brink of a global environmental catastrophe,” saying that livestock farming is “the single biggest contributing factor.” Restaurants, he said, were responsible for setting an example. “We have the chance to make being conscientious an exciting thing to do,” he added.
And yet, the environmental argument has been refuted by some analysts, who say that there is such a thing as sustainable farming, and it is commercial agriculture that remains the real issue.
Eater asked Gauthier why chefs can’t just use minimal meat and fish and source only from ‘certified’ environmentally conscientious farmers — or whether, indeed, he believed there was no such thing. He said:
I’m sure there will always be some people who what to eat animals, and make cheese and butter etc. Don’t get me wrong, I am French and I know only too well the deliciousness of butter! And of course in a perfect world, there will be some wonderful farmers who keep cows with love like their own children, taking milk only when they are on a natural lactation cycle and making cheese which will taste like heaven and hopefully be worth more per kilo than white truffles.
But unfortunately the world is driven by greed, and desire for profit creates hell for the vast majority of animals in the world.
My standpoint is to give people no reason to want to eat that £1 chicken in the first place. If a classically trained French chef can be vegan, then believe me, anyone can. The only thing I have is creativity and my little restaurant in central London to showcase it. Hopefully this can help people make a move in the right direction.
• Gauthier hopes he can use his “incredibly fortunate” platform — as a chef with a central London restaurant, independent and without backers — “to forge new ground in the creation of plant-based eating.”
• He says for the last six months, the “creative sector” of the Gauthier kitchen has moved away from meat, fish and dairy and “focussed 100 percent on developing plant-based dishes.”
• He said that as young chef from Avignon, it was always in London that he dreamed he would live — “because of its unresting creativity and enthusiasm for the new and exciting.”
In conclusion, he urged the industry to join him in helping make London the “creative centre of plant-based eating and dining,” — as “when London creates, as with music, art and fashion,” he said, “the world follows.”