Why it's time to take plant-based seriously
Updated: Feb 21, 2019
Every chef, and every restaurant, needs to be getting ahead of this trend - it's here to stay.
Let's imagine a scenario...
10 friends are going out for dinner - let's say it's to celebrate a birthday. Most of them are going to have 3 courses. There's going to be quite a big drinks spend. Conservatively this table could be worth £500 - £600 to your restaurant. But here's the thing - statistically, one of these 10 guests is now likely to be eating plant based - so if you don't have appealing enough options on your menu for that person, the whole table is likely to pick somewhere else to eat. Failing to cater to that one person's taste has lost you that business. And word gets around...
Unless you're fortunate enough to be fully booked every night, putting serious thought into your meat-and-dairy-free dishes could be the difference between a full restaurant or empty tables.
Plant-based is not just for vegans
Increasing numbers of people are looking to eat plant-based, at least some of the time. As well as a growing number of committed vegans, more and more people are reducing meat and dairy consumption generally, choosing to eat meat just once or twice a week, for example (the so-called flexitarian diet).
On average, 1 in 10 people now actively avoid meat. More than double that (20%) if you take the sample in London, and 3 times (more than 30%) if you ask young people, below the age of 35. These people are your customers - and if you're not giving them options, you can be certain your competition is.
There are lots of factors driving this trend - from increasing concerns around animal welfare to the growing power of instagram influencers hashtagging everything with #cleaneating - but perhaps the most important is a growing acceptance that the modern western diet, high in animal proteins and processed foods, is harmful to the environment and bad for our health.
Climate change is the single biggest issue our planet faces - and one of the biggest ways people can help to tackle it is by switching to a plant-based diet, or by at least minimising the amount of meat and dairy produce they consume.
As chefs, we have a responsibility
Sure, we have to respond to the needs of our customers, and if we don't they'll just vote with their feet and their wallets and take their business elsewhere - but more than that we have a responsibility to lead by example and to educate people about food, and to carry out our craft in a way that minimises our own impact on the environment.
I'm not saying that every chef should stop cooking meat or fish, or using dairy products - although if you do use animal produce you should be taking every step possible to ensure it is ethically and sustainably sourced - what I am saying is that you have a responsibility, as well as a business imperative, to take plant based seriously.
Sustainability has been a watch-word in this industry for a long time. We bang on about seasonality, and showcasing great produce - surely plant-based cooking is just the natural conclusion of these trends? If we can't take great, local, seasonal produce from our farms - plant produce - and create stunning dishes from it that our customers love without adding animal protein - can we even call ourselves chefs?
Thinking plant-based will make you a better chef
Have an honest look at the vegan and vegetarian options on your own menu. How good are they - really? Good enough that you'd choose them over any of the other dishes on there? How much thought and work went into them? How much love?
If you can honestly appraise your current offering, and know that you've really embraced this plant-based trend, and that you've got things on there so good that they're tempting the occasional carnivore away from their steak - good on you! Well done! You're in the minority. If however, what your'e offering vegans is a soup, a salad and a pasta dish, you've got a long way to go.
Creativity is the chef's gift. Making great food from great produce is our craft. That shouldn't change just because you take animal produce out of the equation - in fact it should make you raise your game. It should inspire you to work that much harder, and to be that much more creative. It's a challenge to you to think outside the usual parameters and elevate humble vegetables to be the stars of your dishes - if not the stars of your menu.
Think about all the great sauces and spices and seasonings you can use to pack flavour into dishes. Think about all the different colours and textures you can get onto a plate. Think about all the different techniques of cooking, preserving and pickling you can use to change how foods look and taste. Think of all these and start applying them to humble veg. Then start bringing in all the different nuts and grains and seeds... you've got an abundance of ingredients for incredible plant-based dishes already at your fingertips!
Start challenging yourself to think about plant-based menu options this way, and you may quickly find that all your dishes improve as you up your garnish game and innovate more with everything you cook.
Lets imagine a scenario...
10 friends go out to eat... and they book a table at your restaurant because one of them is vegan and your plant-based menu options are by far the best around. Word gets around...
Pretty soon you've got an extra 1 or 2 tables a week of business from people who are either committed plant-based eaters, or who are just looking to cut their meat and dairy consumption some of the time. Maybe another table a week from people who are drawn in by your improved sustainability credentials... or the fact that your menu as a whole is starting to look a bit more modern, and a bit more innovative. Word gets around...
What difference would an extra couple of tables every week make to your business?