Interview: Alexis Gauthier, from Gauthier Soho
This Michelin-starred chef believes in the power of creativity and new flavour combinations to excite and inspire customers to eat a more plant-focused plate. The Future Plates team asked him a few questions.
In your opinion, Alexis, what are the biggest issues that will impact the way that we cook and eat in the near future?
“For many years I have been promoting vegetables as the star of the dish. I even wrote a book about it — Vegetronic. This is something I really believe in and I think that as chefs we have the opportunity to rewrite the rules of vegetables to make them exciting for adults and children, and for shoppers when they go to the supermarket.
I do this on a daily basis; 75% of my menu is vegetarian, and 25% is vegan. As a chef I have to sell what people want to eat, and most people are not quite ready for 100% vegan just yet — but people are moving with us, and they come for meat less and less.
I think that one day veganism will be mainstream — because we are starting to realise now that when we kill a pig, it has the same IQ as three-year-old child.”
When it comes to the subject of protein specifically, what do you find to be the most compelling case for changing the way we think about animal products?
“My menu reflects my personal journey. The main issue for me is that I don’t want to eat animals — it sounds stupid, but they want to love and have babies.
We have to go back to basics. There are other arguments for not eating animal products but they are complicated. The bottom line is there is no reason for us to eat meat and fish — we can find everything we need in plants.
I am a French chef — classically trained with foie gras and other things like that. But the older I get the more sure I feel about this.”
What do you think the role of a chef is in changing the food habits of the public, if any?
“As chefs, we have to rewrite the rules of food. We have to make vegetables and plants exciting — and the rules of eating have to be rewritten without meat and fish as the basics upon which we normally create dishes. I am constantly trying to put my creativity to good use, always thinking about this.
We have to start from the beginning — create new flavour combinations rather than recreate what we have been doing but with vegetables. I think about it all the time.
For the next generation, I don’t want to sell them fake burgers — that’s is rubbish. Instead we must entice them with new combinations of flavours and ingredients. It will take one or two generations but if we work hard we will do it and then leave animals in peace.”
Which chefs do you look to for inspiration? Specifically when it comes to great plant-based cooking, who inspires you?
“Most chefs now are moving away from meat meat meat and fish fish fish. It is becoming quite common amongst modern chefs — Raymond Blanc and Alain Ducasse, for example, are pushing more towards vegetables and grains. I also look to Bruno Loubet.
More plant-based dishes should not just be a question of fashion — we have to make them delicious so that they become the norm. I am now serving dishes that I would never have dreamt of ten years ago. Strawberries in starters, for instance — it may sound disgusting but we have to rethink flavour combinations.
This winter one of my favourite dishes was roasted parsnips with vegetable broth, cinnamon and grapes — I never imagined I would serve anything like this. It was beautiful and comforting — and the way we need to go.
I talk to other chefs about this and I ask them to come and see what I am doing — like Phil Howard, from Babylon at the Kensington Roof Gardens, who came and tried the vegetarian menu with his children. And Bruce Poole, head chef at Chef Bruce, has been too.
Things are changing. I spend time telling the chefs in my kitchen things like we need to replace egg white with natural things — chickpea water, for instance. Sometimes they think I am crazy.
The main question is when are we going to stop eating meat? Ultimately we need to step away from eating animals, not just because it’s better for us, but because they are not here to be eaten. It won’t happen in my lifetime but I will have sowed the seeds.”