PLANT-BASED MEAT AS A TREAT
No matter which philosophy you have regarding eating meat, you should get used to the fact that classic meat goes out of style. Do you think it’s an overkill? Maybe, but the fact is that, after the United States, “vegetable meat” (sounds like a typical oxymoron, right) has arrived to Europe, and through a big door – the fast food one.
By Velimir Cindric
In January, Kentucky Fried Chicken, the world’s most famous fast food chain dedicated to chicken, launched vegan chicken sandwiches, more specifically “quorn”, a meat substitute available in Europe in 18 countries. Quorn brand products are mainly based on an ingredient called mycoprotein, which is obtained from a dried fungus mixed with egg white or potato proteins. In this case, the Quorn chicken product is flavored with KFC’s own herbal mixtures and spices.
The trend, of course, started in the United States and first conquered fast food chains, from Burger King’s “Impossible” whoppers to Dunkin Donat’s “Beyond Meat”. By the end of the last year even McDonald’s tested Beyond’s burger in some of its locations in Canada. But a much subtler revolution, as I will soon explain, is also happening at the high-end of the restaurant world – in leading fine dining restaurants from whose menus beef, pork, lamb and poultry are disappearing at fast rate.
However, vegetable burgers are not made for vegans and vegetarians. Quorn, Beyond Meat, Impossibe Foods and other companies that produce meat alternatives that mimic beef, chicken or, say, sausages are targeting a completely different type of customer – flexitarians. Is this the first time you hear that expression? You’re not alone. The term is used to describe the rapidly growing number of consumers trying to reduce the amount of meat they eat, mostly for health and environmental reasons.
For example, game-changing OmniPork, is designed to be an all-purpose plant-based pork. Analogue that is nutritional superior and environmentally friendly. OmniPork is an all-purpose solution of Green Monday, as a diversified and innovative social enterprise model, to promote shifting to plant-based diet as a crucial mean to tackle global warming and food insecurity.
Thanks in part to the popularity of the meat-free products of the aforementioned companies, as many as 55 of the top 100 U.S. restaurant chains in 2018 offered main courses made with vegetable meats, the number rising in 2019 and 2020. The United States are followed by Britain, where Beyond burgers are gaining popularity at traditional English pubs. Although Beyond Meat and Impossible Food are leading the trend, other players are joining the game, led by giants like Kelogg and Nestlé. All in all, plant-based meat sales increased more than 30% during the last year.
The health and environmental reasons reach to the personal levels, so many chefs themselves eat healthier and more conscious. At the same time they do not want to subject their guests to heavy protein. Instead, they offer highly creative dishes of, say, root vegetables and mushrooms instead of expensive Japanese steaks.
For example, 55-year-old Chef Dominique Crenn (Atelier Crenn, three Michelin stars, 35th on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, World’s Best Chef 2016) announced in November that her three restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area would become “meatless”, just like her soon to open Café Boutique Crenn. At the same time, Dominique, who says that she is “not a vegetarian but a climate change activist”, is not a fan of “substitute” meat. Instead, at Atelier Crenn she offers dishes such as oysters with bernaise sauce, while her casual Petit Crenn’s menu lists dishes such as French blood sausage containing squid and squid ink instead of pork and pig’s blood.
On the other side of the globe, the Moscow’s Twins Garden restaurant, ranked no. 19 at the latest list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, the empire of identical twin brothers Ivan and Sergey Berezutsky, is also catching on. Twins Garden offers two different tasting menus with dishes based on ingredients from the restaurant’s own farm near Moscow – a classic one with vegetables, fish and meat and the strictly vegetable one which has already reached a legendary status.
The latter one, which I have tasted in November during the second edition of the Twins Garden Food Festival, contains dishes such as Tomato Life Cycle, Potato Mozzarella with Dandelion Buds, Courgette Flowers Filled with Mushrooms, Sea and Land, Wine Leaf Kebab, Potato Choice, Ecosystem, Sun/Time, Dry Aged Cabbage, Dry Aged Sea-buckthorn, Green Tomato (dessert), Vegetable Sweets…, all meat-free delicacies.
Today, the Berezutsky brothers are the leaders of post-Soviet cuisine, more precisely its avant-garde wing, and their vegetable “wines” have propelled their restaurant among the most interesting ones in the world. Using the same process as for traditional grape wines, they produce small batches of tomato, carrot, parsnip, rhubarb, leek, dandelion… wines to pair them with their vegetable tasting menu. This menu is so original and unique that 80% of Twins Garden guests order it today. It is obvious that the meatless trend is spreading all over the world.
In August 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called for a 50 percent reduction in meat consumption to save the planet, and was supported by famed Michelin star record holder Chef Alain Ducasse. Ducasse encourages all colleagues to start cooking with respect for the nature and resources of Earth. To stand behind his words, Ducasse (who like so many top chefs is not a fan of plant-based meat) has completely removed meat from the menu of his Parisian restaurant Alain Ducasse at Plaza Athénée, now offering only three main foods – fish, vegetables and seeds. However, not without trouble.
In my recent meeting with Denis Courtiade, manager of Alain Ducasse at Plaza Athénée and the author of recently published memoires „Pour vous servir“ (out in October 2019), told me:
„When we changed our philosophy and approach to food in 2014, we have removed tablecloths from the tables and meat from the menu. We now offer only three things as the basis of the meal – fish, vegetables and seeds. We also reduced the use of fat, salt, sugar… No meat and no tablecloths! So, quite a big challenge for the restaurant. What was the reaction of the regular guests? I can say it was a shock, a real nightmare for them. For six months it was a pure hell. But now things have improved and people have accepted our new direction”.
Even conservative New York is changing. Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, an old vegetable-based food promoter who opened his vegetarian fine dining restaurant ABCV back in 2016, last summer offered a vegetarian tasting menu at his flagship restaurant Jean Georges near Central Park, claiming the move was made to accommodate his guests’ demands. This January he has also added a pairing of dishes with natural juices, such as celery with green peppers or kombucha. And it works. Vongerichten’s meatless option has seen a 45% increase in demand.
However, not everyone is jumping “no-meat” trend. Laurent Gras, chef at the famed Saison restaurant in San Francisco, cut down on protein, but still serves meat on his tasting menu, claiming that meatless trend is a failure and that it greatly limits the guest’s experience.
Still, the change is irretrievably coming from the bottom of the restaurant pyramid. Now Starbucks is also introducing its vegetable-based breakfast sandwich.
The Seattle-based coffee-based chain enriched its breakfast menu with this item in February, for now just in its U.S. and Canadian outlets. The news builds on Starbucks’ previous plans to offer more plant-based foods and beverages, an initiative largely driven by the company’s goals for increasing sustainability.
Europe catches up too, and even at the most unlikeliest of places. The modern German brewery and gastronomic pub Johann Schäfer in Cologne started serving vegetarian or vegan main courses such as smoked or roasted vegetables that are “as satisfying and delicious as any meat”. Specifically, the next generation of gastro pubs meets the needs of more food trends – the demand for fresh natural foods and ethical standards in terms of sustainability and resource efficiency. Experts call this trend “healthy hedonism”.