"Behind each piece of meat there had been a living, breathing, hopping animal": Alexis Gauthier goes green

By Georgia Bronte

- Last updated on GMT

"Behind each piece of meat there had been a living, breathing, hopping animal": Alexis Gauthier on vegan
Alexis Gauthier, chef-patron, Gauthier Soho, on why his fine-dining French restaurant is going vegan.

Gauthier was speaking at Restaurant magazine's Restaurant Congress last month.

I am a French trained chef, I worked in classical French restaurant where meat and fish were just tools for us to cook French food – I never realised that behind each piece of meat or fillet of fish there had been a living, breathing, hopping animal.

In 2015 I had a very bad experience with [animal rights charity] PETA, who targeted our restaurant because we were selling 20kg of foie gras each week. There were demonstrations in front of the restaurant and I was upset because they were saying I was a horrible person because I was using foie gras. Then I thought about it and started to listen to what people had to say about the suffering of animals and thought ‘what am I here for? Is this really the future?

I told my staff to divide the menu into a vegan offering and a non-vegan offering. We offered a tasting menu of vegan dishes and things started to change – people were coming more for my vegan menu so we started to move away from our meat and fish focus. Now 75% of our menu is vegan, and 25% is non vegan. If anything our customer numbers have gone up and we are attracting a lot more young people. We are a classical French restaurant looking after people celebrating their 60th birthdays, and this is unsustainable. We are now serving younger, more dynamic and forward-thinking customers.

I have decided we will not be creating any more new dishes involving meat and fish or things with eggs and butter - our pure creativity has to lie with veganism. It was a bit of a shock to our chefs, as you can imagine. These are people who have worked in Michelin-starred restaurants for a long time and learnt to cook with meat.

We now spend our days working out how to create delicious food people will come back for. It’s easy to do some very now dishes that reflect veganism in 2018, but as a chef we have a duty to create something truly delicious so when people decide to stop eating meat they can come and be convinced that a perfectly braised slice of celeriac correctly seasoned in a beautiful broth is as good as a boeuf bourguignon, which is a challenge as a chef. But I don’t want the next generation to look back at me and say ‘with your knowledge and creativity, why didn’t you look into veganism?’

Within 18 months to two years we will hopefully be 100% vegan. It’s a soft landing, with every service getting closer. I want to do it tomorrow, but the  day I decide that’s it, then that’s it. People will know there will be no impact on animals when they come into our restaurant. We are going from serving 20kg of foie gras every week five years ago  to having no impact on animals, which I think is wonderful.

There are 15 chefs in my kitchen and hopefully the day they leave they will have the same feeling. When my waiters present the faux foir gras they are proud to say it is a French delicacy with no pain - it is made with mushrooms, lentils and cognac and created to look like a pâté. They will ask [their next employer] what do you do for veganism? I have a duty to convince the people I work with about this.

We charge £75 for a tasting menu free of any animals. People say ‘why am I paying that much for carrots and celeriac?’ They are paying for my creativity, and for me to convince my chefs to learn to respect the white asparagus as much as they would have respected a fillet of beef. It is so much harder to impress with a carrot starter and celeriac carpaccio than a beautiful langoustine that didn’t ask to be caught.

I have a duty to tell you we can’t help but go vegan in the future. It might take one, two or three generations, but we have to make it very exciting. That’s our job as chefs.”

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