‘Would I go vegan? Over my dead body’
In the past decade, veganism has been transformed from a niche diet to a lifestyle backed by everyone from Beyonce to JME. But high-end dining hasn’t quite made peace with it. Where would the world’s top restaurants be without their fine cuts of meat and decadent dishes made using eggs, butter and cream?
It might surprise you, then, that top chefs are more open to veganism than you might think — at least when eating at home — when asked if they would adopt the lifestyle. They can’t ignore that veganism, when done right, can be healthier than other lifestyles and better for the environment.
Other chefs we asked were understandably less willing to float the idea of cutting out all animal products from their diets, from eggs to cheese. The sacrifice was just too much to bear.
Helena Poulakka is the executive chef at London’s Nordic-French restaurant Aster
Hamish Brown, the group executive chef of Japanese-inspired restaurant Roka
Yes quite easily, I currently eat meat only once a month (outside of work) and have a heavily plant based diet I do eat a lot seafood, however. Mmmmm sashimi.
Paul Wedgwood is head chef and co-owner of Wedgwood in Edinburgh, which specalises in Scottish produce with occasional Asian touches
For an experiment I went vegan for a day. Some friends of mine were recently over from Australia and one is a vegan, however when in certain situations she will eat everything so when she came for dinner at Wedgwood she ordered my meat and fish tasting menu.
She tried and enjoyed everything. I was so impressed with her attitude that the following day I spent the day as a vegan, which was also surprisingly nice — but I don’t think I would do it full time.
Daniel Fletcher, head chef at Fenchurch Restaurant, in Sky Garden, London
No, I really couldn’t. I have too much love for all food groups. I just couldn’t live without dairy, meat and fish.
Simon Rogan is chef and owner of L’Enclume and Rogan & Co in Cumbria
Yes, I could! I am virtually there now. I definitely believe it is important for our environment to eat as many organic vegetables as possible.
Shrimoyee Chakraborty is the owner of the Calcutta Street Bengali restaurant
I really love fish and meat. It’s a huge part of my diet, so I don’t think I could do it. I absolutely understand the motivation behind it though, so there could be a chance for me in five or ten years time when lab-grown meats and almost-identical alternatives are available from every supplier. Maybe that is the future of veganism.
Joey O’Hare, 2015 MasterChef the Professional contestant and Young British Foodie nominee
Yes! Although perhaps with the exception of eggs…I would say I unintentionally eat a vegan diet most of the time and I took part in “veganuary” this year and thoroughly enjoyed it. For me the key was incorporating as many fermented foods as possible, their complexity of flavour is vegan food’s closest ally, it adds flavour dimensions otherwise often lacking.
Tilesh Chudasama, founder and chef at London’s Indian street food restaurant Chai Naasto
Of course! But I don’t feel ready to make that commitment just yet. It’s never been easier to be vegan. It used to be regarded as ‘a hippy thing’ at best or an object of ridicule at worst. However, society’s attitude and tolerance towards dietary exclusions has evolved significantly and veganism has flourished.
As a young Indian, I loved challenging people’s perceptions of vegetarianism. Many Indians are vegetarian for religious reasons and have an incredibly varied and fulfilling diet. I think vegans feel that passion for veganism. The vegans I know are devoted to what they believe in and consider it to be a way of life, which is something I respect. They inspire me to reach out of my comfort-zone. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be ready to go the full hog!
Lee Skeet runs a self-titled pop-up restaurant. He is based in Cornwall
I don’t think I could. I love fish and meat too much. I respect people’s choice to be vegan but I don’t agree. 90 per cent of my meat and fish is wild, and I use one sheep farmer, one duck farmer and one beef farmer who are incredible producers. I am committed to my sourcing 100 per cent. I had a debate with two vegans I know recently who insisted that it was impossible for me to serve animals or even eat eggs from my mate’s free range pet chicken without those animals being tortured. But these vegans had a pet hamster in a cage, and had eaten meat for over 20 years before recently stopping.
I believe that if you do something you do it with your full conviction. I couldn’t commit to being a vegan so I commit to sourcing responsibly and working with producers I trust.
Ani Arora, the head chef at Nirvana Kitchen, an Asian fusion restaurant in London
I love my fruits and veggies and I have been contemplating that I would be vegan during the week and let go over the weekends.
Claudio Cardoso, executive chef of Japanese-Brazilian-Peruvia fusion restaurant Sushisamba in London
I actually have been vegan for a long period and try to be vegan as much as possible during the week. It’s great for the mind, body and environment.
Eric Guignard, the head chef at The French Table in Surbiton
No. I am a Frenchman. I have too much love for butter and cheese.
Andrew Dargue, the head chef of vegetarian restaurant Vanilla Black in London
To be honest I never thought I would say this but, yes. It’s seen by many as a natural progression after being a vegetarian but there are obvious reasons for this. As time moves on it seems rather alien to consume milk from another mammal.
Tom Cenci, executive head chef of Duck & Waffle, London which specialises in British cuisine with continental European influences
No, I could probably live without meat and fish for a while but not having dairy and eggs would kill me. Eggs are the staple of a lot recipes and I just like cheese too much.