It seems appropriate to talk about Veganuary, as everyone else is. Even my spellcheck has the word in the system now. It seems to me that the whole plant-based diet is no longer a fad but more a day to day reality.
As I type this, it has just been announced that sales of meat-free foods have grown 40% since 2014, rising from £582m to an estimated £816m last year. This is certainly no longer a fad!
At bartlett mitchell, we have lots of brilliant chefs who work alongside two very hands-on and talented consultant chefs who know a thing or two about good food. The two are really helping us shift our views and looking at plant-based food differently. I was fortunate enough to eat at Trinity restaurant by Adam Byatt this week, he is our longest standing consultant chef and inspirer. I noticed that I never actually think of his non-meat menu items as being vegan/vegetarian, I just think – ‘wow there is another great dish – what shall I choose?’
To me, this is what it should actually be all about.
The philosophy of Andrew Dargue (who is our other consultant chef) at vegan/vegetarian Vanilla Black is another source of inspiration for us. Andrew feels that plant-based menu items should stand up in their own right as great dishes. I love how both chefs inspire our team to just focus on great ingredients, great flavour and amazing presentation and not on its ‘label’. I personally like to think of it that way. It makes more sense.
I was talking to an Italian friend of mine about the phenomenon of Veganuary who was telling me that, in Italy, meat is traditionally seen as a bit of a treat, and is used for special occasions rather than the core of most daily dishes. Of course, Italians are much more into fish, it’s a bigger feature and is consumed 2-3 times a week. This just doesn’t fit in most UK household habits, which is amazing considering we are an island surrounded by water!! What struck me was that in the UK we traditionally come from a meat and two veg base and there is an expectation that this is in every meal.
We expect big portions of meat and to be able to buy it at ridiculously cheap prices. This is a real issue for caterers as it had traditionally formed the bulk of meals, but we now know that it shouldn’t.
What we should perhaps be doing is moving meat down the pecking order.
Give a vegetarian meal the first thought when menu planning rather than the last. There’s a need to change attitudes. People need to stop thinking of it as a chore and something to fit a few people. It’s now becoming what the majority of people want.
I don’t also really get the need to have ‘meat replacement’ menu items – vegan steak or sausages just seem all wrong. I know from what I see from our chefs, plant-based foods can be incredible.
One thing I do know is that the vegetarian offer in contract catering – where we have to continually innovate, attract and inspire customers with daily changing menus – is in my (& my vegetarian/vegan friends) opinion far superior to what is offered, in the main, on the high street. Our sector is leading the way.
At conferences and functions, in particular, I have witnessed some shocking dishes – I’m not sure the chefs have truly thought about what ingredients can be used – other than goats cheese or risotto or pathetic attempts at a last minute pasta! I always feel sorry for my vegetarian colleagues.
Veganuary has certainly reinforced the fact that us caterers need to stop thinking of plant-based meals as a last thought, or something to be endured in menu planning. Caterers need to give non-meat based dishes the first billing!