Meat is often a staple of fine dining. But these chefs are going plant-based — and they say it's the future.
- For ages, meat has been a staple of
fine dining. But some chefs are trading it out for plant-based plates.
- Some chefs are going all-vegan, while others are trimming down the meat menu.
Stepping foot into Chef Matthew Kenney's restaurant off the trendy thoroughfare of Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, California, your palette might prepare itself for poached salmon or an expertly cooked steak. But Kenney's restaurant, Plant
"Raw Heirloom Tomato & Zucchini Lasagna," one of Kenney's signature menu items, comes with pistachio pesto, sun-dried tomato marinara, and macadamia ricotta. "Trumpet Mushroom" comes with bean, endive, plum, sunchoke and chermoula. "Celeriac" has polenta, cauliflower and mushroom.
Kenney, whose restaurants have been vegan since inception, launched his first restaurant in 1999. He now has more than 45 vegan restaurants globally, many of which focus on fine dining — a plant-only experience that delights the senses and looks artful while doing so.
While Kenney has been building his plant-based dining empire — which goes beyond restaurants and now includes cooking courses, books, ready-made-meals, and more — there's been a groundswell of fine-dining chefs, many Michelin-rated, who are taking a play from Kenney's book and putting planet-friendly ingredients at the center of the plate: plants.
Alexis Gauthier is one chef who pivoted away from meat to go all-in on plant-based fine dining. He founded Gauthier Soho in London in 2010, and shortly after earned his Michelin star, lauded for classic dishes like foie gras. But in a surprising turn, Gauthier transitioned to an entirely vegan restaurant during the pandemic.
Gauthier told Insider he used the pandemic closure to reinvent his classic French gastronomy as plant-based. Gauthier Soho now draws vegan-food-curious customers who order caviar made from kelp and charcoal topped with a vegan sour cream and pomme purée. There's also Pithivier d'été, a take on classic savory puffed pastry dish made with mushrooms rather than red meat.
"It was a huge gamble, because Gauthier Soho was seen as a temple of French gastronomy," Gauthier said, acknowledging the fear of losing his Michelin star — and more importantly, losing customers. What Gauthier did lose, though, he regained in revitalized energy and a new crop of diners who come from all over to experience his plant-based French gastronomy.
Another risk-taker who believes the future of dining is plant-based is Chef Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park in New York City. Humm went from a menu riddled with what one might traditionally associate with fine dining — duck, lobster, sea urchin, beef tenderloin — to eggplant, beets, and a long list of vegetables, manipulated into carefully plated art-driven dishes. The restaurant commands $335 for a five-course menu.
Chef Claire Vallée of ONA, a restaurant in France that has been vegan since its inception in 2016, recently earned her first Michelin star. ONA, which stands for "Origine Non-Animale," is representative of new-age gastronomical-focused chefs aiming to reframe how people think about and experience fine dining.
While some chefs aren't going all-vegan, they're de-emphasizing meat and propping up plants to take center stage. Three-starred-Michelin French chef Dominique Crenn, along with her highly regarded Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, ditched land animals back in 2019.
Geranium, a Denmark-based restaurant whose namesake regularly appeared on best-of restaurants and also carries three Michelin stars, is another recent meat defector. Chef Rasmus Kofoed announced in November 2021 that the restaurant would focus on plant-based dishes and fish, banishing land-animal meat from its menu.
"The menu is a reflection of me, of who I am and how I am evolving as a chef and as a human being," Kofoed said in an Instagram post announcing the transition. "I haven't been eating meat for the last five years at home, so to no longer use meat on the new menu was a logical decision and a natural progression for Geranium. From my perspective, change is good, we grow from it, we learn from it, we step out of our comfort zone and often we benefit from it."
Ravi DeRossi is a longtime player in the New York dining scene, whose namesake is associated with high-end cocktail bars like Death & Co. His establishments epitomize New York's swanky drinking and dining scene.
Over the years, DeRossi has been working on a reinvention of his restaurant group to move in an entirely vegan direction. For example, Avant Garden in New York's East Village — which was opened as a vegan restaurant in 2015 — is the most upscale dining in his portfolio. It's a wonderland of plant-based food that encapsulates DeRossi's vision as an ethical and mission-driven restaurant and bar group.
Like DeRossi, Gauthier is firm in his values and beliefs and has a fervent commitment to making sure people experience plant-based dining at its best.
"Chefs can see the direction I am taking," Gauthier said. "I talk to a lot of chefs, and they agree with me that the future is plant-based. Whether they are ready to take the leap … maybe they are not quite as brave as I am."
What Gauthier and his chef peers agree on, even if their executions may differ, is the need to dissociate fine-dining with meat-centric dishes. Plant-food visionary chefs like Kenney, Gauthier, and the rest are proving that if you build it — and build it well — diners will come.
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