Restaurant that used to serve foie gras to go fully vegan after pressure from activists

Restaurant that used to serve foie gras to go fully vegan after pressure from activists
A dish from the vegan tasting menu (Picture: Gauthier Soho)

A French fine dining restaurant in London has announced plans to go fully vegan, after pressure from activists caused the owner to rethink his menu.

Gauthier Soho used to serve foie gras – a luxury food is made by force-feeding geese and ducks so that their livers expand – until animal rights organisation PETA protested in October 2015.

(Foie gras is now illegal to produce in the UK, but it can be imported.)

Chef-patron Alexis Gauthier saw the light and took the item off the menu, with the restaurant continuing to serve meat and fish.

But not for much longer.

Gauthier – who himself is now vegan – has announced his plans to make the restaurant fully vegan within 18 months to to years, making a gradual shift to a plant-based menu, with the chef only focusing on new vegan dishes from now on.

He made the announcement at industry event Restaurant Congress earlier this month, saying: I can cook what Ive been taught for next 25 years and make money, but do I really want to carry on ignoring whats happening?

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The restaurant has had a vegetarian tasting menu since 1997, which turned vegan in 2016, winning PETAs Best Vegan Menu award at their Vegan Food Awards that same year.

Alexis Gauthier
Alexis Gauthier (Picture: Gauthier Soho)

Has Gauthier had any backlash from omnivore customers about the decision?

No backlash, Gauthier tells today.

Our fundamental philosophy is to give our customers what they want, and the prediction is based on demand. We have many long term regulars who it will be difficult to suddenly remove their favourite fillet of beef or roasted scallops, of course. We are not going to do anything sudden. We will always serve our beloved regulars.

It is my belief that people eat these things because they are programmed after years of having no other option which is as delicious. The really exciting thing is when you give people a wonderful dinner which has no animal in it, and they tell you they are just as satisfied.

You would be really amazed at the amount of carnivore guests who find themselves choosing a plant-based dish without even thinking now.

Vegan dish at Gauthier Soho
Vegan dish at Gauthier Soho (Picture: Gauthier Soho)

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When asked if he thinks theres a misconception that fine dining cant be vegan, Gauthier responds that he thinks people have a misconception of fine dining in the first place.

The real spirit of hospitality is to give guests what they want, not what you want to cook, he explains.

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So if a party comes to your restaurant and requests vegan food, as a restaurateur you should do everything you can to please them, with good grace.

For us, it was the customers who have made us take this direction. More and more people were asking for vegan tasting menus, vegan courses, so we have answered them.

So is there a misconception that fine dining cant be vegan? A little, yes, because for so long nobody was really doing it. These days its very different, and being specific about what you want to eat is normal now. Almost every party will almost certainly have a vegetarian, a pescetarian, a vegan, gluten free, all sorts.

Following his decision to stop serving foie gras, Gauthier actually created a vegan version of the dish with BOSH!, using lentils, walnuts, shallots.

He says his faux gras served on toasted bread is actually better than foie gras.

Find out more about Gauthier Sohos vegan vision on its website.

What are the most important parts of creating a new vegan dish?

Seasonality is paramount for us, even more with vegan menus as 99% of ingredients are seasonal, says Gauthier.

Meat and fish is not seasonal at all really if you think about it, just the things it is flavoured with. Also Ive discovered the vegan palate is more complex and delicate, and simply cannot handle strong flavours out of season. The harmony doesnt work.

Texture – its no good having just bowl after bowl of slop. We look hard at creating exciting dishes which juxtapose crunch, softness, sharpness versus creaminess, acidity versus sweetness.

Colour is also hugely important. I think about why vegetables and plants are made in such bright colours, my theory is to attract animals to eat them! And nature is so good at placement, better than any interior designer or artist ever.

You only have to look at a wild hedgerow or meadow to see a perfect sprinkling and composition of colours, balanced perfectly all year round. Its amazing. So we try and use the complimentary colours you would find in the wild.

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