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Food & Drink

High gastronomy: vegetarianism is booming

Ever increasingly available in star chefs’ menus, vegetarianism is not only about a few nicely prepared steamed vegetables. Far from that, it offers a land of endless creativity combining local ingredients and refinement.

Fabio Bonavita

By Fabio Bonavita14 janvier 2021

In 1989, when inaugurating his vegetarian gastronomic restaurant “Le Joia” in Milan, Pietro Leemann felt alone. Three decades later, things have changed. “Back then, almost no one knew about vegetarianism, and even fewer knew about its positive effects on health. I had to invent a cuisine that simply did not exist. Today, it has become a lifestyle that aims at respecting the planet and animals. You are what you eat. There’s a philosophical approach to it.” To understand this philosophy, the chef travelled to Asia and discovered the foundations of Zen Buddhism and Taoism. Those journeys helped him gain confidence in his beliefs: “For these religions, it is natural not to eat animal flesh. I have also noticed that eastern vegetarian recipes were very elaborate, as all restaurants offer this type of cuisine, from a cheap canteen to a gastronomic table. In Italy however, to not eat meat was often left to the poor, who only ate polenta and vegetables. In 2021, it has become trendy. I think that in ten years, 80% of the dishes served in restaurants will be vegetarian.”

Pietro Leemann is considered as one of the forerunners of vegetarian high gastronomy. (Lucio Elio)

Lyon-style success

A shift to which Pietro Leemann has greatly contributed, considering he was the first European chef to be granted a Michelin star in 1996 for his vegetarian cuisine. He has been on the map since then, just like Adrien Zedda, a young prodigy who participated in the show “Objectif Top Chef” in France. In 2016, the 25-year-old chef opened Culina Hortus, the first gastronomic restaurant to be 100% vegetarian in Lyon, the capital of pork-based products. No one dared, yet he did it. “I work just like my other colleagues, except I use neither meat nor fish”, he likes to remind proudly. And he has been successful. Apart from the closures due to sanitary measures, clients are lining up to discover a generous menu: white bean fricassee, herb-backed celeriac in thyme butter, mashed pumpkins, vegetal pie or even marinated mango in olive oil. Regarding the prices, they remain aligned to those of meat or fish-based recipes.

Le Joia in Milan offers refined and creative vegetal recipes. (Andrea Gilberti)

Increasing demand

The star chef Philippe Chevrier from the Domaine de Châteauvieux has noticed an increasing demand from his clients, while not shifting completely to vegetarianism: “We have been offering vegetarian menus for 35 years, as part of our service is to adapt to culinary requirements demanded by our clientele, according to different cultures, religions and eating habits. Vegetarian offers have always been part of our cuisine. We know that when a group of eight guests books a table, you have to expect an order that is not necessarily homogenous according to each and everyone’s desires. For two years, we have been participating as ambassadors in the Veggie Week operation. An event that promotes vegetarianism in the most beautiful establishments of Switzerland, and which conveys the message that high gastronomy can also rhyme with veggie”.

In Lyon, the restaurant Culina Hortus is gastronomic and 100% vegetarian. (DR)

Basic trend

In ten years, 80% of dishes served in restaurants will be vegetarian

Pietro Leemann, star chef and owner of Le Joia

It is obvious, more and more great chefs are shifting to the vegetarian-only concepts. This doesn’t surprise Knut Schwander, manager of the Gault&Millau guide in western Switzerland: “For a long time, vegetarian cuisine has been perceived as a type of claim, an exclusive approach, therefore it was disturbing to non-vegetarians. Today, vegetarian meals are naturally incorporated in most of the quality restaurant menus. They are common dishes. And among them, are a few masterpieces! For creative chefs, it’s also a fascinating playground and few have explored it until today.”

The prestige hotel group Ovolo banned animal flesh-based products from its restaurants. (Ovolo)

An opinion shared by Pamela Redaelli, director of the communication agency PR&co and founder of the Veggie Week: “The demand is growing for a colorful and savory gourmet vegetal cuisine. The vegetarian as well as the flexitarian populations are increasing, and this clientele also chooses its culinary experiences according to the offer. By having a vegetarian menu available, a restaurant will also convey the idea that anyone can try it. It’s always a great surprise for a client to discover “another” gastronomy, while it remaining as savory and tasty and often incredibly creative.” Prestigious hotel chains are also starting to shift. The Ovolo group, which operates in Australia and Hong-Kong, just announced that all its restaurants will only offer vegetal food, proof that vegetarianism is becoming a basic trend…

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