James Lewis, the marketing director of Gauthier restaurant in Soho, has worked with the chef patron Alexis Gauthier for more than 10 years. They have been a leading force in showcasing what vegan fine dining can mean. Here, in response to criticism of the restaurants and fast-food outlets using plant-based products, he fires off an impassioned defence of ‘vegan meat’
In 1987, Rupert Murdoch’s News International bought a tiny newspaper called Today. Today was by many accounts a terrible newspaper, but it was interesting because it did something nobody believed possible, it pioneered computer photo-typesetting, a process which enabled full colour photographs to be printed as standard in daily newspapers.
The colour pictures were eye- catching, modern, a vision of the future. But they were not very good quality. The colours often blurred over the edges and detail was lost. They were broadly mocked by the media, which in turn meant they were mocked by the public.
It even warranted its own ‘Spitting Image’ sketch on TV, where they purposely misaligned the colours to make fun of the edgling technology. ‘It’ll never catch on!’ ‘Better stay the old way!’ ‘Nothing wrong with black & white’ etc etc was heard all round.
Well, Rupert Murdoch may be many things, but he certainly isn’t stupid. He invested in the technology early, tested it, ironed out the problems and pretty soon he had rolled it out across all his titles with complete success. Colour newspapers are ubiquitous now, and all the naysayers look a bit silly.
So what was driving this revolt? In my opinion it is a very simple human emotion: the fear of the unknown. Recently, there has been huge investment in food companies producing ‘fake meat’ substitutes, which correspond to increasing awareness of environmental issues, animal welfare and people’s changing lifestyle choices.
Burgers seem to be leading the wave, with a handful of companies producing more and more convincing patties. I’ve tried as many as I can, and I’ll be the rst to admit probably 85% are pretty dire. But 15% are really, staggeringly sometimes, good. The Honest burger ‘plant’ for example is currently in my opinion the best in the UK, a really convincing burger which I’ve had repeatedly.
My attitude is this – if this is what they can do after four or ve years trying, imagine what we can do in 10-20 years? Yet every food critic or writer I’ve read appears to guffaw at it, farmers whine about the death of the countryside as we know it, and below-the-line comments and social media is full of steak-boasting NRA style posts declaring ‘you’ll have to rip that T-bone out of my cold dead hand’.
A mixture of sneering distain for anything which upsets the applecart, and the same ‘harrumphing’ but- slightly-frightened tone of voice you might hear from a jazz aficionado music critic in the 1970s reviewing the rst Kraftwerk concert.
It’s the gammon Brexiteers of the food world. Only the ‘bloody immigrants’ are not foreign people, but new food technology. The same harrowed cries are becoming familiar. ‘But it’s all processed junk!’ Well unless you’re some kind of arse-clinching natural food bore, we all eat processed junk every day. Biscuit, chocolate bar, sausage, anyone? Any high street burger is processed junk. It’s cheap, tasty and fun which is why people buy it. Now vegans will buy it too.
‘It’s all a conspiracy by big business!’ Really? Well colour me shocked at this revelation. Because meat and dairy wouldn’t dream of being involved with ‘big business’. And then the slightly bonkers counter-evidence is trotted out. ‘But if you don’t eat meat, all the cows and pigs will be wiped out’. Erm, this might come as a shock but they were going to be killed anyway.
The worst however has to be the patronising middle-class recipe advice no vegan ever asked for: ‘Why not eat a piece of charred broccoli with chili, tahini and fresh lime?’ Because nobody goes to McDonald’s for a small plates sharing concept cheffy wankfest, that’s why.
Just like colour newspapers in the 1980s, companies like Beyond Meat, Impossible, Linda McCartney, Cauldron etc are trying to make something completely new. And just like colour newspapers in the 1980s, it’s being sneered at by the old guard. Well, give it 20 years and who knows, it might just be the norm.
The world is getting itself together for a change. I say give it a chance, Boomers.
This article was first published in Issue 22 of the CODE Quarterly magazine. To read the digital version, please click here