In our previous blog on Decoding Professional Kitchens, we took a deep dive into the Entremetier Station, mainly responsible for handling, preparing, and cooking all vegetable and soup menu items. This week we'll be taking...
Okay, let's clarify this first. We are not saying ALL chefs are not appreciative of new diet trends and veganism, but we understand both sides of this sensitive topic. We do realize that this is a very bold statement to make and there will be many who disagree with us and will be ready to fight for their truth. We would love to hear your personal experience on this topic. But for now, here’s what we have to say.
Most of the chefs in the industry do strongly dislike vegans and the rise of trendy diets. There are three main factors why chefs find it difficult to accept these restrictions - hectic service environment, training, and education.
Hectic work hours and stressful environments are the realities of most hardworking chefs and cooks in today’s kitchen. They get paid minimum wages and need to work nearly 60 hours a week to make ends meet. An odd and customized order adds extra work for them and hence there’s always a lot of jokes being made about veganism and fashionable diets because it adds unnecessary work with no extra pay.
As a consumer, it might be very difficult for us to tell the difference between say a butter croissant and a vegan butter croissant. But chefs develop a strong and sensitive palate over the years, and they can tell the actual difference between the two. It might look good, taste good but since they can tell the difference and the former tastes better than the later, serving a compromised taste goes against everything they have been taught.
Most chefs that work in commercial kitchens receive culinary training that are strongly animal focused. If you see the culinary school curriculum that is mostly inspired by French cooking, it always been about milk, butter, cream, and jus. While the industry is trying to substitute meats in main course with plant-based ingredients by achieving similar flavor profiles, it is difficult to replace eggs and milk-based products to achieve the same results in terms of flavor and texture.
In culinary schools, chefs are taught many techniques that are principally centered around using animal meat. When they learn all the techniques, they are happy and proud of themselves and feel like they can cook up a storm in any kitchen. If the ask is to veganize everything they have learnt, it is a steep learning curve from unlearning to relearning right from the basics because meat and vegetables have different cooking techniques, smoke points, taste, texture, and flavor. This is a part they find it difficult to give up on because they spend years and years to master a skill and they must go back to the drawing board to start fresh.
There are very few chefs (look at it from overall percentage terms) who are vegans themselves because it is practically difficult given the ask of the job. Chefs have to taste the dishes before they leave the kitchen to maintain quality standards. Since meat is served in 90% of the restaurants in the world, it is nearly impossible for chefs to turn completely vegan. Since they are not vegan themselves, it creates a barrier for them to understand this concept.
The other issue is the actual demand in terms of numbers. While there has been a significant growth in vegan population over the years, they still constitute only 1% of the global population. Thus, there are very few vegan restaurants for chefs to work in to gain more knowledge and exposure. While many chefs ethically understand the reasons behind veganism, the overall culinary ecosystem doesn’t support this thought making it difficult for chefs to accept it wholeheartedly. They start making excuses and regard the whole concept of veganism as fake and simply pretentious. And the loop continues.
The best way to explain this is by giving a real life example that was shared by Chef Rudakova in her YouTube video. The story she narrates goes something like this. Imagine an average, not a large volume restaurant that is not focused on vegan food. There might be one purely vegan dish and due to the increase in demand, upon request, the restaurant could customize some dishes to make it vegan friendly. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
As a consumer, you are happy that you have options to choose from. Say you order a Caesar salad. On the restaurant’s menu, this dish is not supposed to be vegan but can be made so upon request. The order comes to the kitchen as Caesar salad marked with Veg, V or any other symbol they might use to denote that the dish is supposed to be Vegan.
A line cook, in the middle of a very hectic, business service does not have the time to stop because a busy restaurant gets five new orders every minute on a station. Since cooks know the menu at the back of their hand, they read the first three letters on the receipt, and they know what they need to prep or cook. It is not necessary they might read the whole thing because they are so busy with preparing dishes one after the other. Sometimes they don’t read at all but simply follow the instructions given by the sous chef or the head chef.
There is a high chance that the line cook didn’t read the receipt properly to notice the V sign and made a classic Caesar salad. It sits outside on the window for couple of minutes when the waiter comes in and says this was supposed to be vegan. What do you think happens next? The salad is thrown into the garbage bin, the chef screams at the line cook and the cook must redo the entire order once again breaking the flow in which s/he was working in. Frustrating, isn’t it?
To further clarify, we are not saying as consumers it is your fault but neither it is of the chef. The fault lies in the revenue focused restaurants who cater to the needs of its customers and keep up with the trends without doing anything for their staff.
As a consumer, we rarely think about the other side and all we care about is the service and quality of food served for the money we pay. The next time you see vegan options on a menu, remember they are either joking about your order or in the worst case are hating you. In either way, the food you are receiving is not made with love and is more of a “job” they must do.
While many chefs agree that not only is it an important diet trend but also is the future when it comes to sustainable ingredient sourcing and preserving our planet’s future. Calling it a trend might be fallacious because it is not a temporary diet but more a permanent change for people who adopt this way of life.
In this blog all we wanted to do was to give you a perspective on the other side of the service industry and the difficulties they face to keep up with the fast and constantly evolving diet cultures. At an individual level, chefs are trying to catch up and have started conversations around this, but the harbinger of change will need to be at a systemic level to support these chefs.
Chef Sac is doing its bit by using vegan material for our knife bags and backpacks without compromising on utility, style, and design. Our Chef Sac backpacks are chef-inspired and designed to create the perfect and ultimate knife carrier for you. No matter which knife bag you choose, you will walk in style and confidence to where you need to be.
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