Opinion piece: Dear hotel schools, embrace the pure plant kitchen!
Pioneer Frank Fol has seen a revolution in restaurant kitchens in recent years, with an increasingly prominent role for pure plant products. His 'Think vegetables! Think fruit!" philosophy is gaining traction. But our country can still shift up a gear and become a true international trendsetter.
I have been a missionary for pure plant cuisine for more than 30 years. I have never been against meat or fish, but just wanted to turn the tables. Vegetables deserve a leading role in cooking, not the secondary role they had for a very long time in traditional Flemish and French cuisine. Three decades ago, I was all alone with that vision. Slowly but surely I was joined by other chefs and in recent years vegetable cuisine has gained momentum.
We have seen some spectacular revolutions. Just think of Eleven Madison Park, the three-star restaurant in New York that became a vegan restaurant overnight in 2022. Or closer to home to Humus x Hortense, chef Nicolas Decloedt's botanical restaurant. We have been awarding that five Radishes for several years for their gastronomic focus on fruit and vegetables, and it is also ranked highly in the We're Smart Green Guide. This year, Michelin followed our lead. So pure plant food cuisine is increasingly considered a cuisine in its own right. The increased focus on health (especially since COVID-19) and the climate crisis have turbocharged the demand for tasty, inventive dishes centred on plant-based products.
Eleven Madison Park, Humus x Hortense and co show that pure plant is not commercial suicide. Quite the contrary, in fact. I challenge all readers to try booking a table at one of these restaurants. Good luck!
Pure Plant cooking in hotel school
Other chefs have overcome their cold feet and want to jump on the bandwagon. We see more and more restaurants having their own vegetable gardens, or joining forces and creating food forests. The will is there, but the biggest barrier is the knowledge that is still too often lacking. As a chef, you can be infinitely creative with plant-based ingredients. Salting, acidifying, freeze-drying, popping, injecting, fermenting,... : on the We're Smart website, we compile 52 techniques for preparing fruit and vegetables, and that is only a fraction of all the techniques used worldwide. But chefs are not taught them enough in their training.
Don't get me wrong: we have fantastic hotel schools. But what you see in other fields, you also notice in the culinary world: training courses have difficulty keeping up with innovation in the field. In hotel schools, classic cuisine remains king; they continue to swear by meat and fish. Nothing wrong with that, there are Belgian chefs who do incredible things with it and are absolute world leaders. But while more and more chefs are successfully reconciling tradition with innovation, hotel schools are lagging behind. Initiating a new generation into pure plant cuisine does not have to come at the expense of our culinary traditions. They can go hand in hand.
There is already a hotel school in the Netherlands that offers a course on plant-based cooking. Interest from both professional chefs and foodies/hobby cooks is overwhelming; they have already had to set up a second class. With all due respect to Dutch cuisine, our hotel schools really should have been the pioneers.
Pure Plant cuisine is not a gastronomic hype, not a trend that will blow over. The turnaround has begun, there is no turning back. Fruits and vegetables will have a starring role in more and more restaurants. Belgium owes it to its status in the culinary world to lead the way here. From hotel school students to chefs in starred restaurants: let's become international trendsetters. The consumer is all set.