Chef survey - what do the trend setters think?

By Heidi Spurrell

As consensus rises for the need to eat less and better meat to tackle both human health and environmental challenges, chefs are increasingly looked upon as trends setters who can drive change in meat consumption and introduce more plant proteins in our diets. With this in mindI surveyed 32 global chefs - many of whom are part of the Chefs’ Manifesto, a chef-led project championing sustainability to improve the food system for ‘a better food future for all’. This study aligns with the Manifesto’s Area 6: A focus on plant-based ingredients!

Photo: Sabrina Dallot-Seguro/Forest

In the study, I looked at chefs’ current attitudes and knowledge on cooking plant-based dishes in a restaurant setting. The key message that chefs repeatedly emphasized was the need for more plant-focused culinary training if plant-based eating is to become mainstream. 

Here are my top findings:

  1. Plant-based eating is going to be big in 2019. Interest in plant-based dishes is expected to grow and chefs are challenging themselves to design delicious plant-based offerings. More and more chefs are actively making plant dishes tastier and experimenting with alternatives to meat. Innovation in new protein sources and products are making this easier.


  1. Culinary education needs to modernize. The lack of adequate training for plant-focused dishes in current culinary education prevents chefs from making plants the star of the meal. With a heavy focus on meat and fish protein, the  consensus from chefs is that training is not meeting demand for alternative protein dishes thus hindering growth. 


  1. Health, environment and animal welfare. Chefs are inspired to cook more plant-based dishes due to the ecological and public health concerns that meat poses on both health and the environment. Prioritizing local, organic, and ethically sourced ingredients are important to them.  


  1. Inspiring, new menus. Many chefs agreed that creatively experimenting with menu design and layout could nudge customers to chose more plant dishes. Chefs are also willing to gently encourage customers to eat more sustainably rather than simply offer unlimited choice by default in their restaurants. 
Photo: Sabrina Dallot-Seguro/Forest
  1. Cultural shifts. Over half of responding chefs viewed the ‘meat and 2 veg’ concept of a complete meal as outdated thus we are seeing a cultural shift away from this western eating norm. Also, the ‘less and better meat’ message was one familiar to respondents as well as an increasing awareness of food’s impact on the health of people and the environment. Both of these concerns were motivating factors encouraging chefs and their customers to experiment with alternative proteins.


  1. What do we mean by plant-based dishes? Shaping a common understanding of a plant-based dish” is needed. Responses to the question ‘define a plant-based dish’ unsurprisingly variedas there is no single agreed definition. Whilst some chefs believe these dishes to be wholly vegan or vegetarian, others understand it to be something that is majority non-meat or non-fish but can include a small amount. 
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'I feel like there is a lot of education and experience missing in the culinary world on how to prepare plant based food. The meal should not only be delicious and live up to the standards of mainstream food, but the meal should also be nutritious and satisfying. For this reason, also knowledge in nutrition is important, since if the meal is lacking nutrients the client will still have the feeling he didn't have enough in the end.'
-Chef Alexander Gershberg, Vegan Sundays. 

In summary, evolving culinary education is a must if we are to adapt to current trends and growing interest in flexitarianism. Technical training and apprenticeships can address this gap by offering creative spaces for learning and sharing ideas. Chefs can and want to play a role in shifting proteins consumption from animal to plant sources. To do so, however, the narrative needs to focus on taste rather than ethics alone, but especially so in plant-based cooking due to the stigma surrounding vegetarianism.

We need a clear definition and understanding of the term plant-based diet/dish. Chefs used a wide variety of creative language to describe what plant-based means to them, and while this is a sign of the broad appeal of plant-based, a consistent message would benefit those who are trying to promote these dishes particularly in policy circles and in business. A common understanding would facilitate growth and interest in what appears to a be an unstoppable global trend. Policy makers can ride this wave while momentum is high, and the topic is of high interest to both businesses and the public. 

The Chefs' Manifesto in support of the Sustainable Development Goals, developed with over 130 chefs from 38 countries, serves as a great hub and information point for chefs to take action and inspire others.

Photo: Sabrina Dallot-Seguro/Forest

I’m interested in building on this researchparticularly the novel idea of setting meat and fish dishes as sides or reducing quantities through nudging, choice editing and menu reengineering. Feel free to get in touch if you have questions.