Chef, Joyce O’Hagan explains why guests with dietary requirements should never feel like second class citizens
I’ve worked as an event catering chef for more than 20 years and in that time I have been conscientious in my response to the dietary requirements of guests. In the last five years we’ve seen a dramatic shift in people’s eating habits; gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian and, more recently, vegan requests are now virtually guaranteed on any event we are catering.
While I have always pushed our development team to create tasty and imaginative alternatives dishes for our guests, I have believed for some time that vegans in particular can feel like second class citizens at luxury events such as corporate dinners and weddings.
I was recently given the chance to remedy this when I was approached by a film director client who asked us to cater for a summer lunch event he was planning ahead of his appearance at the Cannes Film Festival. He isn’t a vegan himself but many of his guests were. He described himself as ‘plant curious’ and requested a totally vegan menu.
This lovely commission gave me the opportunity to thoroughly explore – and embrace - the world of plant-based eating. I undertook plenty of research – reading recipe books, talking to vegan friends and contacts, investigating vegan ingredients and alternatives and finally meeting suppliers at the Natural and Organic Products European Trade Show.
Having designed a stylish bespoke lunch menu for the pre-Cannes events - which was universally appreciated by both vegan and non-vegan guests - I was inspired to develop a complete plant-based banqueting menu for private and corporate events. I have been following the chef, Alexis Gauthier, for some years and was encouraged by his approach to develop new vegan dishes rather than vegan versions of conventional meals.
I’m proud of this new menu which brings together fresh, natural ingredients, bold flavours and rich textures. By experimenting with seasoning and techniques I believe we have created a range of vegan starters, mains and desserts which compete uncompromisingly with dishes that feature animal produce.
From now on I can say with confidence that vegans at any of our events will be thrilled with their food. I suspect our private clients will be ‘plant-curious’ enough to experiment with this new range of dishes but I will be fascinated to see if CSR pressures like climate change, sustainablity and carbon consumption also nudge our corporate clients in a vegan direction.