UK government asks chefs for vegan recipes to replace foie gras
Restaurateurs invited to discuss plant-based ‘faux gras’ ahead of expected ban on liver-based spread
It is prized for its rich flavour and exclusive image by top restaurants and gourmands, but now foie gras is going vegan as the government meets chefs to discuss how to make alternatives out of nuts and mushrooms.
Vegan restaurateurs have been invited to meet UK government advisers to discuss how to create plant-based “faux gras” in the event of an upcoming ban, the Guardian has learned. Sources said the government hoped to show that a gap in the market left by a restriction on the trade of the controversial product could be filled by high-end chefs who are willing to produce alternatives.
MPs have vowed to ban trade in foie gras, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is consulting on legislation to outlaw the sale and import of the liver-based spread.
Foie gras production is illegal in the UK on animal cruelty grounds, as the ducks and geese whose livers are harvested are force-fed to make it. However, top restaurants still import and sell from countries such as France.
The force-feeding process is known as gavage, where grain is poured into a funnel or tube that has been thrust down the bird’s neck. After two weeks, the liver has swollen to many times its normal size.
The French chef Alexis Gauthier, who runs fine-dining restaurant Gauthier Soho and plant-based restaurant 123V in Bond Street, both in London, decided to stop serving foie gras in his establishments after activists from Peta demonstrated outside and he read up on the meat and dairy trade.
He now serves a faux gras at his Soho venue made of mushrooms, lentils, walnuts and cognac, and says the concoction has emulated the buttery taste sought after by foie gras fans. Since this year, all the food served at his restaurants is plant-based.
The government has asked him for his recipe and invited him for talks with policy advisers to see if a gap in the market caused by a ban could be filled by his creation.
An email to vegan chefs, seen by the Guardian, says: “I understand your restaurant serves an alternative to foie gras. We would appreciate the chance to arrange a virtual meeting with the chef or someone else from the team to discuss a few questions in this area. These would be questions about your views on foie gras and the challenges and opportunities associated with ‘ethical’ alternatives.”
Gauthier says foie gras was once a bestselling item on his menu and that he used to sell 20kg of it a week, but claims people are now travelling from around the country to try his faux gras. He said it took patience and precision to emulate the texture, appearance and depth of the delicacy in a vegan version.
Many luxury shops and restaurants are turning their back on foie gras, including Fortnum & Mason, which stopped selling it earlier this year.
A government spokesperson confirmed officials were seeking meetings with those involved in creating faux gras to inform their decision on how the effects of a ban could be mitigated.
Alexis Gauthier’s vegan faux gras recipe
1 shallot, peeled and diced
4 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tsp chopped rosemary
2 tsp chopped thyme
2 tsp chopped sage
24 button mushrooms, roughly sliced
2 tbsp cognac
2 tbsp soy sauce
400g cooked lentils
150g toasted walnuts
2 tbsp beetroot puree
Black pepper, to taste
In a heavy pan, sauté the shallot in two tablespoonfuls of the olive oil until translucent. Add the garlic, chopped herbs, and mushrooms. Add the cognac and turn up the heat.
Add the soy sauce, reduce the heat, and cook over low heat for six minutes. Remove the pan from heat and let cool.
In a food processor, process the mushroom mixture, the remaining olive oil, the lentils, walnuts, beetroot puree and black pepper until almost smooth. Add an optional extra splash of cognac to give it that je ne sais quoi.
Place in a small glass jar and refrigerate for a few hours before serving. Serve alongside toasted slices of sourdough or other bread.