When is a vegan dish not a vegan dish? When it’s cooked on the same equipment as a meat product, it would seem. FEJ explores whether operators embracing the vegan movement need to drastically reconfigure their kitchens.
When Burger King announced it was planning to launch a vegan ‘Rebel’ burger at the end of last year, the only concern on its mind was whether customers would be able to tell the difference when they took their first bite.
As it’s turned out, the real talking point hasn’t been about the quality of the product, but the way in which it is prepared in its kitchens. The patty is cooked on the same grill as meat burgers, which has courted controversy for not being truly vegan.
In the US, a customer has even filed a lawsuit against the chain, alleging it does not clearly advertise that the plant-based burgers are cooked with meat.
If Burger King feared receiving the same kind of flak in the UK then it can at least count on the unlikely support of Veganuary, the influential non-profit organisation that promotes the benefit of vegan diets.
It suggets the fixation on the method of cooking is missing the bigger picture, arguing that insisting the chain cooks all of its plant-based burgers on a separate grill would “severely limit” the availability of this option as it would require a huge level of kitchen restructuring.
“Eating a plant-based burger — whether cooked on the same grill as a meat one or on a separate vegan grill — will have exactly the same impact for animals and the planet,” insists a spokesperson for the organisation.
While there is clear logic to this argument, it is important to note that there are people who do not want to ingest any form of animal product, including even trace amounts.
Operators looking at the Burger King situation from the outside are therefore entitled to wonder whether a major overhaul of kitchen infrastructure is needed to accompany any sort of drive into vegan food.
Irene Keal, marketing director at catering equipment distributor Sylvester Keal, thinks you only have to look at the scrutiny that Burger King and other chains have faced to see why it makes sense for operators to consider installing dedicated equipment to deliver vegan dishes.
“Many big corporations and smaller independents are trying to appeal to a broader range of diets which is why more plant-based dishes are being made available,” she says.
“However, a lot of these foodservice businesses are coming under fire for their preparation methods, with many operators using the same cooking apparatus for both the meat and vegan options. To comply with vegan practice, caterers need to introduce separate cooking equipment to prepare any plant-based product.”
John Benson-Smith, the award-winning chef and F&B consultant at johnbensonsmith.com, agrees that the increase in the variety of vegan dishes on menus certainly has an impact on kitchen design and equipment choice.
“My belief is that vegan food certainly needs to be cooked on separate equipment and prepared in separate areas. I think the industry needs to start taking itself more seriously and investing more heavily in equipment, as well as being more demanding in terms of layout, space and design.
“While we visit some excellent kitchens for clients who are happy to invest and are interested in food quality and having a good ethos and are genuinely fanatical about food, unfortunately there is a great number of kitchens and businesses who don’t take the industry seriously and don’t demonstrate a pride in their metier. Often companies fail to invest sufficiently and this results in them using sub-standard cheaper equipment which is unfit for purpose.
“Customers should expect those who are in the food industry to demonstrate their skills and show their professionalism, to be experts and specialists in their field — and operate accordingly. We would hope that the industry stops resisting change like it has with the allergens, poor examples of which we regularly see on a daily basis, and a lot of establishments remain very customer unfriendly or are treated by chefs as customers who are ‘just being awkward’.”
My belief is that vegan food certainly needs to be cooked on separate equipment and prepared in separate areas”
David George, catering consultant at DGCC and Greene King’s former food development chief, believes that rising demand for plant-based dishes requires operators to think carefully about their design and equipment choices moving forward.
But he cautions: “Both common sense and commercial viability must be taken into account, especially with so much pressure on capital expenditure including purchasing, maintenance and utility costs, not to mention labour costs. Ideally, anyone designing kitchens of the future or planning on making changes to current templates should take the opportunity to plan in operational methodology and create segregation where possible covering delivery, storage, prep, production and service.”
In terms of preparing vegan food, use of the correct utensils and appliances combined with solid training and operational practice shouldn’t make it too difficult for businesses to adopt this policy, especially when all operators should have processes in places for allergens.
The same is also true of the cooking of products, but this takes on the need to ensure segregation as during service it’s inevitable in most businesses that meat and vegan foods are going to be cooked at the same time.
The decision on whether to bring in separate equipment isn’t necessarily as black and white as it might seem, however.
As one operator explains, while some vegan customers would prefer this, others might consider that the net impact of doing so would be damaging in other ways: “If you look at generation Y, a very high percentage of them are going down the vegan route for environmental reasons. But from a lifecycle perspective, if you want it to be cooked in different equipment, you need to have another fryer, for example. So there is the manufacturing of that, which is a big environmental implication, and then you have got the extra gas consumption of it.
“So, actually you can’t just look at it on face value because even making these decisions can have another environmental impact elsewhere. We have got a couple of sites where we are putting bigger gas supplies in so we can run more equipment.”
Whatever an operator’s stance, it is clearly a sensible move for businesses to review their foodservice procedures and endeavour to introduce changes that ideally don’t cause disruption to speed of serve, quality of food or workflow ergonomics. Says David George: “One thing’s for sure, kitchen space is at a premium in the vast majority of commercial kitchens and therefore simply doubling up is certainly not an option and, to be honest, not necessary.
“Also, separate equipment may not be viable, so this is where manufacturers have to up their game on the innovation of multi-tasking appliances to accommodate different food styles and subsequent requirements,” he adds.
Both common sense and commercial viability must be taken into account, especially with so much pressure on capital expenditure”
George suggests that to help operators’ workflows and menu dish execution challenges, manufacturers’ R&D activity should be directed towards effective cavity partitioning and surface segregation or similar functions to facilitate vegan food creation rather than producing two or three separate appliances to do so.
“I am currently creating a new menu combined with designing a new-build kitchen for a client due to open later this year and I have planned in segregation in areas of preparation and storage together with certain key equipment dedicated to vegan produce, where practical and possible to do so. It will be complemented with focused training and operational education in ensuring best practice is applied.”
If sales of plant-based products reach the level analysts expect, adaptability could prove to be the prudent kitchen operator’s best asset.
5 national chains with a new vegan offer for 2020
After the unbridled success of its vegan sausage roll last year, the high street bakery chain has now launched a vegan-friendly steak bake.
Designed to mirror some of the original steak bake’s classic features, including 96 layers of light and crisp puff pastry, the chain has teamed up with Quorn to wrap it around savoury flavour mycoprotein pieces and diced onions in a rich gravy.
McDonald’s has launched its first ever vegan meal after seeing an 80% spike in customers ordering vegetarian options over the last year.
Its veggie dippers are made with red pepper, rice, sundried tomato pesto and split peas surrounded by crispy breadcrumbs. They have been accredited as vegan by The Vegetarian Society.
KFC’s Vegan Imposter Burger was a huge hit during a trial last year, prompting the chain to relaunch it nationally as the Original Recipe Vegan Burger.
A bespoke vegan Quorn fillet, which is made from Mycoprotein, is coated in KFC’s secret blend of 11 herbs and spices, and fried in vegetable oil before it is distributed to restaurants. It’s then finished off in the oven, but never cooked in the same oil as chicken.
The six-inch version of Subway’s meat-free option features four vegan meatballs covered in marinara sauce, topped with a layer of vegan cheese and customers’ choice of bread.
The product received a positive response during trials in selected Birmingham and Manchester stores last year and has now been rolled out across the UK.
The sandwich chain’s Very Berry Croissant uses margarine and sunflower oil to re-create the texture of a traditional croissant, and is filled with berry compote and finished with a sprinkling of sugar.
Launched in direct response to requests from customers, the item is aimed at bringing more options to the company’s breakfast menu.