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French culinary superstar Alain Ducasse has unveiled a vegan burger kiosk in the Bastille region of Paris. Burgal is the latest meat-free innovation from the 21-time Michelin-starred chef known for his openness to plant-based dishes.
The Burgal pop-up comes after the opening of a new permanent location, Sapid, in Paris, last year with a 95 percent plant-based menu. Ducasse’s new vegan burgers are constructed from a mix of vegetables, lentils, and quinoa. All ingredients are domestically sourced, apart from cassava and pepper. Traditional side orders of French fries have been replaced with vegetable and chickpea chips and a vegan chocolate mousse is offered for dessert.
Eating for activism
Ducasse describes how our food choices make a bigger impact than just a personal one. He created something of a manifesto about the power of food as a tool for activism in his book Manger est un acte citoyen, published in 2017. He drew attention to his own preferences for working with legumes and locally-grown cereals in a bid to minimise the environmental consequences of eating well. He discusses repurposing peelings and looking at ways to creatively reduce food waste while delivering the most flavour possible.
France has been effective in managing food waste, in a bid to drive down the country’s emissions. In 2016 it introduced a law making it illegal for supermarkets to dispose of unsold food, with items being donated instead.
The book was a natural lead-on from his 2014 decision to turn his Plaza Athénée restaurant meat-free. The move was initially met with surprise, given Ducasse’s status as ‘the most French of French chefs’. At the time, he held 18 Michelin stars and systematically removed all meat from the menu, leaving just fish, shellfish, vegetables, and grains.
Veganism has seen a steady increase in France ever since. In 2018 the vegan and vegetarian market grew by 24 percent, compared to the previous year. Cultural hurdles remain in place, with much of France’s gastronomy steeped in meat heritage, but the flexitarian arena is showing potential. The Xerfi study that identified growth in the market also highlighted that around 23 million citizens consider themselves flexitarian.
Ducasse takes on Bastille
Still operating more than 80 restaurants worldwide, Ducasse has been making a gradual shift towards sustainable menus. Paris’ Burgal offers a unique opportunity to be vegan from conception for the duration of its run. This is currently set to end on June 30. Demand will be assessed after the pop-up, to determine whether the burger will be added to the menus in Ducasse’s other restaurants. One thing it is not designed to do is mimic meat.
“We are not in the field of imitation meat,” Quentin Vicas, development manager of the Ducasse group told Liberation. “Our products contain no additives or dyes and it is not our intention to move towards meat analogs. It is the first vegetable burger of our group. The origin is to be found a few years ago, and to the irritation of Mr Ducasse, in seeing people ruining their health and the planet by eating low-quality hamburgers.”
The rise of meat-free Michelin-starred restaurants
Around the world, chefs are following Ducasse’s lead and looking to eliminate meat from the menus of traditionally animal-heavy locations. Three Michelin star holder Eleven Madison Park famously reopened after the Covid-19 pandemic as a freshly reimagined vegan eatery. Head chef Daniel Humm noted it was a risk but one that was worth taking in light of the importance of personal health, as well as remaining flexible when adopting sustainable food systems. The move proved successful, to the point where the restaurant has just launched its vegan meal kit delivery service.
Last year it was revealed that Copenhagen fine-dining spot Geranium, sporting three Michelin stars to its name, was due to stop serving meat in 2022. The menu redesign coincided with head chef Rasmus Kofoed’s own dietary choices. The restaurant now focuses on seasonal dishes constructed using locally-sourced seafood and vegetables.
All photos by Ducasse group, unless stated.