As the New York Times mentioned, the hippies have gone mainstream. Vegetarianism and wellness are the “it” word these days. The poster child of a healthy, happy, beautiful girl sipping on green juice, eating organic kale, doing yoga and meditating seem to be the “ideal” to strive for these days. 😉
While some of you may secretly think that green juice tastes crappy and that raw salads are bland, a few vegetarian restaurants like By Chloe are disrupting the restaurant industry, redefining vegetarianism and the fast food model by offering gourmet vegetarian food (that meat-eaters also love) in a seamless manner.
Enters: Vegetarian Fast Casual 2.0.
These vegetarian restaurants are chef-driven concepts. Created by prominent chefs with a focus on green eating, the restaurants offer foods with flavours that are on par with what you’d find in a fine-dining restaurant with an independent character. This vegetarian fast casual 2.0 trend is picking up at major cities like New York, LA, San Francisco, and Hong Kong.
HOME – Eat to Live
The restaurant I’m about to introduce offers an even more unique angle to Fast Casual 2.0 – this restaurant took over the carnivorous Burger King’s facilities and transformed the venue into a vegetarian restaurant by implementing environmentalist practices with the aim of spreading environmentalism to the community.
Most importantly, this restaurant is designed around high quality experience serving healthy, fresh, ingredients that are as local as possible, without artificial ingredients. This is probably one of the first, whole food, plant-based, fast casual restaurant I’ve seen globally that upholds a high, refined culinary standard — not sacrificing customers’ health for the taste of the food, and vice versa.
Created by classically trained chefs with a fine-dining background, HOME – Eat to Live offers gourmet, wholesome, plant-based food in Asia. Please note — whole food, plant based; I am emphasising this as not all vegan restaurants offer whole foods.
Veganism is not always symbolic of health.
I’m fascinated by the fast casual 2.0 concept, as well as a restaurant that is very mission driven with the aim of providing wholesome vegetarian foods with the highest quality to customers. I’ve got a hold of the Founder & CEO, Christian G. Mongendre, to talk about his restaurant.
During his studies at the famous Institut Paul Bocuse with a double major in Culinary Arts and International Hotel & Restaurant Management, Christian worked for Michelin three-star Chef Alain Ducasse. Born as a vegetarian, Christian has always been exposed to and passionate about healthy, whole food, plant-based eating and the environment, and started the restaurant HOME – Eat to Live in Hong Kong, in collaboration with ZS Hospitality Group.
Enlightened Eating – Quality, Gourmet Vegan Food?
Lana: How do you make the food tasty, addictive, healthy, and good for the planet, while catering to omnivores?
Christian: Being a plant-based restaurant, we have the challenge of adapting to the local palette here in Asia as well as the mass market.
We’re experimenting with ways to make the foods very visually attractive, which is the first way we all eat. So, we play a lot with textures and flavours.
We can’t use shortcuts like processed sugars, processed fats, and MSG, and all that stuff that trick people into thinking that, “Oh, wow, my tongue is so satisfied because I ate something that stimulated me.”
Instead, we cater to both the palette and the gut of our customers. We always ask the question “How is the food processed within a person after he/she ingests it?”
So that is our starting point. This is our first flagship with this brand.
How Christian Turned an Old Burger King Venue Into HOME – Eat to Live
Lana: HOME used to be Burger King? Can you elaborate?
Christian: Yes, HOME used to operate where Burger King used to operate; we took the location over and changed the concept drastically. We wanted to offer affordable, convenient, high quality, wholesome, and plant-based foods to our customers.
Our food is vegetarian, and freshly made daily.
Upcycling: New Standard Restaurant Practice?
We upcycled the facilities, such as the ventilation and cold rooms, from Burger King, the previous tenant of our space. Upcycling can be mutually beneficial for the business and the environment by reducing business setup costs and reusing equipment that still have an operational life. In major cities like New York and Hong Kong, the turnover rate of restaurants is very high, and a lot of good equipment can be reused instead of being sent to landfills.
So that is an example of what we can do, which is not always done here in Hong Kong, or around the world for that matter. I believe upcycling should be standard restaurant practice.
Chef-Driven Concept with Transparency?
Lana: Tell me more about the chef-driven concept and transparency.
Christian: Going back to the chef-driven concept, I went to culinary school for five years. I worked for Ducasse, during that time at the Plaza Athénée. And my school was all about high quality foods with very strict standards. We were trained to understand and use the top culinary skills and cooking techniques. My background gave me the skills and insights to focus on food quality.
We value transparency, and communicate as openly as possible with our consumers regarding where we’re sourcing our foods from, and how the foods are processed. And that’s why we have information on our flyers and marketing materials on farms that we partner with.
We also organise farmers market within the restaurant to provide high quality, organic vegetables directly to our customers at an affordable price, from our cherry-picked, trusted local farmers. As a result, our customers can experience what cooking with our ingredients is like, within their own homes.
When you know where your food is from, how the food is harvested, the food’s ecosystem and so on, this creates a complete story and you can really enjoy your food.
What Is on the Menu for Fast Vegetarian 2.0?
Lana: Can you tell us more about your menu?
Christian: When it comes to attracting repeat customers, whether they are vegetarians or omnivores, we offer quality, quick-serviced menu that is served within 10 minutes.
To be specific, our first flagship product is our “flatbread”. We make flatbreads fresh here on site. The flatbreads are made of organic flour, and topped with our Za’atar blend, especially crafted by our team. The bread comes in three options – wholemeal, gluten-free version made of Teff, a super-grain, or just plain collard green wrap (low-carb option). And that’s the core of our concept. That’s what we do well.
We also have open-faced toast in this restaurant, which is made with organic sourdough rye bread. We have burgers, which I think is a great way to help people transition into a healthier diet, especially since it’s such a recognisable food. And if they enjoy the burger, they can easily transition into a healthier salad next time, or other items that are here.
We also have the bowls. We call them the earth bowls, which are grain-based, surrounded by a variety of seasonal toppings. We also have salad bowls that include organic legumes, and organic vegetables such as kale and seasonal greens.
A Menu for Everyone?
Our menu is designed to be highly customisable, providing diverse options where you won’t get bored eating here daily!
Our menu caters to a diverse audience, from the health-conscious customer watching their diet, to the party animal trying to recover from his/her hangover, to the executive trying to boost his/her productivity.
We are also a children-friendly restaurant. Specifically, we provide a children-friendly menu and environment.
I’d like to add that we have also partnered with charities we believed in. For instance, by ordering the Indian Elephant, our customers will be providing 6 meals to those in need via Foodlink, a non-profit organization, since 100% of our proceeds go to that organisation.
High Quality Ingredients: Key to Simplifying?
Lana: Tell me more about the ingredients you use in your foods.
Christian: While we still use oils and natural sugars in the vegetables and sauces, we use higher quality ingredients than most restaurants. For instance, our frying oil is high-quality sunflower oil that has a very high heating point.
We also recycle that oil and turn it into multi-purpose soup which we sell in the restaurant and use for own internal washing. In just one year, we recycled more than 350 litres of oil, which was then turned into 1,750 litres of multi-purpose soap and giving it a new life. We then sell the oil for retail and use it for our own operation.
If you have high quality ingredients, you can simplify your dishes. The dishes do not need to be transformed a lot – they will speak for themselves.
Our secret weapon is our sauces, which bring a zesty flavour and unique taste to our dishes, from the way we use our spices to the way we make the sauces.
Real *Whole Foods*, Healthy, Veggie Burger that Bleeds?
Lana: Can you tell us more about your veggie burger?
Christian: The texture was the most important for the Polar Bear burger. First when you eat the patty, it has a very hearty texture, not mushy like some veggie burgers. The burger also has a nice, red colour that people recognise and crave.
In terms of ingredients, it is the three types of grilled mushrooms we use that help create a “meaty” texture for the patty. We also added some shaved beetroot that gives the burger a nice medium-rare texture, and we used high quality spices that completes the dish.
People want their foods to be very bright, fresh, tasty, and scrumptious. We want our customers to be “addicted” to healthy foods!
That healthy addiction to our food comes from the concept that every bite is an engineered bite. You know that you’re getting all these ingredients at the same time; and it’s hitting a sweet spot which balances the flavours, textures, colours, and health.
In our next article, Christian and his head dessert chef Andrea will be talking about how they created top-notch guilt-free gourmet healthy raw, vegan desserts, made with natural sugars, whole food, plant based ingredients.
I swear, as a raw dessert snob, Christian’s desserts are delectable and tantalising to the senses to anyone, from the health conscious athlete to the dessert connoisseur. And no, you won’t die from eating the desserts because they are actually good for you.
Also, for more on veggie burgers. Stay tuned.