December, 2019

Chef Phillippe Chin, Johns Hopkins Campus Executive Chef, Bon Appétit, Baltimore, MD, U.S.A.

There’s one thing that hasn’t changed. Chefs have always been the first person to say that something is wrong with the food system and that we need to do better. Chefs are always interested in sustainability. Chef were the first to support farmers, always looking for the best ingredients… Sustainability and serving better food is something that chefs always support. Without the farmers, we wouldn’t be where we are today… The important thing for a chef is the quality of the food. Going local, knowing your farmers is better.  Why would you want your carrots from Chile? It takes at least three weeks to get that vegetable that was picked from Chile. 

Culture change takes time. Four years ago, when we did Meatless Monday, we received a lot of slack for it. [This] last time… people were delighted. We’re not asking you to be vegetarians or vegans. We are just asking you to be plant forward and let the plants be the star of the plate. It’s not just for you, it’s better for everybody, local farmers, community, carbon footprint. So why wouldn’t you do it?... 

Most of the barriers comes from different groups of people. Like athletes, they are concerned with ways to get their protein intake going to a plant forward diet.  It’s mostly misinformation. Some people don’t know that a cup of beans have about the same amount of protein as does 1 gram of beef. There are a lot of people that don’t know that—if you’re not a nutritionist or a chef, and even some chefs don’t know that. It’s education, to make sure people understand what we do. It’s more the consumers that needs educated—[or] fortunate to have great chef that understands the protein. A 19-year-old student that just start at JHU wouldn’t know much about protein intake if it’s not an interest. Therefore, education at that level is important.   

First, of all Bon Appétit has been on board since 2006.  We were the first to embrace plant forward. As a company, was always with sustainability, always been on a forward trend. To me plant forward, is not vegan or vegetarian. It is measured impact of keeping it local, keeping it fresh, greenhouse gas, carbon footprint—the meat industry, lots of smoking gun. At least, I know when the guy brings me the cases of vegetable, it comes 50 miles away. There’s no smoke and mirror.  Anytime you get a box of cabbage, you get the information on the package, with the farm name, it’s location, the practice of the farm; is it organic? You know how it was grown, etc... When was the last time you see that on meat? 

Plant forward to me as a chef is to embrace ethnic flavors, with fresh vegetables being the star of the show. I am not telling you not to eat meat, but I am telling you to get 3 scoop of the vegetables that is cooked with chickpeas, and curry, etc… My job is to make sure the vegetable options offered are appealing to the students where they say I want some of that—sounds delicious. Make the vegetable the star of the show. Couscous is a good African dish.  It is a great food—made it at the cafeteria and part of a Buddha bowl with a variety of vegetables etc… and nobody asked for beef. Try to emphasize a balanced meal and put the meat at the end. Put the vegetables and grains at the beginning of the line and by the time you reach the meat, your plate is full. There’s very little place for the meat—by the time you get to the meat, it’s a side dish. That’s how it should be. 

Meatless Monday is the same message as plant forward. You don’t ask them to be vegan or vegetarian. You ask them to reduce the meat consumption. It’s the same as plant forward. To me Meatless Monday is an educational program to make people aware that a plant forward menu is better for the universe, not just for you but good for everything. If everyone does it, we will succeed. Don’t forget at Bon Appétit we do Meatless Monday every day. We have 2 vegetables and a starch available at every station. Even at the pizza station, we offer a vegetarian option every day. We try to be plant forward at every station… 

The biggest change has been over the years. We listen to the students; we have text messages that are sent out. This year, we have a lot of newcomers. Bon Appétit is invested in the plant forward menu. An example of this is in the training we did back in November. We want to show the chefs, there’s another flavor that can be achieved without the meat. One of my favorite things I like to do, is to take a meat application and use it for vegetable. There are so many ethnic countries that use only vegetables. Use those ethnic countries to create new flavors, to create your menu. You can cook a vegetable a certain way that people don’t know it is not meat they’re eating. 

Interviewer: Daphene Altema-Johnson, John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF)

Photographer: David Alexander, John Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP)

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