We sat down with Greg Hillier, head chef of the Boulevard in Soho to discuss his views on food trends, veganism and the launch of his 50% plant based menu.
Q: Your menu is 50% plant based - how did you come to the decision to launch the restaurant at Boulevard offering a 50% plant based offering?
It was a group decision headed by Leon. We wanted to stand out from what is happening in the industry at the moment, where you see a lot of vegan restaurants or a lot of restaurant heavy on meats (Hawksmoor) with veganism as a second thought. We want to put everything on an even playing field.
Q: Did you / the team do any research prior to this? What were your findings?
Not really, it's hard to ignore the rise in veganism, I myself without knowing eat vegan at home quiet often. My wife has been a vegetarian for nearly 20 years and you need to be inventive to keep it fresh after so long.
Q: Do you think there has been a shift with consumers choosing to eat vegan because they think it's healthier?
I think there has been a shift with people choosing healthier dishes, but what is important to remember is healthier doesn’t need to be boring. When you choose to eat vegan, it's vegan so automatically makes it a healthier choice, but at Boulevard we try to make sure its tasty and interesting, so it feels like you're not choosing it because it's healthy but because it sounds delicious.
Q: What are your most popular dishes on your current menu? And the most popular vegetarian and vegan dishes?
The most popular dish overall is the roasted curried cauliflower with black dhal, lime and coconut.
Q: Where does your inspiration come from?
From years of experience, reading recipe books, cooking at home, talking to suppliers about what’s new in the market. I also get inspired by having say two seasonal ingredients come in and then trying to find the sauce, puree and garnish that will bring them together.
Q: Do you eat a mostly plant based diet?
I only really eat meat when I go out, because I am either vegetarian or vegan at home, but I do love a bit of cheese.
Q: Which suppliers would you sound out as particularly good?
Mash Purveyors for those hard-to-get veg, Wings of St Mawes for great fresh fish, Rhug Estate Organic for tasty lamb, and Lake District Farmers are just coming on board for amazing beef.
Q: Is it important to you that you source ingredients from suppliers that are sustainable? And how important is it for you to source seasonally and from British suppliers?
Yes, choosing food that is in season is great for flavour, cost and the environment as it reduces the carbon footprint in comparison to sourcing food from say Spain or Holland.
Lake District Farmers are very selective of the farmers they work with, with animal husbandry top of their agenda. And I have visited Rhug estate in the past and the care and extra space needed to get the soil associations accreditation shows they are in it for the quality.
Q: What do you think the trends will be for next year?
I think just more and more veganism.
Q: What advice would you give to any other chefs or restaurateurs that are looking to open a restaurant with a strong bias towards plant based dishes?
Be creative and don’t think of it as a challenge, just think of it as another dish as important as any piece of fish or meat.
Q: Who do you admire in the industry and why?
Gary Usher, I've never eaten in one of his restaurants but I really loved 'The Rebel Chef' documentary and love his Twitter account. He says what he thinks, cooks amazing non-pretentious food and stands by his team. My favourite restaurant to go out to with my wife is Medlar in Chelsea ran by Joe Mercer Nairne. It's top quality, not too fussy and always tasty.
Find out more about Health & Wellbeing at HRC this year as we aim to uncover how businesses can increase the health and wellbeing benefits for both guests and staff at the Vision Stage.