A Message from Chef Alexis Gauthier
I’m Alexis Gauthier, a classically trained and Michelin-starred French chef. You might know me for my role as a judge on BBC One’s MasterChef, or for my restaurants, Gauthier Soho and 123V.
In 2016, I made a decision that completely transformed my life: I became vegan… and so did my restaurant menus! But before this, throughout the first half of my career, I’m sad to say that much of my cooking revolved around pork fat, veal stock, and the controversial French ‘delicacy’, foie gras.
When I used to serve foie gras I had no idea about the horrors that hid within its production. I was disturbed when I learnt the truth.
French for ‘fatty liver’, this so-called ‘luxury’ food is produced on European farms by force-feeding ducks and geese until their livers become enlarged and diseased. The animals are then packed into transporter cages and hung upside down; their throats are slit and their livers are sent to the UK to find their way into the kitchens of many restaurants, historically including my own.
Looking back, I am horrified to think that I was dishing out a whopping 20 kilos of this vile product every week – but at the time, the idea of a classic French chef serving plant-based alternatives was almost unthinkable.
So every day I went to work and blocked out any thought about what, or rather who, I was really cooking. Afterall, I had a booming business to run, faithful customers to feed and hard-working staff to pay.
But over time, everything changed.
I came across a campaign showing heartbreaking undercover investigative footage of birds on foie gras farms. I watched in disgust, realising that I could look away no longer.
The suffering was unimaginable. It still haunts me.
In small wire cages, ducks and geese barely had enough room to extend their necks, let alone spread their wings.
Many had breathing difficulties, eye infections, and broken wings or beaks. Some were even covered in blood, or left dead and rotting.
I will never forget one particularly harrowing video…
A worker seized a terrified goose, pried open her beak, then brutally forced a 25cm long pipe down her throat.
She was squirming, desperate to escape, but she had no hope. A grill was lowered, blocking her from moving.
I felt sick to my stomach.
After staring such cruelty directly in the face, I knew I had to do something…
…so I broke the rules of French cuisine and embraced plant-based cooking.
My colleagues were shocked.
Nowadays, more and more people are now opening their eyes to the deadly animal agriculture industries. They are turning their back on cruelty and are trying delicious plant-based recipes instead. But you have to understand that, at the time, it was rare to find a classically trained French chef willing to make the switch. I always say that, in three generations, our grandchildren will look back at all of the terrible things that we do to farmed animals and wonder what on earth we were all doing!
So for months I experimented until I perfected my pièce de résistance: Faux Foie Gras… a delicious blend of ingredients like lentils, mushrooms, walnuts and Cognac; but, most importantly, no cramped cages and no force-feeding.
Faux foie gras was just the beginning of my plant-based journey. Over time, I transitioned all of my dishes to being completely plant-based. And, thanks to the support of compassionate British people and their willingness to try something new, my business is booming – I feel so lucky.
But I recognise that change cannot happen in my kitchen alone, we need to end the cruelty once and for all.
The good news is that the UK has already recognised that force-feeding is criminally cruel, and has made it illegal to make foie gras by force-feeding. However, it’s still legally permissible to import it and sell it in UK stores and restaurants, profiting from animal cruelty in the process.
I have been a proud supporter of Animal Equality’s campaign to ban the importation and sale of foie gras for many years now. Last week, they organised a protest in Westminster and even managed to get an MP to table a Westminster Debate on the issue. During the debate, a Government Minister actually acknowledged the cruelty involved in foie gras production – that’s huge!
It is so touching to see the progress that we’re all making, together.
Animal Equality is doing amazing work in this area, and what impresses me most is their investigators and the footage they obtain.
Because seeing this kind of footage, it can change minds…I know because it changed mine. If I had not seen the horror for myself, I might well still be profiting from selling diseased livers.
We can campaign all we want, but without the evidence that the investigators collect, we would persuade no one.
With their footage, we can change more minds: from ordinary people who can change the world with their votes, donations and consumer choices, to chefs or business owners with the power to change whole supply chains, and – as we saw with the debate – even to politicians with the power to impose permanent change through the legal system.
For the trapped ducks and geese, all they have is hope… hope that people like us, in the outside world, will take action on their behalf and help make their voices heard.
So let’s be the change they are hoping for, let’s stay on the right side of history and let’s build a world that we are proud to live in.
With a chef’s kiss,
Chef and Supporter of Animal Equality
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