It’s the fastest-growing area of the food and drink industry in Britain. Plant-based food sales also rose by 49 per cent across Europe in the past two years. A quarter of the UK population now say they are “flexitarians” – people who have a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eat meat or fish for reasons including health and nutrition or sustainability.
Khoury says vegan recipes have gone wrong in the past, often delivering bland, flavourless food, when they have attempted to replace ingredients like-for-like.
“I have found that not using dairy allows for clean and bright flavours to really shine and pop, and that eggs flavours in food can be omitted,” he says.
“When you look at baking with fresh eyes and reformulate from scratch there are some exciting opportunities to be found. I have a responsibility to show how good vegan patisserie can be.”
The latest International Climate Change Committee report, released last week, was clear about the environmental benefits of plant-based food: “Diets high in plant protein and low in meat and dairy are associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions”.
It has called for policies that encourage a 20 per cent shift from dairy products by 2030. The report said a shift to greener diets and a decrease in consumption of meat and dairy “could lead to substantial decreases in GHG emissions”, which would also include freeing up more land and replenishing nutrients, as well as improving health and saving lives.
Khoury says the climate crisis can feel like an “impossible behemoth of a challenge”, but reducing or cutting out meat and dairy from diets is the most effective thing an individual can do to help the environment.
“It’s getting so much easier to reduce meat – but dessert is the last frontier. Lots of people don’t think to go so far as to cut out eggs and dairy,” he says.
Having grown up in a Lebanese Australian family in Oatlands, near Parramatta, food was central to family events and celebrations. And it was mainly filled with large plates of meat.
But he had an epiphany a few years back, when he realised that he could help save the planet and promote sustainable food chains through his work in the kitchen.
He said he’d taken for granted that he’d always worked at “very nice places that have very nice ingredients”.
“It’s easy to forget that at the top end of the industry it is a bubble and accounts for only a small volume of food,” he says. “It was not until later that I got closer to seeing how food is made, and seeing that in most countries, 97 per cent of food production is so far from what I thought it was, and involved intensive farming with huge impacts on the environment and which are cruel to animals.”
After finishing year 12 at Parramatta Marist High School, Khoury’s career sidestepped into pastry after finishing a bachelor of design at the University of Western Sydney. He went on to study patisserie, working at Peter Gilmore’s Quay Restaurant and Shangri La Sydney with award-winning pastry chef Anna Polyviou before ending up as head of research and development with acclaimed patissier Adriano Zumbo.
He says Harrods, where helps lead a team of almost 60 staff in the iconic food halls, had given him a unique opportunity to show discerning customers how good the alternative can be and open up more eyes to the possibilities.
But the store – which is renowned for quality and attracts at peak times more than 300,000 customers a day from around the world through its Knightsbridge store – cannot compromise on quality.
Khoury says those with a sweet tooth have no need to fear the new generation of plant-based desserts. And he agrees that taste is everything.
“When I am looking to introduce a new dessert to the range, we have numerous tastings where we go through a process of critique and refinement until it meets the standards,” he says.
“I will never say it is vegan beforehand because it needs to meet all our expectations and deliver on taste. That it’s vegan or plant-based is just a huge bonus.”
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