Despite the difficulties faced during lockdown for consumers and chefs alike, there is a growing desire to experiment with new ingredients, find new flavours, and experience new dishes.

In fact, chefs are increasingly looking for innovative ingredients that can both give a bold take on classics as well as help to build exciting dishes that capture the imagination of diners – whether that be for takeout and delivery orders, or sit-in meals.

That shift is happening with consumers, too. 81% of diners are making greater attempts to eat and drink more healthily as a result of the Coronavirus. According to a recent survey one in five people are cutting down on meat during the pandemic, and a similar number (23%) are eating more vegetables since the start of the outbreak. Ireland ranks in the Top 10 countries in the world for an interest in veganism and plant-based diets*.

The demand for vegan-based meals has skyrocketed in recent years and it’s expected that Veganuary 2021 will be the most successful yet. Even during times of lockdown, people are becoming more adventurous with their eating habits and aren’t afraid to branch out from their traditional food orders.

Meat-free options on menus are now an expected norm, and not just in the form of the dreaded mushroom risotto. Chefs are expected to have a firm grasp on creating high quality vegetarian and vegan dishes that can go toe-to-toe with the rest of the menu in terms of flavour. At the same time, chefs are discovering that there are more amazing ingredients, more exciting dishes, more wonderful inspiration than ever before. The time of the plant-based meal revolution is truly at hand.

Hellmann’s and Chad Byrne, head chef at The Brehon hotel in Killarney, have teamed up to help provide some inspiration on how you can make the most of your menu.

There has never been a better time for operators to look at their menus and innovate, and it’s unarguable that the plant-based segment is leading the charge here. We’ve heard a lot in recent years about vegan alternatives, so we decided to take a closer look at what this can mean for kitchens all around the country, how chefs can really take advantage of this movement and how Unilever Food Solutions is supporting and inspiring chefs.

At its most basic level, chefs can do a few simple swaps to create delicious plant-based dishes that will help attract non meat-eaters to their restaurants as well as maximise profits. It can even help to increase efficiencies on the pass.

Chefs want to keep their kitchen as simple as possible, and that’s why it’s important when creating vegan friendly dishes to not go too overboard. An element of familiarity is also beneficial for curious customers.

A crucial driver in making decisions on whether or not to put vegan dishes on your menu should be the fact that 92% of such dishes are eaten by non-vegans. So, despite vegans being a small proportion of overall customer numbers, the dishes themselves are proving a hit with diners generally. That shows that this isn’t a niche with limited revenue potential, rather it’s something to embrace and welcome to the fold. Consider this a new set of tools in your arsenal, an opportunity to be creative for an audience that wants to experience your quality cooking.

If a chef can make a dish without animal products that ticks all the boxes for what constitutes a great meal, they’re onto a winner. There’s no need to pack such a dish with unusual ingredients that may overwhelm the senses – start the journey with familiar meals, done with a vegan twist, and ease yourself, and your diners, into the opportunities available. Consider a classic pub menu, with such proven winners as a curry or a burger; easy to turn into vegan alternatives with minimal effort. It’s about hitting the right flavour profile with satisfying textural differences.

As part of this swap, don’t forget to consider your range of condiments, sauces and dips. Often a game changer for a dish and a huge potential revenue driver with high margins. Hellmann’s Vegan Mayo, for example, has been embraced by every chef who has used it in their kitchen; it has an identical creamy taste, texture and mouthfeel as Hellmann’s Real Mayo just without the eggs. In fact, chefs have in some instances found Hellmann’s Vegan Mayo superior for certain dips and marinades.

One point of note when planning your new dishes is the marketing and terminology deployed. Unilever Food Solutions recommends to use the phrase ‘plant-based’ rather than ‘vegan’, as the former is an easier sell to non-vegans who are instead looking for a great dish regardless of whether it’s vegan or not.

The bottom line is that appealing to a wider audience doesn’t have to be difficult. Adding plant-based dishes to your menu can open your business to a wider audience (more crucial than ever), increase margins, simplify prep, and allow you to use ingredients across multiple dishes, reducing overheads.

Chad, while not a vegan himself, has become renowned for using his creativity to develop delicious vegan dishes. Together with Hellmann’s, he has put together some easy to prepare vegan recipes, which are contained in a new brochure that can be downloaded from

In it, you’ll find creative recipes including slow cooked Portobello mushrooms, smoked onion and garlic mayo, pickled vegetable and noodle rolls with sriracha mayo and Sesame crusted aubergine, cauliflower puree, sauteed pak choi and kumquat.

The brochure even includes recipe description recommendations to help you along in your marketing push.

What these dishes prove is that plant-based food can go toe-to-toe with its meat-based counterparts – it can be exciting, satisfying, indulgent, a delicious treat that doesn’t compromise on any level. It’s no wonder that non-vegans are ordering these menu items.

So, make 2021 the year of the plant-based menu and embrace the new opportunities available. A few simple additions and swaps could be a huge win for your kitchen.

*The Irish Post, 16th Sept 2020. Chef’s Pencil Report.

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