Meat, once the centerpiece of most American plates, is shifting — and restaurants are deliberating over its future.
Several high-profile restaurants and industry brands made headlines this year with decisions to go meatless — World’s 50 Best restaurant Eleven Madison Park and Bon Appetit offshoot brand Epicurious — or firmly remain committed to animal proteins, even parting ways with big-name chefs who want to go the vegan route. New plant-based alternatives have filled grocery shelves while new steakhouses open constantly, and the environmentally conscious seek ways to make the supply chain more sustainable and accessible.
The past few decades have given rise to small plates starring peak-season and heirloom vegetables, proving that great chefs don’t need protein to build a standout dish. Sourcing responsibly raised meat is labor-intensive, and sky-high costs make it hard to turn a profit. Through it all, meat consumption in the U.S. has remained steady.
Here, industry leaders offer a glimpse into the role that meat will play in the future of dining.
“I do think there will always be a place for meat-eaters in the restaurant space.”
Curtis Stone, chef/owner of Gwen in Los Angeles, CA
“The chef-driven butcher shop is the heartbeat of Gwen. As I was planning to open my second restaurant following my seasonal tasting menus at Maude, I was discouraged at the meat offerings in Los Angeles. To solve that, I decided meat and live-fire cooking would be the stars at Gwen and I would work to source ingredients myself.
We visit our local purveyors who champion sustainable practices and take pride in how they raise animals. The in-house charcuterie program assures that we’re using the whole animal and making the most of the beautiful product we receive. Our guests understand and put value on sustainability. Often you will pay a bit more knowing that the meat being prepared was raised ethically and without hormones or antibiotics, or fresh, non-GMO produce from the farmer’s market.
I do think there will always be a place for meat-eaters in the restaurant space. It’s hard to resist a perfect steak on the menu when meat is in your diet.”
“The biggest sustainability practice any restaurant can make is removing meat, fish, and dairy from its menus.”
Alexis Gauthier, chef and owner of Gauthier Soho in London
“All of my life I’ve been a vegetable-focused chef, and Gauthier Soho became known for its vegan menu as long ago as 2014. However, it was when we had demonstrations outside my restaurant about the terrible cruelty of foie gras in 2016 that was a lightbulb moment. I came in the next day and said to my staff, ‘They are right.’
We have the intelligence to live perfectly healthily (probably a lot more healthily) without ever abusing and killing another animal ever again. I believe all animals deserve to live hopeful and free. They are not our property to farm or raise for food. We need to stop eating animals altogether. I became vegan, and I announced at that point I was beginning my journey to turn the restaurant vegan as well.
The biggest sustainability practice any restaurant can make is removing meat, fish, and dairy from its menus. I genuinely believe that meat will become more and more a ‘hot potato’ ingredient, almost a moral quandary to order in a group environment. Big food platforms are choosing to drop beef from their recipes, [and] schools, hospitals, airlines, public or official bodies now have to consider their options very carefully.”
“I’m just here to show that vegan food can be delicious and even a little bit naughty.”
Pinky Cole, founder/CEO of Slutty Vegan in Atlanta
“When I lived in New York, I ran a super successful Jamaican American restaurant that served traditional Jamaican foods. It tragically had a grease fire and closed, but I eventually realized that a vegan selling chicken just wasn’t real. I was selling something I didn’t believe in. When I moved back to Atlanta, it was difficult to find mouthwatering vegan options open late at night. Slutty Vegan was born, and I hit the ground running.
While I have made the choice to eliminate animal products from my restaurants, I understand it may not be sustainable at this time for all businesses to completely stop serving animal products. Purchasing from local, sustainable sources is a great way to be cognizant of your impact.
I believe vegan options will continue to grow, and over time we will have more creative options when dining. I didn’t set out with the intention of converting meat eaters to vegetarians — I just wanted to give them another option. I’m just here to show that vegan food can be delicious and even a little bit naughty.”
“Plenty of vegetarian restaurants are sourcing really [bad] vegetables, flown in from God knows where, and that’s equally problematic from a climate perspective.”
Erika Nakamura and Jocelyn Guest, founders of Butcher Girls Co. in New York City
“As a vegetarian growing up, I was always more of an animal rights vegetarian. In culinary school, I took a class on food cost and started to realize that something’s not adding up — [in most restaurants] there are a lot of industrial and factory-farmed proteins on the plate, and people are being charged a lot for that. I don’t want to eat that, and I don’t want to pay for that.” — Nakamura
“I truly think that if you are not sourcing good meat, you shouldn’t have it on the menu at all. But plenty of vegetarian restaurants are sourcing really [bad] vegetables, flown in from God knows where, and that’s equally problematic from a climate perspective. I love that people are voting with their wallets, but I hope they’re thinking past the meat/no-meat binary.” — Guest
“We’re thinking about things more cooperatively. Maybe there are several restaurants with one carcass that they can divvy up in a sustainable way. It’s important that younger cooks and chefs have access to great product and an understanding of how it works. There’s an opportunity for education to help enrich a spirit of learning in the kitchen.” — Nakamura
“It makes us furious that [quality, sustainable meat] is such a cost-prohibitive luxury. We always preach: eat less meat, but eat the good stuff. It’s super expensive, and you do not need an entire ribeye to yourself.” — Guest
“Ideally, meat will step aside to allow for more vegetable-centric dishes.”
Matthew Kenney, CEO of Matthew Kenney Cuisine, a plant-based lifestyle brand founded by the celebrity chef, and author. MKC has over 45 restaurants globally which includes the vegan Plant Food + Wine and Double Zero
“I was always focused on healthier foods in my restaurants, but after personally removing all animal products from my diet, it was feeling out of integrity to serve them. That is when I decided to change course, which was a bold move [25 years ago], as not many people were doing it, and no one was doing it the way I intended, with elegance, good music, fine wines, and high-end cuisine.
I think that we are going to see less [meat in restaurants]. Ideally, meat will step aside to allow for more vegetable-centric dishes. We see this already happening in several urban areas.
All of our dishes are completely plant-based. My hope is that our guests taste the value for themselves.”