This is a guest article written for Eating Better by Geraldine Gilbert of Forum for the Future:
Forum for the Future’s Protein Challenge 2040 pilots tangible, scalable ways to move towards a future with sustainable, healthy and nutritious protein for all - including how to drive the much needed shift in western diets towards higher consumption of vegetables and plant proteins, alongside less and better animal protein.
In exploring what a “new normal” of rebalanced protein consumption would look like, one challenge we’ve identified is the need to increase the knowledge and skills of chefs across food sectors, better equipping them to create tasty, nutritious dishes with less or no animal protein and more veg. This is delivering on the Better by half: roadmap action of providing exciting plant-based training and development for chefs.
From foodservice to retail to trend-setting restaurants, chefs create millions of meals every day and influence both the food industry and general food culture. But while pressure is mounting on the food industry to provide healthy, sustainable meals with a better balance of plant vs animal protein, standard culinary training has generally not yet adapted in line with the need and opportunity.
If fact, many professional chefs tell us that the core of mainstream culinary training hasn’t changed in decades, remaining heavily meat and dairy focused, with little emphasis on nutrition or sustainability, and that it is therefore ripe for a significant update to ensure chefs have the right skills for the future of food. There are now many standalone courses on vegetarian and vegan cooking, but this doesn’t provide chefs with the skills to make dishes with less animal protein rather than none - a potentially easy route to rebalancing protein consumption especially through typical, popular dishes; nor does it embed those skills into culinary training as standard and from the very start.
So, to address this, Forum for the Future and the University of West London (led by Senior Lecturer Peter Cross) have been testing how to integrate sustainable food and protein into mainstream culinary education. The most passionate chef lecturer is unlikely to have time to design new lessons condensing complex information across a wide range of sustainable food topics with appropriate teaching recipes to match - so we want to make it easy, by providing an introductory programme of lessons covering key sustainability themes and skills, that can easily be integrated into the existing structure of most culinary skills modules, while making rebalanced protein dishes normal and accessible for future chefs.
Over the 2019/20 academic year, we’re testing eight lessons with students on two food management degree courses - one lesson per chapter of their culinary skills modules. Each three-hour lesson includes an introduction to key sustainability issues for that chapter (e.g. animal welfare or biodiversity), best practice for chefs, and a practical activity focused on traditional, widely-taught recipes, but with less or no animal protein, and more veg and plant proteins.
We’re gathering feedback from the lecturers and students to refine the lessons and the support lecturers need to teach them. We’re also engaging with skills providers, the food industry and culinary education influencers along the way. At the end of the pilot, we’ll produce a teaching toolkit, and a report on our wider insights and recommendations about how culinary skills providers (universities, culinary institutes...) can make a start or go further on integrating more knowledge and skills for the future of food into their courses. We aim to work with more culinary skills providers over 2020/2021 to take up the programme, and potentially to adapt it for on-the-job training too.
Our overall aim is to see the transformation of mainstream culinary education in line with the knowledge and skills chefs need for the future of food. Our pilot is of course just a first step - we hope it will enable more culinary educators to get going, and inspire more discussion and action across industry, academia and the culinary arts world about the future of food and protein, the implications for culinary skills, and how to enable chefs to reach their full potential to drive a positive - and ideally rapid - shift to a better balance of protein in our diets.