Sally FitzGerald travels to Paradise Cove Mauritius to meet Alexis Gauthier and try a 5-course vegan tasting menu that promises to be the experience of a lifetime
One is a renowned French chef who previously held two Michelin stars.
The other is a luxury boutique hotel in Mauritius, where guests can quite literally spend a week or two in paradise.
But what do Paradise Cove Mauritius and Alexis Gauthier have in common?
The answer is an exciting new venture which has resulted in a vegan fine dining menu that has to be tried to be believed. And I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of it…
Paradise Cove Mauritius embraces veganism
There’s no denying that as soon as you enter the gates of Paradise Cove Mauritius, you know that you have arrived somewhere special.
You’re whisked to the lounge area to sit in natural wooden seats surrounded by beautifully crafted local materials, and handed an ice cold flannel that’s perfumed with the hotel’s signature bergamo scent.
A glass of passionfruit, ginger and curry leaf iced water swiftly follows and you’re blessed with a brief respite from the intense humidity that a trip to Mauritius brings with it at certain times of the year.
You glance beyond the restaurants (the hotel has four in total, each offering a different experience), over the pool, and to the cove which the hotel wraps itself around.
It’s the kind of scene that guidebook covers dream of.
Although Photoshop has no place here. It’s quite simply the definition of perfection in its natural state.
Now I know what you’re thinking. This sounds amazing, but these kinds of hotels are rarely vegan-friendly.
And you’d previously have been correct.
But Paradise Cove Mauritius is on a mission to change that. It’s a mission that’s been driven by requests from guests as well as the desire of the hotel’s ‘family members’ (how it refers to its staff) to embrace veganism as part of the brand’s wider environmental efforts. I’ll tell you more about those another time.
The hotel wraps itself around the cove, which guarantees beautiful views from the restaurant. Photo © Vegan Food & Living
Making a change for the environment
So when Paradise Cove decided to improve its vegan offerings, it didn’t just want to do it by adding one or two new dishes to its standard menus (which it has done as well, that goes without saying).
This wasn’t just a clever marketing strategy, the hotel is already full most of the time.
Instead, it wanted to lead the way in changing the way veganism is seen in Mauritius, and have a positive environmental impact through doing so. And then hope that competitor hotels would see what it was doing and follow its example.
So Paradise Cove wanted to find a highly regarded chef to come in, train the existing chefs in the magical ways of vegan cooking, and create a fine dining menu that would offer guests the chance to experience something really special on their trip. The kind of dining extravaganza that would wow them and give them a memory to cherish – whether they were vegan or not.
Alexis Gauthier, meet Paradise Cove Mauritius
Enter Alexis Gauthier.
Alexis made the headlines in 2021 when he decided to remove the meat menu from his fine-dining restaurant Gauthier Soho, turning it 100% vegan.
He lost two Michelin stars in the process, along with 95% of his customers.
But after being exposed to veganism in 2016, he had no choice. He explains how the transition began. “I had someone outside my restaurant telling me that I had to stop serving foie gras. As you can imagine, I served a lot of foie gras.
“My first reaction was to say hey, I’m just building a business here, you know.
“Every week they came on a Tuesday and stood in front of the restaurant. So one day I started to talk to them because such devotion to the cause means you have to listen to what they have to say.
“I listened and then I came across this book and I decided to read it. And when I closed the book, I said that’s it. I’m not touching it anymore.
“But I had a French restaurant. And I had to pay the bills.”
Fast forward five years, skip through one business-threatening worldwide pandemic, and Alexis knew it was finally time to change his restaurant.
He reveals, “The biggest challenge was not me turning vegan, but it was to turn my restaurant. I knew I wasn’t going to change my clientele, but I had to completely change the theme to be a vegan restaurant.
“I would not have been able to carry on being a chef and profiting from the death of people who didn’t want to die. That would have been impossible. I couldn’t carry on being like that.
“And I didn’t find any fun or any inspiration in continuing to use animals of course. Life is too short, you know. I very often had thoughts worrying that my last breath would be ‘But I could have done it. Why didn’t I do it?’ So I thought I would do it and then see how it goes.”
Although Alexis’ old clientele abandoned him, sometimes not all that silently, thankfully the London restaurant is once again thriving, only this time with a menu that keeps the team’s conscience clear.
And Alexis is proud of the impact he’s having.
“My restaurant has gotten bigger. We started to realise that I was influencing the people around me with my thoughts and what I had read. That was a moment and I just wish I had done it before.”
So when the opportunity arose to have a similar impact by getting involved with Paradise Cove Mauritius, he didn’t hesitate.
Alexis Gauthier reveals the inspiration behind his menu at the gala dinner. Photo © Vegan Food & Living
Embracing the flavours of Mauritius
When Paradise Cove Mauritius approached Alexis Gauthier, he didn’t just want to recreate the iconic Gauthier Soho tasting menu in a slightly more exotic location.
He explains, “I am sad when people come from the UK and get served products from their home land. There are so many beautiful products here.”
So as well as being on a mission to introduce the hotel’s chefs to the benefits of vegan cooking, Alexis wanted to take inspiration from the island’s rich array of fruits and vegetables, many of which he’d never tried before, to create a 5-course tasting menu that would celebrate the island.
“When I came here, I went to the markets. I tasted the local food. I spoke with a lot of the chefs and people who love Mauritian cuisine, and then I spoke with the people who look after this hotel. I thought yes, I can use my creative skills and help them and hopefully participate in making a difference.
“For me it was about making a difference on removing animals from plates and working with the group here they let me do that. They let me tell my story from my own perspective.
“The idea is to use local ingredients and apply the French techniques that I know, to try to create some dishes that have never been done before.
“I thought it was going to be really difficult because I didn’t know anything about the local ingredients. I didn’t know anything about the combination of flavours that actually worked with those ingredients.
“But once I started to look at the ingredients, visiting the markets, tasting the food, immediately it all fed my creativity. I just couldn’t stop.
“It’s really easy to be creative here. You just have to look around and try to bring the sea into the plate. Bring the land into the plate. Bring the smell of the birds, I don’t know, even the volcanic stones.
“I had plenty of ideas, it’s really inspiring, and really much more colourful than I was used to cooking.
“It’s a journey, discovering new territories, creating new flavours. At the moment we are just at the beginning. It’s gonna get better and better and better.”
A simple vegetable takes on a whole different appearance in the hands of Alexis Gauthier. Photo © Vegan Food & Living
Unveiling the menu at the gala dinner
As one of the non-vegan guests at my table for the launch of the new menu exclaims, ‘but this is butter, non?’, I can’t help but smile.
Only the bread rolls and accompanying butter have so far been served and already Alexis is challenging long-held beliefs and making people question their taste buds.
And to be honest the bread itself is a thing of beauty, with seaweed running through the dough like earthy veins. Seaweed that’s been picked fresh from the waters around the hotel that very day.
Alexis’ activism is borne out through his food, proving to non-vegans that they don’t have to miss out on a single thing by giving up meat and dairy, whilst reaffirming to vegans that there’s a whole world of flavours waiting to be uncovered when you travel to a new place.
Over the next five courses we’re introduced to an array of new ingredients, from slow-cooked chouchou providing the basic for a rich pasta sauce, to giraumon taking the place of chicken, daikon being paired with a rich red wine and grated orange reduction, and longane (think tiny lychee) nestled alongside sorbet in a crunchy meringue dome.
The flavours are rich and powerful.
The textures have been carefully chosen to both contradict and complement.
Your perceptions are challenged and your ethics are questioned.
If simple fruits and vegetables can taste this good, why on earth would you ever need meat? As I look around at some of my previously sceptical fellow dinners, I know that Alexis’ job is done. And if this menu isn’t worthy of a Michelin star, I’d question what is.
A vegan meringue dome finishes off the 5 course extravaganza perfectly. Photo © Vegan Food & Living
Enjoying the experience for yourself
Grand unveiling over, the 5-course taster menu is now going to be offered to guests at The Cove restaurant. Consisting of a series of intimate dining ‘huts’ on stilts that lie on one side of the cove, couples can choose to experience the vegan flavour extravaganza in a truly romantic setting, for a meal they’re unlikely to ever forget.
The menu is designed to be seasonal, so Alexis will continue to work with chefs at the hotel to come up with new ideas for the island’s ebb and flow of ingredients, making sure it has as little impact on the environment as possible.
And the idea is to roll at least part of the menu out to Paradise Cove’s 4* sister hotels in Mauritius from July onwards, so even more people can enjoy the experience.
Alexis and his team haven’t stopped there though. They’ve already worked with Paradise Cove Mauritius’ chefs in the XO Japanese restaurant to train them up in the delights of vegan sushi, which has been fully embraced, resulting in a comprehensive vegan menu there too.
Alexis talks a lot about the future of food. And whether you try his menu in London or Mauritius, you can see why that is.
Much like a scientist, he breaks down the elements that combine to make food taste the way it does.
For example, he’s worked out that the flavour of fish actually comes from the ingredients the fish itself has been eating. So he goes straight to the source, using those flavours to create the dish, thereby leaving out the fish altogether.
It works whether you’re making a ‘fish’ stock or reimagining sushi.
It’s clever and it’s proof of the future of food being vegan that’s hard to argue with.
So if over the next few months you find yourself planning the holiday of a lifetime, and want a hotel that believes in working towards a more sustainable future, with a vegan tasting menu that will blow your mind, gravitate towards Paradise Cove Mauritius’ homepage, and you won’t be disappointed.
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