In his home country of India, people have been cooking vegan for centuries, says Gaurav Bajaj. They’ve done so both privately and professionally. Of course, nobody called it vegan back then, nor did they suspect a future trend. “It was simply the everyday way food was prepared” – with lots of vegetables, legumes and rice. “Naturally vegan” is what the former chef at the starred restaurant calls the concept, which he also implements at Jai Food s, a company which he co-founded.
After stints in hotels and restaurants in New Delhi and Bangalore, serving as head chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant “Benares” in London, as well as working as a gastronomy and food service consultant and application consultant at the global market leader RATIONAL AG, Bajaj has recently taken a new turn. Since 2022, he has dedicated himself to the idea of high-quality ready meals, partnering with Jai Foods founder Kiran Mazumdar. The goal: Excellent Indian dishes to enjoy at home that are quick and easy to prepare.
Gaurav Bajaj: vegan substitutes aren’t essential
Today, veganism is clearly also a business, says Gaurav Bajaj. “An increasing number of companies in the dairy and meat industry, as well as professional kitchens, are now relying on plant-based substitutes.” The trend is also being fueled by social media. “When it says vegan, people buy it – no matter what it contains.” But this is exactly where the kitchen professional sees a problem. “The market for vegan meat alternatives will continue to grow, and this dietary change is also very sensible. However, there are serious indications that in a few years we will face similar ramifications as we do with animal products: High CO2 consumption in production and an oversupply of highly processed food.”
With this, Bajaj is addressing a topic that has been discussed time and again. There is scientific evidence that a vegan diet produces fewer greenhouse gases than a carnivorous diet. Nevertheless, the following also applies to vegan products: the more processing steps and transportation routes required, the worse the carbon footprint.
However, he can also see that the demand for vegan dishes is growing in the restaurant and private sector at Jai Foods, says Gaurav Bajaj. But he deliberately leaves out meat substitutes, flavor enhancers or preservatives in his dishes, instead relying entirely on the vegetable-based cuisine of his childhood.
That doesn’t mean you always have to forego meat. Neither does Bajaj. However, if you do use meat, it is important that it is high-quality meat from sustainable sources. In addition to two meat dishes, Bajaj also cooks two vegan dishes without any substitute products: a chickpea curry with a homemade spice mix and a dal made from beluga lentils with chili. The secret to the flavor of vegan dishes in particular lies in searing the ingredients for an extra long time, roasting the spices and caramelizing the onions, Bajaj reveals.
Consciously cooking and enjoying – whether vegan or not
Techniques that the Bavarian by choice has internalized not just thanks to his culinary roots, but also as a result of his studies at École Grégoire-Ferrandi and training at the world-famous three-star restaurant “L’Arpege” in Paris.
“From dishes like Bœuf bourguignon, which only reaches perfection after hours of braising, we can learn to celebrate meat consumption and appreciate the product instead of mindlessly consuming a quick chicken sandwich every day.”
Gaurav Bajaj attempts to clear up any misunderstandings by stressing that he is by no means advocating giving up meat completely just because he cooks vegan food without substitute products. Rather, he is committed to a more conscious approach to meat and animal products. Does it really have to be spaghetti bolognese or would the pasta also taste good with a completely different sauce? Do I have to create a schnitzel substitute or do I have a look at what seasonal vegetables are on offer? One recipe that is guaranteed to taste good and be easy for everyone is his Indian lentil stew with rice, says Bajaj. “Roasted vegetables, chili, salt, coriander and cumin – that’s all you need.”