Michelin-starred chef Giorgio Locatelli reveals the secrets of his vegan cheese pizza

His new menu might even have meat-eaters convinced

Michelin-starred chef Giorgio Locatelli reveals the secrets of his vegan cheese pizza
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Michelin-starred chef Giorgio Locatelli reveals the secrets of his vegan cheese pizza Image #3
Michelin-starred chef Giorgio Locatelli reveals the secrets of his vegan cheese pizza Image #4
Michelin-starred chef Giorgio Locatelli reveals the secrets of his vegan cheese pizza Image #5
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“the first one I tried, I just spat it out. The guy was standing right there, and I was like ‘No, no way!’”

For Giorgio Locatelli, it’s been a hairy ride to launching his first full-size vegan menu, and finding a mozzarella that didn’t mortally offend his palate (and grandmothers up and down Italy) was at the very heart of it.

We’re in his Atlantis The Palm restaurant, Ronda Locatelli, and the chef, whose London Locanda Locatelli has held a Michelin star since 2003, is keen to show off the results of months of development.

“Shall we go and make a pizza? Let’s go and make a pizza,” he declares, leading us to the towering central brick oven around which the restaurant is shaped.

Ronda’s vegan menu may only have been live for a few weeks, but the pizzas are already flying out. “People are just going crazy for the vegan cheese,” says Salvo Sardo, the restaurant’s chef de cuisine.

It’s Sardo who has been leading the cheese charge, pushing for better and better quality and enduring round after round of tasting and testing.

“Pizza is very central to us, and Salvo has been going on and on,” Locatelli laughs, “Killing the suppliers here about the mozzarella, poor guys.”

The restaurant’s vegan mozzarella is made from a combination of soya and coconut milk, and the fact that it’s produced locally, just an hour away in Ras Al Khaimah, brings the charismatic Italian to a subject he’s long been passionate about, and a catalyst for the launch of a dedicated vegan menu.

“Sustainability is such a big thing, and nobody’s thinking about it.

“If we carry on eating like we are, we are going to destroy the world. Twenty percent of our greenhouse gases are produced by the meat and dairy industries.

“So I think a chef has a responsibility to give people a choice, and lead by showing that you can achieve incredible texture and flavour, just based on vegetables.”

He calls the rise of veganism “incredible”, driven by young people whose experience of going without meat and dairy doesn’t have the same associations as it may for older generations, who grew up with rationing during or after the second World War.

“The youth are demanding it –they obviously feel there is a responsibility.

“But a lot of people who aren’t even vegan or vegetarian will feel they want to eat something clean, especially at lunch,” a trend he notes has bloomed at his London eatery on Seymour Street.

Back in the kitchen, he picks up two pots of cheese.

“So, here’s the normal mozzarella.”

And one that looks like chopped up turkey pieces?

“Yes, the smell is the only thing I don’t like.”

It smells really mature, right?

“Yes. We’ll do one half of the pizza with each cheese, so you can try.”

After a few minutes bubbling and browning against the flames, he slides it out and onto a plate. “I’m really impressed with this cheese – it looks almost better than the normal mozzarella. Oh look, you’ve got a tiny bit of that cheese stretch.”

A tiny bit.

“A tiny bit.”

It’s kind of sticking to my teeth.

“Try the regular mozzarella side.”

To someone who gets through as much cheese as Australia does Prime Ministers, there’s a perceptible difference, but it’s not at all unpleasant.

Locatelli agrees, but for vegans it’s a different experience. “If you never eat cheese, or eat very little, then it’s perfect. Everybody we’ve served it to so far has been so happy about it.

“It’s definitely better quality than anything we have ever tasted.”

We spend a few more minutes literally and metaphorically dissecting the pizza, but we’ve only scratched the surface of the new menu, which is packed with salads, pizzas, pastas, and desserts, including an avocado chocolate mousse that gets Sardo rather convincingly misty-eyed.

“We’re very excited, because we’ve been working on this for a long time. We’ve tried to put everything into, though we had a few dishes that were a bit edgy, so we’ll try and introduce them slowly.”

Edgy?

“We couldn’t produce them as we wanted to. We did, how many? Three hundred covers last night? It takes a lot of training to add something to the menu here.

“In London, we have 80 people eating and 23 in the kitchen, so it’s easy to change the menu, sometimes even the same morning. Here, we have 300 eating and 17 in the kitchen – so you’re really punching above your weight when you start to change things!”

Could he ever go vegan himself? “If everyone took a step towards vegetarianism, it would make a big difference. I eat a lot of vegetables, [but as a chef] I can’t be like ‘Well, I don’t eat this, I don’t eat that’.

“And probably I wouldn’t be able to live without real risotto.”

Pity the chef who serves Locatelli the first round of tastings on a butterless batch, then.
Lunch Thu-Tue noon-3pm, afternoon menu 3pm-4.30pm; Dinner Sat-Tue 6pm-10.30pm, Thu-Fri 6pm-11pm. Ronda Locatelli, Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 2626).

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