Peggy Chan brings plant-based fine dining to Hong Kong

A woman leaning over the counter in the kitchen

The Soho House Hong Kong member and chef-restaurateur on how meat-free cuisine can enter the big leagues, ahead of her 25 November dinner

By Juliana Loh   Images courtesy of Peggy Chan   Saturday 21 November, 2020

Over the past decade, growing concern around climate change has galvanised a movement in the world of food and drink, bringing mindful, sustainable consumption to the fore. In 2011, Noma chef and owner René Redzepi founded MAD, a symposium-turned-academy that has the goal of revolutionising the food industry and its relationship to the planet. Fast forward eight years to 2019, and Douglas McMaster’s (since-closed) Silo in Hackney, London, was making headlines as the world’s first zero-waste restaurant, using only cruelty-free and sustainable produce. 

It’s almost as long that Soho House Hong Kong member Peggy Chan has been bringing these same concepts to life in her home city. A strong proponent of plant-based diets, since 2012 she’s been a pioneer in the area, driving awareness and change via Grassroots Pantry, one of Hong Kong’s first vegan and eco-conscious restaurants, which later morphed into fine-dining concept Nectar.

Chan closed the restaurant to focus on creating a sustainable food consultancy – but she has no plans to stop her efforts to normalise plant-based dining. ‘Like most businesses, we’ve had to remain flexible and take on changing directions that would allow us to maximise our impact while staying lean,’ she says. ‘We will continue pushing for food education reform across Asia, and drive progressive policy changes, while also inspiring our community to take accountability in solving the global climate crisis.’
A stylish dish shot from above
A hand holding chopsticks dipping into some noodles
In 2016, Chan created The Collective’s Table, a series of pop-up dinners and collaborations with fellow chefs that aims to raise the profile of plant-based cooking. Working alongside Chan, industry peers are challenged to prepare a multi-course menu using only vegetarian ingredients, with part of the proceeds from each dinner goes towards a charity of the guest chef’s choice. ‘Over the years, we’ve done 11 pop-ups, from Manila to Shanghai to Melbourne, with respected chefs such as Richard Ekkebus, Margarita Forés and Garima Arora,’ says Chan.

A goal of these collaborations is to demonstrate to chefs the benefits of making plant-based and sustainable practices a mainstay of their restaurants. ‘Having benchmarks in your establishments where only 30% to 40% of the dishes contain meat or dairy is a great way to help set standards [that can be] carried throughout the culture of the business,’ suggests Chan. ‘We have many clients who understand the need to transition quickly, and these are simple tips to achieve immediate and measurable results.’
Dishes of ingredients
Small bites of stylish food on a marble counter
As global perceptions of plant-based dining have shifted in recent years, there have been several innovative alternatives, with lab-made, plant-based proteins like those created by Impossible Foods and Beyond Meats gaining a large part of the market share. While these are effective in slowly converting meat-lovers into limiting their intake, Chan says, ‘not all vegan diets are going to be healthier or more sustainable compared to a diet of moderately consumed, ethically sourced fish and meat. Despite having been vegetarian for almost 20 years, I do also understand that [there’s] no one size fits all. We must ban factory-farmed agriculture and GMOs, and end animal cruelty, but practising non-judgment and compassion is the best way to inspire our neighbours.’

In her commitment to safeguarding animal welfare, she’s undoubtedly in good company: in 2019, three-Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn banned meat in her eponymous San Francisco restaurant Atelier Crenn, as well as at her more casual eateries. To this end, Chan holds a quote from American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead close to her heart: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’

Join Peggy Chan for her plant-based One Night Only dinner at Soho House Hong Kong on Wednesday November 25.
Interested in becoming a member?