For René Mathieu, people need to become more aware of how to eat sustainably. Photo: Romain Gamba/Maison Moderne

For René Mathieu, people need to become more aware of how to eat sustainably. Photo: Romain Gamba/Maison Moderne

Local, seasonal, vegetarian... Michelin-starred chef René Mathieu believes in sustainable cuisine. After presenting his vision at the IMS’s Luxembourg Sustainability Forum he spoke to Delano’s sister publication Paperjam.

“Everything was picked this morning, locally.” On stage at Luxexpo, Michelin-starred chef proudly presents a dozen colourful plants. One treats indigestion, another the common cold. “In general, we work with around a hundred plants,” he says. “Healthy eating is taking care of yourself.”

On 26 October, the man who usually cooks for customers at his plant-based restaurant La Distillerie concocted plates for guests at the “Behind your food” roundtable at the Sustainability Forum organised by non-profit Inspiring More Sustainability. Behind the chef’s calm appearance lies a strong commitment to a sustainable revolution.

Paperjam: As a chef, aren’t there any limits to 100% local?

René Mathieu: I didn’t say I was doing 100% local. It’s more like 88-89%. On the question of whether there is enough food to eat completely locally, however, my answer is yes--if people learn to eat less, to favour natural and simple products and to not always want ready-made meals. The problem is quantity. If you take a dish of carrots and add eight other ingredients, that’s too much for me. We try to work on pure products. It’s difficult to get people to change. I’m not working to change those aged 50-60, but rather the younger generations, which means education: the school model is no longer relevant to real life. Every month, we go out into the countryside with people to teach them what can be eaten locally. Eyes are opened.

Elephants, gorillas, giraffes: these are vegetarian mammals, and have you seen their build?
René Mathieu

René MathieuchefLa Distillerie

Sustainable cooking is all about being local and anti-wasteful. How can we ‘reuse’ certain parts of products?

Take the courgette leaf, for example: you can peel it and eat it raw with goat cheese as an aperitif. You can make vegetable juices and crisps. Every time we make a menu, we use the offcuts to make flavoured waters.

Also, we no longer use water to cook the vegetables. As far as recycling is concerned, it’s vital to brief the staff. And offering customers the right portions is also part of the equation.

Should you be full at the end of a meal?

You don’t have to be hungry. We’re talking about the desire to eat. You should eat until you’re 80% full. If you eat healthily, you don’t need huge quantities. In some places, you go for a four-hour tasting menu and by the end you can’t take it anymore. With us, you can eat the same number of dishes in two hours and still manage to eat all the way through. We don’t add bread; there’s no need. No need for butter or fats, either: they’re difficult to digest.

Since going 100% plant-based, we’ve reduced our household waste by 70%. Plant-based foods use less energy than meat--you don’t have to refrigerate them. Those who sell animal protein will tell you that you need it to live. But that’s not true. Elephants, gorillas, giraffes: these are vegetarian mammals, and have you seen their build? We’re not advocating vegetarianism, but eating too much meat is ugly. You’re harming the planet and your health.

I think that, these days, people talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.

It’s not McDonald’s that’s responsible; it’s the people who eat at McDonald’s.
René Mathieu

René Mathieuchef La Distillerie

What can be done?

Everyone needs to get out of their comfort zone. It’s not McDonald’s that’s responsible, it’s the people who eat at McDonald’s.

There are sports coaches who will tell you to eat blueberries for their antioxidant powers. But can you eat them all year round? No. Blueberries grow in July and August. For the rest of the year, there’s nothing left in them apart from the products used to grow them. We need to get back to the basics. The planet will always recover; there have been other civilisations before us. The danger is humanity. It was said that with covid things would change, but instead they’ve gotten worse. The politicians? They’re only there when it’s time to vote, not afterwards.

This article in Paperjam. It has been translated and edited for Delano.