Frederic Mariage isn’t your obvious vegan chef candidate: he started his career in France specializing in seafood platters. Scampi, crabs, lobsters, all kinds of shellfish from the sea – he presented and served them to the guests with great skill. “I used to process eight different types of oysters,” he says. “Because I liked working with seafood, I kept doing this, so I just did that.”
He became known as Ã©cailler, a cook who focused on seafood. “The person who opens all of the crustaceans and puts them on a plate in front of you is usually called that,” he says.
SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD SELECTION
âI’ve done that for half my career,â adds the cook. He also spent time on lavish pastries and chocolate desserts, cooked beef fillets with morel sauce, and made foie gras in the kitchen. His workplace was anything but vegan: He was once employed alongside charcuterie chefs. “They got 400 kilos of pork every week,” he says. This huge amount of raw meat was cut into cold cuts by their hands.
Mariage’s upbringing wasn’t exactly vegan either: he grew up in Essonne, an hour south of Paris, and cheese and sausages were often on the family table.
A move to Australia in 2011 (and meeting his vegetarian wife a few years later) set Mariage on the path to becoming a vegan chef.
When Mariage moved to Sydney, he continued to cook buttery and rich French dishes in restaurants: profiteroles, snails, nougat ice cream, Croque monsieurs, cheese crpes.
But serving traditional French food helped shape his current vegan business, Le Gourmand, which offers butter-free and plant-based versions of staples from his homeland such as macarons, foie gras and creme brulee.
Macarons with their tender almond shells and rich ganache filling are particularly difficult to make – even in their non-vegan form. Mariage remembers cooking in France with a pastry chef who worked with the legendary Alain Ducasse. “He tried to make macarons, but they were all flat biscuits because he had never tried it. So we had to buy the macarons’ skins frozen, done,” says Mariage.
Making macarons is “a nightmare” for any chef, and Mariage admits it took time to get everything right. “So often have I found so many batches [going] all in the trash because they were flat, like crpes, “says the cook.
But eventually he mastered the light meringue cookie shells and the chocolatey ganache – and he managed it without breaking a single egg. The key is using potato protein instead of the usual protein. And he spices the ganache with Belgian dark chocolate, which is completely vegan.
Mariage started its Le Gourmand business last September with a macaron stand at the Sydney Vegan Market in Moore Park.
âIt was a very simple setup,â he says. The chef prepared all of his macarons in advance and offered them in boxes of five flavors: raspberry, passion fruit, lemon, pistachio and Belgian dark chocolate. His stand was stocked with 1,000 macarons – and they were all gone within four hours. “I was sold out at one o’clock.”
In the meantime, he has expanded the Le Gourmand range to include a vegetable pate (enriched with mushrooms, nuts, lentils and âbrandy of all kindsâ) and a âfaux grasâ instead of the traditional foie gras, which is typically made, by force-feeding geese or Ducks, causing their livers to swell to an unusually large size (sometimes 10 times their natural size).
This practice was criticized by animal rights activists and resulted in foie gras production being banned in certain places around the world and India completely stopping imports of the French delicacy.
Mariage admits that for most of his career, I’ve never asked myself too many questions about how goose liver is made. In fact, as a chef, he didn’t really think about where the ingredients were coming from. âWhen you see a piece of meat, you don’t see a cow,â he says. But that approach starts when you’re young, he believes.
“I was brought up to ‘drink your milk in the morning before you go to school.’ The milk comes from a cow that has always been pregnant to feed a calf, but to raise a calf, not to grow a human body, “he says. “It is not the same need. A calf will eventually become an animal weighing 600-800 kilos. I will not be the same.”
This resulted in him becoming a vegan around the same time he was starting Le Gourmand.
“I’ve wanted my own little thing for over 20 years.”
But turning French staples that get their flavor from rich animal fats into vegan-friendly products has not been easy. His first attempt at vegetable foie gras was “very disgusting,” he admits. “It was like nothing compared to the real thing.”
Since then, he’s traded the ingredients from his first salty experiment (in which he relied too much on miso and Asian products he was unfamiliar with) for cashews, cultured butter, coconut and grapeseed oils, all of which help make the greasy, luxurious To reproduce the taste profile of foie gras.
“I used to make my crÃ¨me brulÃ©e myself,” says Mariage, referring to the burnt custard dessert he served in Montparnasse, a French restaurant in Randwick where he used to cook. “And people only came there in the afternoon for the crÃ¨me brulÃ©e.” In the meantime, he has swapped the classic recipe of eggs, cream and milk for a plant-based combination of cream, turmeric and vanilla for Le Gourmand. “I worked on it a bit. I wanted it to have the right taste.”
There’s also his vegan chocolate mousse and meringue, which his non-vegan friends approved of. “The whole time they asked me to take chocolate home with me,” he says.
While Sydney has a thriving vegan food scene – with Le Gourmands assortment at La Petite Fauxmagerie, a vegan cheese shop on a Newtown strip that also offers a vegetarian butcher, vegan sushi, and Palestinian plant-based dishes – things are a little different in their homeland .
When the mayor of Lyon cut meat from the school’s lunch menu earlier this year, conservative French politicians loudly criticized the move. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin spoke of an “unacceptable insult” to French butchers and farmers.
“For them, it’s like learning a new language,” says Mariage of the old French guard, who resist such advances. “But it’s going to change because of that [younger] Generation.”
This could be the case as they welcomed a climate change initiative by Barbara Pompili, France’s Minister for Ecological Transition, which also includes calls for more vegetarian options on school menus in order to reduce the country’s carbon footprint. Going meat-free could be the way forward – a big step for a country known for boeuf bourguignon, steak fries, cassoulet and other dishes high in animal protein.
For Mariage, making vegan foods was a significant step in her career. “I wanted to cook myself for many years, but I didn’t have the guts … it was too risky,” he says. His original plan was to give up hospitality altogether and become a plumber. But starting his vegan business changed all that.
Because of this, it was particularly important to create Le Gourmand and sell its faux grass and macarons in markets and shops. “I’ve wanted my own little thing for over 20 years.”
Follow Le Gourmand on Instagram for updates on dealers and market appearances – and to order macarons directly. Photos by Vivian Wei.
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