Meet Arnaud Hauchon, the unassuming French man who is responsible for creating some of the best raw food I have ever tasted. After my sixth visit to Aloka in Brighton, the restaurant at which he is head chef, I decided it was time to meet the man behind the Parsnip ravioli with a green olive, walnut & cashew cheese filling and the Peruvian cacao and ginger torte – to name just a couple of his sumptuous raw creations. It is hardly surprising that a man with this much talent possess an incredibly impressive culinary CV, with 4 years worth of superior studies at a hotel and catering school in France at its foundation. After working in various gastronomical regions of his home country, he then went on to work in kitchens all over the world. It was in Stravanger, Norway, that he ran the kitchen in the countries first ever organic vegan cafe “Resept”. He also worked at renowned vegan fine dining restaurants “Millennium” and “Green’s” – both of which are located in San Francisco, California.
Luckily for us, he now finds himself on British shores in Brighton, which is where our interview took place. I would have forgiven him for wanting to brag about his raw king oyster mushroom & prune ragout, or his maca bourbon vanilla ice-cream with lime & coconut crust, but as he very modestly states “the star in our kitchen is the produce and nature itself”. I beg to differ! A relentlessly hard worker with a huge passion for vegan cuisine and healthy living; here is what Arnaud Hauchon had to say whilst chatting with me on the iconic pebbled beach….
Tell us a bit about your job as Head Chef at Aloka.
I don’t really call it my job. Well of course it’s ‘work’, but my job doesn’t finish when I go to work and end when I go home. I work 3 hours a day on the side. Planning, preparing, researching. It’s always there. It’s like being a musician, a little bit… or even an artist, because you really have to dive into it. Which makes it nice, because it becomes not a job anymore. People say to me “But Arnaud, you have no life, what are you talking about?!” But you know, I’m not dead. This is my life.
How long have you been working with raw foods?
I have been flirting with raw food for quite some years. When I started at Aloka it was pretty new to me. I said, “I can do it, but it’s nothing that I really know”. I had to deal with new techniques, but after I got it I then developed it. A few techniques can go a long way. There are still a lot of things that I take from my back ground, of course. But at the same time I need to relax about that.
What is the best raw food you have ever tasted, and where did you eat it?
The best raw food I have ever had in my life is a very ripe mango. A couple of years ago I was in India and I opened this mango, took a bite and I was like – whoosh! It was like a slap in the face! I was thinking ‘who designed this?’ ‘Who is their head chef?!’. Now this is where I totally agree with what raw food people say, that food was designed naturally for us. You don’t need to work it too much. Really, this is my aim… to go back to more simplicity. But I’m not there yet.
You are an advocate for healthy living, but you appreciate people’s need for pleasure and hedonism. How does this translate to the work that you do?
The gourmet side of raw and cooked vegan food is very important. As a chef I put a question mark out there. I ask people to question their habits, and then I want to say to people, ‘Ok you are a pleasure seeker, you are a hedonist, but you can still be healthy. You can still be ethically correct”. Raw food is so vibrant. I put a lot of pleasure into the way a meal is presented, I get great enjoyment from this. It needs attention. You can see that every plate that is served in Aloka has had care and attention put into it. It’s a treat going to a restaurant and people need to be nurtured.
Your cheesecakes are divine. Seriously. And your ice cream! It’s so hard to believe that they are raw and vegan… Can you share with us what’s in them?
Mainly cashews and coconut butter.
That’s it?! Wow… Did you make dairy ice cream in your earlier years as a chef?
Oh, yes. This helps of course. When making good food, self-confidence and belief in your abilities is very important. If you are constantly prodding, testing and stirring you are working the substance too much. It just ends up like a mush. The faster the better.
Do you use Irish moss?
No, and I don’t use young coconut meat either. When I first got into creating raw foods, all the recipes were ‘young Thai coconut this, and Irish moss that’. But when you are into raw foods or you are a vegan, you tend to be concerned for the welfare of the planet. Irish moss I suppose isn’t that bad to use, but coconuts come from many miles away. I would feel like a hypocrite if I used them in my food. It is a challenge though, but it is good as it helps with my creativity. Local food is important and we have some very good providers. We use an amazing amount of local food at Aloka.
What do you do with left over raw food in the kitchen?
There are many ways you can use left over raw food. It’s amazing what you can turn into a cracker using a dehydrator. Raw soups make beautiful crackers. I use flax as the main binding ingredient. I tend not to use chia. I mostly use chia in puddings.
How long have you been vegan for?
This a complete sweeping generalisation I know, but there don’t tend to be many people from France who are vegan. Am I right?
Yes, but I don’t live in France. This is probably why! Most people look to vegetarian, vegan and raw food diets mainly for the health part. In France, we don’t have many problems relating to health. I would say there is more balance, the portions are smaller, we can still afford to have good food and the farm factories don’t really exist. We do still have some industrially produced meats and dairy products, but nothing like they do in the States. So people in France don’t really feel the urge to become vegan or vegetarian, as they don’t feel so much shame. And the Frenchman’s connection to his plate is very strong. You try and take something off his plate and he will bite you! So vegan and vegetarianism in France is little bit too much for them.
Do you believe in a 100% raw diet?
I believe in the many benefits or raw food, but I don’t believe in extremes. I worry sometimes that people who are trying to be 100% raw are having food psychosis. You can get sick in the head from doing this and it’s unhealthy. You need to be happy. Love what you eat, your body will respond to that. Take pleasure in what you are cooking, shop at the place you love to shop, make food for the people that you love, eat slowly and mindfully…this is a good way to live.
Do you find being a vegan chef, especially now that you do raw food as well, that people want to get into a debate with you over food?
On the rare occasion that I socialise and I am not in the world of ‘food’ people are interested and want to talk to me about it. But often there comes a point where they don’t want to go further because they start to feel uneasy. And I don’t want to go further with the topic either. They feel like you are telling them how to eat. You have to be very careful, as people understandably will be defensive. It’s like telling a mother how to raise her child. I am very sensitive to this and I am not pointing the finger at anyone. If I meet new people I don’t tell them I am a vegan chef. I just say, ‘I am a chef’. It’s much easier this way.
What would your last raw supper be?…
A very ripe mango.