Veda chef Raul Tronco Calahorra and the Ovolo Group’s Girish Jhunjhnuwala talk to us about going vegetarian.
Located on the ground floor of the trendy Ovolo Central on Arbuthnot Road, Veda, Hong Kong’s first all-vegetarian hotel restaurant, is everything you’d expect from a hip, contemporary and health-conscious dining room.
The restaurant’s executive chef Raul Tronco Calahorra and the founder and executive chairman of the Ovolo Group, Girish Jhunjhnuwala, firmly believe in the importance of promoting sustainable hospitality practices, which they’re extending to all the company’s properties in the Asia- Pacific region. They sat down with Prestige to tell us why – and how – they’re doing it.
Raul Tronco Calahorra
Tell us about your background.
My passion for vegetarian and plant-based cooking began at home in Madrid, where I helped my father prepare family meals inspired by the rich flavours of northern Spain. In 2003 I entered culinary school and kick-started my career in Madrid. Not long after, I relocated to Jamaica, where I fell in love with Rastafarian culture, which forgoes meat, preservatives and additives as part of the pursuit of a spiritual connection with the earth. After transitioning to a fully vegetarian diet, I found myself revitalised and haven’t looked back since.
Have you always loved cooking vegetarian dishes?
Always. Veggies are much more complex than many people think.
Tell us about Veda’s new menu.
Veda is all about championing the freshest ingredients, so we’re always looking for seasonal items for our menus. The newest additions to our menu are inspired by and showcase summer ingredients. Having said that, we always maintain some of our signature dishes on the menu.
How would you describe Veda’s cuisine?
Healthy. This is the first thing I always look for when creating new dishes at Veda. We’re all about good food and good mood, and though we have items that don’t always visually look healthy, we always use high-quality oils, sugars, flours and eggs to create a long-lasting aftertaste. Food from Veda will always feel good during and after each meal.
What are your main inspirations?
My inspirations are the different cultures and cuisines I’ve experienced, and come to love. By mixing different cultures through our food, we’re able to take our guests all over the world with global flavours.
Is it hard conceptualising plant-based dishes that people come back for?
Definitely. Sometimes ideas come right away, but most of the time it’s a process. A lot of our dishes evolve with time and guests’ feedback.
As a chef, do you miss cooking with animal proteins?
Not at all. I’m completely at peace when I know what I have in my hands are sustainable and ethically sourced ingredients.
What’s next in plant-forward cuisine?
I believe the world will keep evolving in alternative meats, and that we as a species will learn to forgo the desire and need for the overconsumption of meat, not necessarily by becoming vegetarian, but just by being conscious of what we eat, and how we eat it.
Why did you decide to make Veda fully vegetarian?
Veda sits in Ovolo Central, the first-ever Ovolo property, and one that’s very close to my heart. Before it became Veda, it was a cafe opened by my wife, so that space is quite close to the family. That said, as I’m a vegetarian myself the concept came naturally. We wanted to showcase the wonderful variety and potential of vegetarian dining. There are so many restaurants you can choose from in every city that serve an array of different styles of cuisines. However, there’s a lack
of cool, trendy vegetarian restaurants, so that’s what Veda was set out to be.
How does it fit into the evolution of your brand?
Veda was a huge inspiration in our decision to go fully vegetarian. Alongside Alibi, our vegan restaurant in Sydney, it’s one of our most popular restaurants. With that, we knew there was an appetite for plant-based dining. We launched Year of the Veg in October 2020, when we decided to go vegetarian for a year. Off the success of that, we then decided to launch Plant’d, the next step in our venture into ethical eating, conscious cuisine and cutting-edge veg. With Plant’d, all Ovolo hotel restaurants and bars – excluding those at By Ovolo Collective hotels – now serve bold, locally sourced, plant-based meals.
Is food an important component of your mission?
Definitely. Good food and good times are an important part of our vision, and we know we can be sustainable while offering both.
(Hero image: Paneer tikka “escabeche”)