Andrei Lussmann has every reason to be very, very happy with his customers: their votes mean that his eponymous restaurant group will be unveiled as the winner of the People’s Favourite category in the Food Made Good Awards, the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s annual celebration of the UK’s ethical eateries.
But if he could change one thing about the 3,000 people that each week eat at one of Lussmanns Fish & Grill’s three sites – in St Albans, Hertford and Harpenden – it would be to persuade them to order more vegetables. He wants to feature more vegetarian dishes on his menu but he needs people to order them. “We have to make vegetables more superior, more impressive and more charming on the plate,” he told The Independent on Sunday, which is supporting the Food Made Good Awards.
“But we need our customers to be more engaged and to try something they might not usually try,” he added.
Mr Lussmann vowed to put sustainability at the heart of his business when he opened his first restaurant 15 years ago. He served ethically sourced British produce long before it became fashionable for every menu to detail the birthplace of each chicken on offer. He stuck to seasonal ingredients, perplexing diners craving air-freighted strawberries in February. For years, fish options were limited to cod or haddock until the Marine Stewardship Council had certified that more species were safe to serve.
Speaking to the IoS before the awards, Mr Lussmann criticised people for not paying more attention to where their food comes from when they eat out. “People suspend their values on whether chicken should be free-range from an Indian restaurant. That’s why with Lussmanns, for eight years we didn’t tell anyone what we were doing. We didn’t want to come across as being sanctimonious or righteous or preachy.”
Halving the steak options to two has cost him money but it prompted more people to order fish, he said. “I’d like to reduce it to one steak, forcing our customers down other routes. But it’s difficult outside of London. People want classics, dishes they can understand. Whenever we rehash something, the overarching feedback is, ‘What are you doing to the menu?’ It’s a very, very tough line between remaining interesting and ahead of the curve and not [becoming] too bohemian.”
Mr Lussmann will share the spotlight at a lunch to celebrate the Food Made Good Awards winners with Jamie Oliver. Raymond Blanc, the SRA’s president, will crown the campaigning chef as his Sustainability Hero on 22 March. “Whether he is challenging school caterers head-on, here or in the USA, or throwing himself into campaigns with an unrelenting passion and commitment to persuade the nation to buy higher-welfare chicken, Jamie carries people with him, leading them to a better place,” Blanc said, singling out Oliver’s campaign to tackle childhood obesity for special praise. Mr Oliver said getting the award was a “great honour”, adding: “This one is extra special because it bears the name of one of my heroes.” The award was judged before the Government’s sugar tax was announced in last Wednesday’s Budget.
Lussmanns Fish & Grill is one of 20 British restaurants, cafes, pubs, bars, contract caterers, universities and hotels that will be honoured on 22 March for their dedication to serving their diners delicious, ethical and sustainable dishes.