Phil Khoury, the Australian pastry chef at Harrods

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It is the fastest growing sector of the food and drink industry in Britain. Sales of plant-based foods have also increased by 49% across Europe over the past two years. A quarter of the UK population now call themselves ‘flexitarians’ – people who follow a predominantly vegetarian diet but occasionally eat meat or fish for reasons such as health and nutrition or sustainability.

Phil Khoury says plant-based desserts aren’t just good for you, they’re also better for the environment.Credit:Hollie Adams

Khoury says vegan recipes have gone wrong in the past, often providing bland and flavorless foods, when they tried to substitute similar ingredients.

“I’ve found that not using dairy allows clean, bright flavors to really shine and pop, and egg flavors in foods can be skipped,” he says.

“When you look at baking with fresh eyes and reformulate from scratch, there are exciting opportunities to be discovered. I have a responsibility to show how good vegan baking can be.

The latest report from the International Committee on Climate Change, released last week, was clear on the environmental benefits of plant-based foods: “Diets high in plant protein and low in meat and dairy are associated with reduced greenhouse gas emissions”.

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He called for policies that encourage a 20% shift away from dairy by 2030. The report says a shift to greener diets and less consumption of meat and dairy “could lead to a substantial decrease in GHG emissions”, which would also include freeing up more land and replenishing nutrients, while improving health and saving lives.

Khoury says the climate crisis may seem like an “impossible challenge”, but reducing or eliminating meat and dairy from the diet is the single most effective thing an individual can do to help the environment.

“It becomes so much easier to reduce the meat, but the dessert is the final frontier. A lot of people don’t think about going so far as to cut out eggs and dairy,” he says.

Growing up in a Lebanese Australian family in Oatlands near Parramatta, food was at the heart of family events and celebrations. And it was mostly filled with large plates of meat.

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But he had an epiphany a few years ago when he realized he could help save the planet and promote sustainable food chains through his work in the kitchen.

He said he took it for granted that he had always worked in “very beautiful places that have very good ingredients”.

“It’s easy to forget that at the high end of the industry, it’s a bubble and only represents a small volume of food,” he says. “It wasn’t until later that I got closer to how food is made, and in most countries 97% of food production is so far from what I thought it was, and involved intensive agriculture with huge impacts on the environment and which are cruel to animals.

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After completing Year 12 at Parramatta Marist High School, Khoury’s career shifted to baking after completing a Bachelor of Design at the University of Western Sydney. He then studied pastry, working at Peter Gilmore’s Quay Restaurant and Shangri La Sydney with award-winning pastry chef Anna Polyviou before finding himself head of research and development with renowned pastry chef Adriano Zumbo.

He says Harrods, where he helps lead a team of nearly 60 staff in iconic food halls, has given him a unique opportunity to show discerning customers just how good the alternative can be and to further open up the eyes on the possibilities.

But the store – which is renowned for its quality and at peak times attracts more than 300,000 customers a day from around the world via its Knightsbridge store – cannot compromise on quality.

Khoury says those with a sweet tooth need not fear the new generation of plant-based desserts. And he agrees that taste is everything.

“When I’m looking to introduce a new dessert to the lineup, we have many tastings where we go through a process of critique and refinement until it meets the standards,” he says.

“I will never say it is vegan in advance because it has to meet all our expectations and deliver taste. Whether it’s vegan or plant-based is just a huge bonus.

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