With Veganuary in full swing, there’s no better time to talk to our latest 8Shades Of interviewee! This week, we’re chatting with Christian Mongendre, founder of much-loved veggie restaurant Treehouse and a pioneer of Hong Kong’s vegan food scene.
Having now founded three different vegetarian eateries in the city, we get Christian’s insights on eating more sustainably, how he discovered the truth behind the food system and what changes he’s seen in Hong Kong’s plant-based landscape over the last decade.
1. In one sentence, tell us what you do?
I’m a whole plant-based entrepreneur, focusing on bringing quality foods to people, all made fresh-to-order in a fast, casual manner – and our goal is to scale as much as possible to make this readily available to the masses!
2. Why are you an 8Shader?
I used to participate in high-level athletics and saw that being on a vegetarian diet helped my performance and recovery tremendously. Through illnesses in my family, I also saw how diet is crucial to our health.
When I then went to cooking school and became a chef, I discovered the reality of the food system – the lack of transparency, the generally poor food quality, the environmental impact and the role restaurants played in all that.
Discovering this and becoming vegetarian myself really opened my eyes to animal cruelty, the food system, what we eat and the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
See also: The Best Vegan Burgers in Hong Kong
3. What’s your best eco habit – and your guilty not-so green one?
The thing I do that has the most impact is the food that I eat – following a whole plant-based diet and trying to source ingredients as locally as possible. And of course, not having kids – but that might change in the future, who knows!
As for not-so-green, I do still travel a lot, although that’s obviously decreased a lot recently due to the pandemic.
4. Fave eco brand?
I’m a big fan of Patagonia – I like what they do as a company and how mindful their practices are. I also really like Sage Moon; it’s a website that sells yoga wear and other specially curated items from small independent producers.
5. Fave veggie dish in Hong Kong?
I love vegetarian Chinese food and dim sum; I recently tried Veggie Kingdom in Tsim Sha Tsui and they have a really good vegetarian char siu. I also love the vegetarian dosas at Woodlands; they’re fermented and absolutely delicious.
6. You helped spearhead the plant-based food movement in Hong Kong with the veggie restaurant Mana – what were some of the biggest challenges you encountered along the way and what improvements have you seen since?
I was the co-founder, partner and executive chef of Mana, which opened in 2012, and I stayed with them until 2015. At the time, there were no fast-casual vegetarian restaurant concepts here. The biggest challenge was changing people’s perceptions of vegetarian food – that it’s not exciting, it doesn’t have nice textures, it’s made by hippies, it’s missing protein. Back then, it was also quite hard to source things like kale, quinoa and even eco-friendly packaging.
Since creating Mana, Home Eat To Live and now Treehouse, Hong Kong’s landscape has totally changed and people’s awareness has increased tremendously; I think most people are now aware of the impact that humans have on the planet.
The availability of solutions for the restaurant business has really increased, in terms of things like composting our waste and using eco-friendly packaging. And simply, having the support of the crowd – we’re not totally there yet but we’re getting there, and people’s awareness is growing!
7. What’s your top tip for eating more sustainably?
Cooking for yourself is key – no one will cook better and with more love and awareness of what’s in the food than you. In restaurants, you really have to trust the integrity of where you’re eating, as it’s easy to disguise food quality and the ingredients used. Cooking for yourself and the people you love – and knowing where your food comes from as much as possible – is the key to becoming more sustainable.
You’ll also then be more aware of how much waste is created and if there’s anything you can repurpose, reuse or recycle – and realise how much of an impact you can make by taking action within your own space.
8. What shade of green are you and why?
If I had to pick just one, I’d say emerald – I love crystals and semi-precious stones and think it’s amazing how they naturally occur in nature.
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