Vancouver’s Mott 32 Promotes Sustainability by Offering Plant-Based Chinese Dishes

Photo: Leila Kwok

With the upcoming Lunar New Year, many diners may wish to start 2023 by shifting to more plant-based eating. One option is Mott 32, which features a plant-based menu and a commitment to sustainability and to greater environmental consciousness.

Specializing in Chinese fine dining, Mott 32 started in Hong Kong and opened a location in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour in 2017. Focusing on Cantonese cuisine, with nods to Szechuan and Beijing cooking, Mott 32 takes a modern approach to its dishes, even as it stays rooted in tradition.

Photo: Leila Kwok

Mott 32’s plant-based menu is part of the restaurant group’s overall focus on sustainability. Co-founders Malcolm Wood and Matt Reid, in addition to being restaurateurs, are also environmental filmmakers and producers. Their projects include A Plastic Ocean and The Last Glaciers, both films that they produced to raise awareness about pressing environmental issues: the pervasiveness of plastic in our oceans and the repercussions of climate change respectively.

In addition, Malcolm Wood is a United Nations Climate Change Ambassador, part of the UN’s campaign “Mountain Heroes,” which highlights the effects of climate change and other environment issues on mountains. Meanwhile, Matt Reid is on the Board of Directors of the charities Plastic Oceans Foundation and Hong Kong Shark Foundation, and an advisor for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which promotes a circular economy.

As a result of their environmental awareness, Wood and Reid made sustainability a priority at Mott 32 even before the introduction of the restaurant’s plant-based menu. Mott 32 focuses on the sustainability of its ingredients and offers plastic-free takeout containers in order to reduce environmental waste. Wood sees the plant-based menu as part of Mott 32’s overall ethos. “Hospitality and sustainability have both always been my passions, and we have always strived to make sure that our restaurants lead the way in terms of innovation. Mott 32 was one of the first Chinese fine-dining destinations to marry true Cantonese cooking techniques with a more sustainable approach to eating with the launch of the plant-based menu,” he says.

The design of the plant-based menu was overseen by Group Chinese Executive Chef, Lee Man Sing. Chef Lee comes with considerable culinary training and expertise, earning Michelin stars while cooking at the Man Wah restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong. He also received a “Best of the Best Culinary Award” from the Hong Kong Tourism Board in 2006 and in 2009.

Now at the helm of Mott 32, Chef Lee took on the task of coming up with a plant-based menu over the course of several months. “We ultimately decided on reinventing dishes, some of our most signature and loved dishes,” he says. In Vancouver, the plant-based options include vegetable siu mai, braised lion’s head “meatballs,” and crispy “chicken” with Szechuan red peppercorns, dried chili, and cashews.

Photo: Leila Kwok

For Chef Lee, it was important to stay true to the origins of a dish, to the traditional techniques used in cooking it, as well as to its signature flavours, while at the same time making it plant-based. This was no easy feat, but one achieved after considerable research and creativity. One of Mott 32’s plant-based favourites is crispy “eel” with fried shredded mushroom, French green beans, and sesame. The dish comes from Jiangsu Province in China and traditionally features Liangxi twice fried eel. Chef Lee says, “In this adaptation, we have used mushrooms in place of eel to give the dish a sustainable twist, while retaining its iconic sweet and savoury flavours.”

Photo: Leila Kwok

One of Mott 32’s signature dishes is smoked cod, with the cod deep fried until crisp and coated with a complementary sweet and smoky sauce. Chef Lee took the traditional dish from Shanghai and made it plant-based by using a soy, rice, and pea protein mixture in place of the usual cod. The dish features the same distinctive flavours and texture, but in a plant-based form.

Photo: Leila Kwok

The introduction of plant-based menu items has met with very positive feedback. Wood says, “We always knew the next step was to take the environmental focus to our menu, and we have been thrilled with the response from our team, guests, and the support from the industry.” Part of the Mott 32 experience is education, with staff welcoming any questions from guests about the plant-based, as well as other dishes on the menu. The team at Mott 32 sees itself as ambassadors for Chinese cuisine that is both steeped in tradition, while also contemporary. Educating consumers about the value of sustainable ingredients and plant-based alternatives is part of the overall hospitality.

Photo: Leila Kwok

Mott 32 continues to look for more ways to promote sustainability in their restaurant as well as introduce more plant-based dishes to the menu. Wood sees Mott 32 as part of a global shift towards more environmental consciousness.

While Mott 32 is proud of its plant-based dishes, it perceives itself as part of a larger restaurant community—both in Vancouver, and beyond—that is changing its ingredients and practices in order to support the environment. Wood says, “As one of the leading Chinese restaurants focused on sustainability, we are also always inspired by other restaurants and believe that we are all learning from one another in this industry.” Wood is hopeful that Mott 32’s plant-based menu will inspire other food establishments, diners, as well as other industries to do more for the environment.

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