The Leaders of Enogastronomy

Ricky Saward: How Germany's First Michelin-Starred Vegan Chef is Changing the Industry

Sveva Valeria Castegnaro
Copertina ricky saward

Before the "conversion" of the three-star Eleven Madison Park and the award to vegan chef Claire Vallée, he was the pioneer of green cuisine, earning the macaron in 2020 for his entirely animal-free menu. Today, Ricky Saward engages customers with "powerful images," raising public awareness alongside PETA.

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In an era where images speak louder than words, Ricky Saward, a Michelin-starred chef at Seven Swans restaurant in Frankfurt, chose a photograph to convey his philosophy: that of a completely vegan cuisine. It was in 2019 when Saward decided to eliminate meat and fish from his menus, a choice that soon proved successful. Within just one year, the "Rossa" recognized his dedication, making him the first vegan chef in Europe to receive the coveted macaron at the age of 31 (2021 would have been particularly favorable for Claire Vallée, the first French vegan Michelin-starred chef).

ricky saward chef
ricky saward chef piatto

The 2019 turning point was so radical that not only meat and fish, but also pepper, olive oil, vegetable oil, and similar ingredients are now completely banned from the Seven Swans kitchen. The German chef's green philosophy aligns with the concepts of seasonality, regionalism, and sustainability. For Saward, the transition to the vegan world was inevitable, to the extent that he now wants to spread his message beyond the boundaries of the kitchen. PETA, the animal protection organization, is indeed the "partner" with whom he is advancing his latest project: a manifesto that depicts him in a tub filled with fake blood, holding a bunch of red beets.

Copertina ricky saward
ricky saward chef 2

"Clearly in the photo, I am washing off the blood after 15 years of cooking with animal products: I am in a red tub, a symbol of the suffering I caused to countless living beings. In my right hand, I hold a bunch of beets, which chromatically evoke meat but are harmless vegetables. The idea came from me. As some may know, I have a decent musical background: I was the frontman of a punk band for several years. With the band, we used to go regularly to a music store in Cologne, and there were numerous theme magazines, including one that struck me in 2004: Lenny Kravitz was on the cover, lying with his guitar, immersed in a red substance. A powerful image. After the initial discussions with Silke Berenthal of PETA, I suggested to adapt that image to our campaign, where the association (usually engaged in fur protests) enters the kitchen for the first time. Images are art. Everyone can interpret them differently. It is important to encourage people to think over it," the chef explains.

ricky saward

"The world of fine dining has a deep connection with the world of animals. People always seek 'luxury products': the rarer, the better, whether it's animal meat or caviar, lobster, tuna, or foie gras... I could mention countless other examples. Humanity has lost control of itself. There is no longer sensitivity or respect for other living beings. The exploitation of animals and the Earth's resources harms us, but for some reason, no one understands it. Five years ago, I chose a path that was far from easy and full of risks, but transitioning to regional and sustainable vegan cuisine was the right decision. We have become excessively cautious in all sectors. Everyone is afraid of saying the wrong thing or behaving incorrectly in public. I think that images express themselves in a sort of gray area; everyone interprets them differently. It is important to encourage people to contemplate," the chef narrates.

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The image, undeniably provocative, does not intend to shame anyone; Saward's goal is to stir the minds of colleagues, critics, and customers. "I try to bring people closer to high-level green cuisine without pressure, lessons, or accusatory fingers. I just want to stimulate thoughts," says what can now be considered one of the ambassadors of plant-based gastronomy.

Cover photo: @Marc Rehbeck for Peta

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