Conversations for Change with Christian G. Mongendre

CONVERSATIONS FOR CHANGE WITH

CHRISTIAN G. MONGENDRE,

PLANT-BASED CHEF

Christian G. Mongendre is the chef and owner of the Treehouse  plant-based businesses in Hong Kong. His attention to pure, healthy, energetic, consciousness-raising food and lifestyles is instilled in every aspect of the restaurants and concepts he runs and works with. Everything, from their eco-friendly design to the carefully curated menus, to the selection of each ingredient -- is done with integrity and with intense attention to detail.

This passionate, gastronomic expert, fuelled by traveling and an insatiable love of Brazil nuts, talks the talk and also walks the walk. To Christian, food is about connection, about collaboration, and above all, about love. “To me, cooking a meal  for yourself is kind of sacred — by preparing and handling your own food, you connect with what you are consuming for your body… the next best thing is someone you love cooking for you.”

Image by CGM Concepts

Christian is widely recognized as one of the visionaries behind the fast-expanding plant-based movement in the region. After successfully opening plant-based restaurants around Central & Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, a wider vision emerged. He truly believes that healthy food not only supports a better life, it must also fuel the heart. It is through the heart that we learn to love and respect ourselves and others. And, for Christian: home is where the heart is. 

Born in Hong Kong to expat parents, he left Asia when he was around two years old. He was raised in France and the US. At university in the United States, he was a high-level rower and wanted to optimize his performance. While experimenting with a plant-based diet, he realized the crucial role of food in building strength and resilience. He discovered that his performance improved with a diet of plant-based food, as did his mental stamina and recovery rate.

THE GUESTLIST spoke with Christian in an exclusive interview to gain insight into his story, beliefs, and values.

Growing up, his formative years were spent in France. “My childhood gave me a very good education about food. Red meat was a rarity in my family. Soda was a treat only reserved for birthdays. I grew up both in Paris, and on an 18th-century farm. We had cats, bees, dogs, rabbits and all sorts of animals running around. It was great because I was always taking care of animals. We were very connected with our food supply.”

Understanding the source of his food and food production was part-and-parcel of everyday life for Christian from a very young age. 

Image from Treehouse.eco 

“A lot of people have really no idea of where food comes from, what vegetables look like, what the animals that they’re actually eating look like, how they’re raised, what is that animal eating, how is it slaughtered… These are all factors that really affect our food. Examples are the pesticide levels in foods, the very low-nutrition soil on some industrial-scale farms, and all the glyphosates used in agriculture, and all that strange ‘stuff’ that is left on and in the food. Fake, processed mock-meats are now popular in Hong Kong and elsewhere. These are creating another issue of highly processed items. Industrially produced fake meats are also linked to mono-cropping. So, when you grow only one crop on a farm, you are just turning off the ecosystem that would naturally live on it, and that’s creating other disastrous issues for insects, birds, mammals, and reptiles. I believe that, anything that is highly processed, or is made in laboratories and factories, is not ideal for the human body as daily food. Nature is, by far, the best designer of food for humans.”


Image by CGM Concepts

"NATURE IS, BY FAR,
THE BEST DESIGNER OF FOOD FOR HUMANS."

Attending university in the United States, Christian enjoyed this period of his life. “At that time, I started playing with my diet. I was experimenting with both vegetarianism and veganism. Anything I could try I would. I was doing it to see the impact on my body. That was also my first conscious exposure to the food world. As I ate more healthily, and the more I was conscious of what I put into my body, the more my mental stamina and my strength improved. Another benefit was that my overall empathy noticeably grew. It was all very interesting and exciting to me. My rowing friends and teammates were eating without a specific strategy; it didn’t seem to matter, because we were all young and we were already fit. Still, my personal experiments with plant foods just made me tougher than that paradigm of, ‘You’re a tough guy, you eat meat’. As I ate more healthily, I would get even stronger. I worked with a nutritionist at that time -- to better understand the impact of different diet sequences. I recorded everything, and I saw tangible improvements in my mental stamina, my recovery times, and my overall competitiveness. My diet was the only thing which differentiated what I was doing from my teammates. I realized that natural, plant-based foods not only support a better life, they must also fuel the heart.” 

"I REALIZED THAT NATURAL, PLANT-BASED FOODS NOT ONLY SUPPORT A BETTER LIFE, THEY MUST ALSO FUEL THE HEART."

Image from Treehouse.eco

This was what led him to go on to cooking school.“I was completely intrigued by the potential of eating the right foods. So, I made the decision to join a cooking school in France - both for pursuing this passion, and to move closer to my mother, who had become very ill. My strong belief in the healing quality of food came as a result my mother’s struggle with cancer and attempting to help her to become stronger. As my mother struggled with her health, I started deepening my search into disease prevention, the food system and the medical system.

I searched deeply for several years -- until my mother passed away. This experience, and as I was studying in cooking school in correlation to that, kind of sealed my thinking that: If I’m a chef, if I’m to work in the food system, I need to really be providing life-giving food—food that is not just exciting to the palate but goes a lot deeper than that.I graduated from the famous Institut Paul Bocuse , with a double major in Culinary Arts and International Hotel & Restaurant Management - where I also interned for Michelin three-star, Chef Alain Ducasse. Chef Alain sees himself as an artisan whose role is to make happy those he feeds. I learnt a vast amount in this experience.”

Image by Treehouse.eco

After his training, he thought about returning to his birthplace. “I felt that my passion for healthy food and for balanced nutrition could potentially be well-received in Hong Kong. As a chef, I experienced that it was not hugely challenging to balance flavors to make people feel excited. What is much harder is to appeal to the gut and the brain. If you’re giving food that is health-promoting, that’s a powerful cause. I wanted to help other people -- so that what happened to my mother doesn’t happen to them." 

"I now think that my mother’s illness was preventable. If I knew then the things that I now know, I think I could have helped her a lot more. And so, after my father passed away a year later, more of a broken heart from losing her, in a way it was a very powerful experience. It really created who I am today, and it gave me wings - in terms of, I had no one to impress. I was by myself. I have one sister who lives abroad, but I was free to do whatever I wanted.” 


Before returning, he pursued another passion of his – traveling. “Before building my base in Hong Kong, I set out by myself, traveling solo for a year without a set itinerary. It was during this time that I really managed to find out about the international standard in terms of vegan and vegetarian food. I went to so many places -- India, Vietnam, Thailand, Australia, Qatar, just to name a few, and checked all these cool exciting things out. As a food lover, a vegetarian who loves cooking and cares about ingredients, it was wonderful to be able to learn and understand different food cultures. I picked up knowledge about what ingredients worked beautifully together, the cultural history behind certain foods, which foods should be eaten at what times. And that’s when I came back to Hong Kong, back to my roots. I hadn’t been back since I was two, but when I first landed in Hong Kong it felt like home. I felt really energetically good and welcomed—and not like a foreigner.”

...WHEN I FIRST LANDED IN HONG KONG IT FELT LIKE HOME. I FELT REALLY ENERGETICALLY GOOD & WELCOMED — AND NOT LIKE A FOREIGNER."

Images from Treehouse.eco

He had an idea of the kinds of projects that he would like to explore, and set about making headway into them."I wanted to cook and share the types of food which I believed in personally. If you want to invest in health-care -- the number one investment should be about you and your body -- the physical body that you’re given by your parents. You can only have the use of your body for as long as you maintain it well. So, it’s very important to realize that the food that we put in, and any other things that we put on our body, needs to be as clean as possible, and as supporting to the well-being of our system. This is for us to be able to grow and do all the things that we want to do. Most importantly, for me personally, I want to leave something positive for others. I appreciate it whenever we humans love one another -- beyond our extended families and change the way we approach life.”

“Focusing on what’s ‘bad’ is not the answer for me personally. I understand that the way meat and fish are currently mass-produced are not ideal foods for humans. However, if I show you a gory video of a slaughterhouse operation, it’s likely going to make you feel closed off. Making anyone feel as though they are doing something bad is not constructive. It’s likely not going to trigger a transition towards a positive change. The most important driver of change is delicious, natural food itself. If your food tastes good, you feel good after eating it. Two hours later, you’re not tired. You feel energized. You feel satisfied. All these things you can experience first-hand -- as the effect of plant-based, wholefood dishes – truly positive food.”

Images from Treehouse.eco

Christian recognizes that the impact that the food system has is not limited to what reaches one’s plate. He is committed to recycling, and especially to composting. “Food waste and the footprint derived from the meat and dairy industry are some of the major sources of pollution worldwide – we must also always remember our contaminated oceans. Each of us needs to be eating more plant-based whole foods, if we desire to lower our overall impact on the planet, no matter where we are living. Eating plant-based whole foods matters -- what we put in our bodies guides positive change.”


"WHAT WE PUT IN OUR BODIES GUIDES POSITIVE CHANGE."

“Being balanced is crucial. Balance both for the planet, and for ourselves as. Creating a space where everyone’s welcome is also crucial. These visions form the backbone of our Treehouse business - in which we seek to demonstrate to the food and beverage industry a much-needed major paradigm shift to end the global health crisis. We are demonstrating that it is an ideal business model to serve high quality plant foods to people. A truly sustainable and ethical business model is viable.”

Image from Christian G. Mongendre

Image from Christian G. Mongendre

“Being balanced is crucial. Balance both for the planet, and for ourselves as. Creating a space where everyone’s welcome is also crucial. These visions form the backbone of our Treehouse business - in which we seek to demonstrate to the food and beverage industry a much-needed major paradigm shift to end the global health crisis. We are demonstrating that it is an ideal business model to serve high quality plant foods to people. A truly sustainable and ethical business model is viable.”

An ethical way of doing business is something that he passionately advocates. “I see that a business model which prioritizes the preservation of clean air, clean soil, and clean water -- while focusing on environmental profit, cultural and spiritual profit – can produce financial profits. Taking a circular and sustainable approach also includes being able to charge the true value of items. Consider the heavily subsidized meat industry – when you look at the true price versus what it should be costing, it is not at all in correlation. So that is an example of not a good ethical business model. Low-priced, meat-based, fast food businesses lead to obesity, other health issues, and potentially huge medical costs.”

As individual consumers, there is still a difference that we can be making. “The most important factor is that consumers actually look, seek, invest, and buy things from companies that care. What company you support, and where you spend your dollars, is really what will drive which companies will survive or which won’t. So, ‘vote with your dollars’ as they say.”

“OUR IMMUNE SYSTEMS ARE WHAT WE RELY ON THE MOST TO PROTECT US — FOOD CAN EITHER FORTIFY OR WEAKEN US.”

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been global impacts. “Very ironically, this pandemic is somewhat promoting the plant-based movement. Our immune systems are what we rely on the most to protect us — food can either fortify or weaken us. With the global COVID-19 crisis, a lot of people have had more time to explore and unveil the issues around health in numerous societies. So, it isn’t just Hong Kong that is suddenly receptive to businesses with wholesome solutions. The world is starting to wake up. With this newfound awareness of global health, hopefully, it’ll start more of these conversations on how the systems we abide by are speeding up the destruction of the natural world and are harming us. Many people are ready to act and uncover their best feasible means to contribute to ecological preservation - whether that is through their business, through their eating habits, or through the clothing that they wear.”

Image from Christian G. Mongendre

"CONSTANTLY ASK YOURSELF, 'WHAT IS THE BEST THAT YOU CAN DO TODAY, AND, HOW CAN YOU BE BETTER TOMORROW?'"

As someone placed into the spotlight by his uncompromising endeavors to be building towards a greater future for all, his advice to those who are working towards imagining and building a better future centers around purposeful integrity. “Lead with your mission, and not be driven by just what is sexy or trendy. It is hard to build something from the ground up. It is an imperfect process that requires finding the medium between what is ideal and the reality. But that shouldn’t stop innovation and improvement. We can’t always have things right on day one. We can consistently push to do better. Constantly ask yourself, ‘What is the best that you can do today, and, how can you be better tomorrow?’ Be relentless at every stage. Learn from every experience. This is the mindset that gave me the perspective I needed to build my ventures, and tomorrow will always be another surprise that will help me grow the dream I have. Don’t focus only on monetary rewards. Let’s unite to find solutions for this planet – whether it is clean energy or stopping the pollution of our soil, air, and water. So, my advice is to follow your dreams -- and be resilient to the cause you have chosen to partake in. It can be a long road to find your purpose, but it is a rewarding one.”


Image from Treehouse.eco

Christian is open in sharing that the focus now needs to shift towards missions that integrate a shared vision of a better world for all. “I don’t want to sound too preachy. These are my own views. Essentially, I feel that human society needs to go from a fear-based principle to a love-based principle. We must respect one another and want to help one another -- and give back to the future generations by leaving something that was better after us, rather than worse after us. I think all companies need to integrate that and have some level of that. Customer demand is going to drive that in the years to come. We must make some very drastic changes. We must remove things that are not useful or are single-use. We must change our eating habits, our consuming habits, and more.”

This is a sentiment shared with THE GUESTLIST – in the stance that we are all guests on this Earth. In fulfilment of this role, a pro-active, contributive approach needs to be taken – one in which humanity works towards a more sustainable, collaborative future for all.



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