Chefs Derek and Chad Sarno: Plant based meat does not have to taste like shit
Derek Sarno; WICKEDLY TASTY PLANT-MEAT
“Healthy food does not have to taste like shit”, stands clear and bold at the top of the Wicked Healthy website homepage. And then comes the explanation: “We’re chefs and brothers on a mission, and though we come from two different professional backgrounds, we find common ground in the Wicked Healthy Culinary Arts. We’re from New England, so for us, bein’ Wicked Healthy means cooking and eating good-for-you food that tastes so good you think it must be bad for you. You follow?”
Yes, we do! The thing is that I have traced the brothers Sarno, Derek and Chad, asking around among my chef friends about plant-based meat. Several of them told me immediately I should contact Derek and Chad, describing them as “world famous plant-based chefs with a lot of experience in plant-based meat”. So, it all sounded great for the follow up of my summary on plant-based meat producers like Beyond Burger and Impossible Foods published earlier on this site. What is their philosophy about? Well, here it is:
“The bottom line is, doing what’s good for the planet and good for your body does not have to mean eating food that tastes bad. We want you to eat more vegetables, especially if they are green, locally grown, and organic! And we want to show you how to make them taste friggin’ delicious, so you’ll cook ‘em and eat ‘em at home with your family and friends. This is what we do. This is what we live for. We got you!”
Wicked Healthy is a vegan food company that creates their own vegan food recipes and offers consumers plant-based and vegan recipes on their website and in their own cookbooks. Derek and Chard Sarno’s philosophy behind recipes is “80/20: shoot for 80% healthy, 20% wicked and you’ll be 100% awesome”. They offer recipes that are health conscious and are made to taste delicious, all while staying 100% plant-based.
So, it is clear. The mission of the Wicked Healthy is to inspire you to cook and eat more plants, and to “give back to other wicked organizations that are doing the same, so we can see measurable differences in the health and lives of humans and animals globally”.
Following that, I have decided to talk to Derek Sarno, the co-founder of Wicked Healthy (with his brother Chad), who also serves as Executive Chef & Director of Plant-Based Innovation for Tesco PLC, where he is leading the company’s efforts to bring delicious, unpretentious vegan foods to market. Derek is a serial entrepreneur who has founded several award-winning restaurants and food service companies as well as the co-author of the Whole Foods Market Diet cookbook and the Wicked Healthy Cookbook (both 2018).
I have talked with Derek about plant-based meat and about the big picture – the overall context of healthy eating and its environmental aspect.
Derek, how long have you been using plant-based meat and what was your initial reason for trying it out?
We have been working with and developing plant-based solutions and plant-meat innovations for decades now. We are in support of all alternatives to animal products and work closely with some of the most well-known and innovative products on the market. We see the clear benefits of plant-based eating, cooking and use of animal-free products over current animal agriculture and factory farm systems. Our Wicked mission is to share easy ‘how to’ cooking techniques you can prepare at your home by providing recipes and videos. When you cannot cook at home, we support by creating plant-based foods that are delicious, accessible, convenient and affordable solutions for on the go.
Being all that, do you think that plant-based meat is a good solution for our meat-centric society where many of us grew up on a diet of meat?
Plant-based meat alternatives, processed or natural, offer a tasty, more sustainable solution to the unethical business of factory farming and raising animals for food. We are also huge supporters of all plant alternatives including tofu, tempeh, vegetables, grains and have a special love for the power of mushrooms. The secret is in how you use these ingredients, and with some simple cooking techniques and a little creativity they can offer depth of flavour that satisfies us and saves the planet.
That last one is a bold statement. But, are there enough good products on the market or does it boil down to two major companies, Beyond Meat and Impossible Food?
Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are the gold standard bench-mark in plant based meats today. They have really done a great job with ‘beef style burger’ products and have been very successful in capturing the texture and tastes people crave without the use of animals. There is lots of other producers rising to the occasion as well. Good Catch Foods is another great one doing the job for seafood with its ‘no fish’ tuna and plant-based fish products. We are seeing lots of chicken and some pork replacements as well and I’m sure we’ll see more innovations over the next few years. Some of those innovations will likely come by way of crafted culture or lab grown meats.
Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods promote their products stating that their meaty flavour, juiciness and colour are just like in the genuine meat. What are your experiences with plant-based meat regarding appearance, flavour and texture?
As chefs, we do not want to eat or cook any animals or seafood. Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Good Catch Foods are great products that bridge the gap with look, taste and feel. They are amazing to work with and eat! If you have the choice and can enjoy foods that have minimal impact on the planet and taste great, why wouldn’t you? It’s a no brainer in our book! For the folks not wanting to eat any processed animal substitutes, at Wicked Healthy we have been able to achieve the most meaty results with mushrooms to create an all-natural look and feel, whole food meat replacement you can make right at home. We share these techniques and recipes in the Wicked Healthy Cookbook and across the Wicked channels including a video at Wicked Healthy YouTube.
However, there may be some obstacles. What are the psychological and culinary aspects of plant-based meats in re-creating flavours and textures of traditional dishes?
People cling to their habits, things they grew up with and so called traditional habits. That doesn’t make it right. Creating plant-based alternatives that look, act, taste and feel like something we are familiar with, helps the transition to a new, improved way of doing things. Smoking is a great example and how products like vapes were invented to help cut down on smoking cigarettes by providing a similar experience with the intention to ween oneself off and come to a full stop. Meat mimics also bridge the gap.
How many dishes have you created with plant-based meat and how well were they received?
We have made it our mission to prepare and work with plant-based foods that are delicious! Since we live and breathe a plant-based vegan lifestyle, all we do is create dishes without animals. There is no way of telling how many dishes we’ve created, it’s how we live and it just happens to be what we do. You can find our creation examples on Instagram or our website.
When plant-based meat is concerned, most chefs use it for burgers, meatballs and meatloafs. How applicable is plant-based meat in creative cuisine?
Plant-based meat alternatives are specifically developed to be used as we would use normal ground up animals, except without the animals.
Derek, thank you very much for your insight and the good work towards healthy eating. And, not to forget, for your efforts to do good for the planet!
You are welcome! I will be glad if your readers will go for more info at
For more plant-based support:
Wicked Healthy Food Website:
Wicked Healthy YouTube:
Wicked Kitchen Foods in Tesco:
Wicked Healthy Instagram:
Chad Sarno Instagram:
Derek Sarno Instagram:
by Velimir Cindric