Cooking with plant-based meat products – the how and the why

Maxim Baile, Executive Chef at 137 Pillars Hotels & Resorts in Bangkok, uses “fake meat”, or meatless meat, products OmniMeats and Beyond Meats in both his Western and Asian-style dishes to offer guests a variety of dining options. While these substitute meats are new to the Thai market, he believes they are here to stay and are only going to become more popular.

We chat with Chef Maxim about why and how he cooks with these substitute meat products.

 

So, Maxim, why did you decide to use OmniMeats and Beyond Meats?

At 137 Pillars we have always focused on sustainability, selecting farmers and artisans that offer the best quality products to our guests. We try to always offer original, innovative dishes that are healthier and organic. Our philosophy as a luxury brand is to promote wellness and provide healthy options to our customers. Vegan food and vegetarian food is part of our vision.

We are developing new menus and techniques to give our guests a memorable experience, and this involves offering them alternative, new experiences. Meat substitutes such as Omnimeats and Beyond Meats are recognised worldwide but are quite new in the Thai market.

These two brands are also controlled and certified, so they are hygienic and safe. We know the composition of the products so we can develop recipes and balanced dietary dishes from them. They are easily available and have a long shelf life, so they are convenient.

These products help reduce our consumption of animal protein and make a soft transition to a plant-based diet. They look and have a similar texture to minced meat and so are attractive to inexperienced vegan customers. We are at the start of a new market and new products.

 

What dishes do you use OmniMeat in? Why did you choose these dishes?

Some of our guests have dietary restrictions, and we personalise our service during their entire stay. We like to be able to offer them varied options and we can adapt all our menus, from breakfast to dinner, to match their dining preferences. We use OmniMeat as a meat substitute in everything from dim sum, congee, satay, kofta and the Thai dish of pad kapow to meat balls, bolognaise, patties, stuffed vegetables and pizza.

One of our special dishes is porcini conchiglie pasta – plant-based croquettes served with tomato porcini sauce and vegan cheese. This dish is a la carte on our all day dining menu, and appeals to a wide range of diners, including kids. It looks like a classic meat ball pasta, but the meat balls are made with OmniMeat, and we use a local mixed spice called laab. The pasta and vegan cheese are from local artisans, the cheese is made from tapioca and cashew nuts. I use porcini and wild Thai mushrooms in the sauce, which provide umami flavours. The mushrooms are collected during the spring and autumn seasons and then preserved. Our chanterelle, russula and bolete are from the forest in the north of Thailand. We get our organic tomatoes from one farm that specialises only in tomatoes.

 

Please share some cooking tips for OmniMeat

OmniMeat is an easy substitute for minced meat. Just use your imagination and it can work – mix it with a variety of spices, vegetables and herbs to add flavour. The options are unlimited – that is the beauty of cooking! It can be baked, pan seared, fried, poached, and used as stuffing or on skewers.

And what dishes do you use Beyond Meat in? Why these dishes?

We still are at the first step of plant-based meat substitutes in Asia, so we developed two classic dishes using Beyond Meat. We were inspired to make a pizza healthier and vegan, so our Beyond Meat vegan pizza is plant-based and topped with Beyond sausage and a duo of vegan cheese to give different textures and flavours. The dough is slightly slimmer to limit the quantity of carbohydrate and respect Keto dietary requirements.

Our Beyond Meat and avocado burger is a plant-based patty served with avocado guacamole and French fries. It’s a popular dish, and is on our room service, pool bar and all day dining menus. Access to beef is restricted in Thailand so it makes sense to have an alternative option for our burgers. Beyond Meat is an interesting product. I was really impressed with the taste and appearance of it. After eating it you feel lighter and healthier than with a traditional burger.

When we analysed our sales, we realised we couldn’t turn completely the page of fast food. Customers still want it. So we decided to improve fast food dishes by making them healthier. Step by step we are educating our customers to choose this alternative without completely changing their diet.
We decided to combine the Beyond Meat with avocado for a better nutrient intake and to make the burger more attractive. Avocado in this dish is presented in three forms: fresh, grilled and guacamole.

Please share some cooking tips for Beyond Meat.

It’s like protein from an animal. You need three chemical reactions to make protein tastier: oxidation, Maillard reaction and pyrolysis. If you have all of these you will be closer to meat flavour. Open the vacuum bag one hour in advance to start oxidation. Pan sear it with a bit of fat at 160 degrees C to start the Maillard reaction. When you see a brown crust on the outside, this is the pyrolysis, which will add the flavour of BBQ smoke.

 

Some chefs believe these “fake meats” are not healthy for people – what do you think?

Actually we don’t really know. Most research in food science is unfortunately sponsored by lobbies. Especially after World War II, meat lobbies have pushed us to consume animal protein all the time. And 15 years ago it was the diary lobby …

Every 10 years a new study contradicts what we thought we knew. We are in the 21st century and we still don’t know what is really good for us. I like to say that everything is poison, even water, in large quantities, so it’s crucial to vary your diet.

I’m very conscious that we need to eat less animal protein to help the environment. Vegetables should be the main ingredient rather than a garnish for meat. I don’t think that to banish meat 100% is the solution, but we need to reconsider industrially farmed meat. Eat less meat but of better quality.

While, as a chef, I have to taste everything, I listened to my body and have stopped eating meat at dinnertime. It was a natural transition for me and I feel and sleep better for it. However, it’s difficult to find enough alternatives to satisfy my palate on a daily basis. Our access to vegan and organic food is still limited. For all these reasons I feel that these meat substitutes are a good option.

Please tell us about the unusual local ingredients you’re experimenting with as other meat substitutes.

Commercially available brands are made through an industrial process. We can do better and create our own recipes, which gives us better control of the provenance of the ingredients. We can incorporate local ingredients to reduce the carbon footprint and support the local economy. We have some amazing products in Thailand we can turn to.

So we’re developing our own local meat substitutes. Unripe jackfruit is one of my favourite ingredients as a meat substitute. It’s available all year and can be used for sweet and savoury recipes. I discovered the technique of salting jackfruit in Sri Lanka. It has the texture and taste of chicken when you cook it. It’s an amazing ingredient in stews, curries, even pulled pork.

Chickpeas, cashew nuts and mung beans are rich in protein, so we are incorporating them in our recipe development process, too. Riceberry and purple sweet potatoes, which are locally produced and organic, give texture and antioxidants such as Astaxanthin. Riceberry is healthier than classic white rice and has an attractive colour. We are experimenting with using it in risotto, fried rice, and more. We plan to launch a new vegan menu soon, with many classic Thai dishes made entirely plant based.

 

Thank you, Maxim, and looking forward to seeing the new menu when it’s ready.

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