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By Laura Stec

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About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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Plant Forward Futures with the Culinary Institute of America - Part 2

Uploaded: Jun 11, 2022

Everything is being disrupted these days – ever wonder what the future of dinner will be? Answers were being tossed around at Global Plant Forward Culinary Summit, hosted by the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). We introduced the event a couple weeks ago.

One of the five largest food companies in the world attended. They had some answers. Personally, I was inspired and relieved to hear them. With 149,000 employees operating in 190 countries, 2.5 billion people world-wide use Unilever products every day; slurping up brands such as Ben and Jerry’s, Hellman’s and Knorr.

?? Guess the five largest food companies ??

The food system needs to change,” says Christos Dinopoulos (Vice President and Managing Director, Unilever Food Solutions North America)

“We are becoming a force for good in food. Unilever is cultivating a plant-forward revolution, with €$1 billion in global sales estimated from plant-based meat and dairy alternatives by 2025-27. One focus will be on 'indulgent plants.' Meaty mushrooms (oyster, Hen of the Woods) cauliflower, purple yam, eggplant and ramen are going to steal the show.

Chinese Mushroom "Pork" Jerky (Bak Kwa)

Our work with the CIA on initiatives such as Menus of Change will continue and broaden with the help of the Food Innovative Center (the Hive) in Wageningen University, The Netherlands, known as the Silicon Valley of Food. Let’s work together. I urge everyone to think big. If you think you can do this by yourself, you’re not thinking big enough.”

A mushroom demonstration follows featuring chef Spike Mendelson, founder of PLNT Burger (southern CA fast food vegan restaurant) and co-founder of Eat the Change. One of the things about immune-boosting, environmentally friendly fungi is that they are always in season, and their complex umami flavor gives them increased seasoning potential.

“85% of my customers are NOT vegan,” says Mendelson. “We have to find foods that satisfy them.” Spike sautés Lions Mane mushrooms to remove excess water and mixes it with fresh steamed jackfruit, red pepper, onion, celery, thyme, lemon juice, Dijon, mayonnaise, and panko breadcrumbs into a vegan crab cake. “Make sure to season in between cooking stages to build more layers of flavor.”

Lions Mane

Lions Mane Crab Cakes with Gin and Orange Sauce

Next on the schedule is Cooking with the Earths Next Great Resource – Mycoprotein. High in fiber, non-GMO and low in saturated fat, mycoprotein is made from Fusarium venenatum, a nutritious fungus found in soil. A UK company has been fermenting this fungus into alt-chicken for years. Quorn it’s called (also the company name). Ever see it in the frozen section? Using the same process as bread, beer and yogurt, fermented fungi grow into dough balls of protein that taste and tear like chicken. Kind of like seitan, but not.

Alright, so I’ve been a vegetarian for 40 years and always looking for plant-forward proteins. How come I’ve never incorporated Quorn into my diet? It tastes great. CEO Judd Zusel was at Global Plant-Forward. I asked him.

Me: Judd, I’ve eaten and taught about tofu, tempeh and seitan for years - how did I miss Quorn?

Zusel: Quorn was conceived in the 1960’s in the UK as a sustainable food source. The first commercial product launched in 1985 in the UK, but only arrived in the U.S about 10 years ago. Plant-based foods are far more developed in the UK. There are aisles of plant-based products, much more availability than what you find in the U.S. Quorn uses less carbon, less water and land than chicken. Swap ground beef with Quorn in one meal and save the green house gas equivalent of 3 years charging your phone. It's a protein-rich sustainable food source packed with fiber, low in saturated fat, and no cholesterol. One cup equals 17 g of protein.”

Me: What’s the difference between fungus and mushroom? Is fungus a vegetable?

Zusel: Plants and fungus have their own kingdom, so technically no, a mushroom is not a vegetable. But fungi and mushrooms are different too. Think about a tree. The mushroom would be the apple. The fungi would be the rest of the tree and the roots. Actually, the genetic makeup of fungi has more in common to animals than plants.

Me: Is Quorn like tofu - a sponge that soaks up the flavors you add to it?

Zusel: Much like chicken, myoprotein is a blank canvas for flavor. It will absorb and take on the flavor of what you are cooking with. It chews like chicken. We’re calling it ChiQin these days.

Me: How do you prepare Quorn? What’s a favorite recipe?

Zusel: There are ready-to-eat Quorn deli slices, but most product is in the frozen aisle. You want to cook from frozen - it needs to reach 165°F. I like to eat the nuggets as a snack with dipping sauces or add the unbreaded pieces in red Thai curry sauce. Food and Wine awarded us Best Nuggets!

One thing for certain is the future of dinner will incorporate a lot more fermented foods as eaters grok that cow stomach and chickens are antiquated technologies for changing grass and bugs into human food. We can do better! Fermentation takes the strain off food supplies without using animals or land. Perfect Day is already producing fermented “milk” in Berkeley.

- photos by LSIC
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