Nestled in the heart of downtown Boulder on Pearl Street, you’ll find SALT Bistro, a farm-to-table restaurant that “bridges the gap between healthy, delicious and sustainable.” The eatery caters to people of all diets with its menu that changes with the seasons, providing diners with dishes crafted from ingredients picked at the peak of freshness. And while these whole food meals delight restaurant guests, Executive Chef and Owner, Bradford Heap, is always looking to provide guests with new, exciting food options, particularly when it comes to plant-based dishes.
“As a business owner and a chef, I want to be able to provide all types of options, but I’d say I’m anti-lab food, anti-wonder burger, or whatever other highly-processed meat substitute you put in front of me is. And while we can make a lot of great plant-based dishes, there’s really nothing on the market that’s a substitute for the look and texture of whole muscle protein, yet that’s what we as chefs are searching for. We need a nutritious plant-based meat,” Chef Heap shared.
Not only do Meati’s fungi-based steaks check the boxes of quality and sustainability for Chef Heap, they fill a void faced by him, and chefs across the nation: a satisfying, whole muscle meat alternative that can sit at the center of a plate or be included in recipes.
For the past few months, the Meati team has been collaborating with Chef Bradford on a flavor-enhancing marinade for Meati’s fungi-based steaks before launching the Banh Meati sandwich at SALT as customers’ first opportunity to try the steak alternative. Along the way, we sat down with Chef Bradford to discuss a chef’s experience working with Meati.
WHAT WAS YOUR INITIAL IMPRESSION OF MEATI?
“When I first heard of Meati, I was immediately intrigued. I definitely like eating meat, but I don’t want to be involved in spoiling the environment or supporting factory farming, and I just wouldn’t eat the meat alternatives currently on the market...I only consume or serve food that I consider to be healthy. So when I learned about Meati and all of the nutrition packed into that fungi-based meat, I realized it’s definitely a superfood. Finally, there was an option that was good for me and sustainable.”
WHAT ROLE DOES MEATI PLAY FOR YOU AS A CHEF AND RESTAURANT OWNER?
“Right now, it’s incumbent upon chefs to create dishes where you don’t feel like eating plant-based is a diet or a compromise, because we don’t want to live in an exclusion world. So when we get a product like Meati that’s so versatile, it grants a lot of freedom as a vegan meat alternative. You can choose to have a Meati as a steak with some awesome sides, incorporate it into a stir fry, a bed of ratatouille, a sandwich; it’s basically a plug-n-play with whatever you would put steak in.
As a restaurant owner, I recognize there’s a real appetite in the restaurant world to offer tasty, sustainable choices so that consumers are proud to share what they ate for dinner, and know that they are a part of the good. We have to make it easy for people who don’t have a passion for food to opt-in to positive change, and that’s what serving Meati does for my customers.”
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO COOK MEATI?
“When you first put Meati in a pan, it’s very pink. On medium heat, it caramelizes really well; it sears up like a steak, cooks faster than steak, cuts like steak. When it’s cooking, it smells beefy, savory. I find it quite easy to work with, very forgiving, and very simple, whether it’s in a pan or on the grill.”
HOW DOES COOKING WITH MEATI COMPARE TO COOKING ANIMAL MEAT?
“I think it’s a lot easier than steak, from a culinary and food safety perspective. It’s very forgiving in terms of caramelizing the exterior and reheating it later. It’s not like steak where you have to cook it and “boom!” serve it right away. Usually when you grill a piece of meat, you have to rest it so that the juice won’t bleed out, but for Meati, you don’t have to rest it, so there are just a lot of intrinsic qualities to the product that make it easier to work with than steak.”
HOW DOES COOKING WITH MEATI COMPARE TO COOKING ANIMAL MEAT?
“I think it’s a lot easier than steak, from a culinary and food safety perspective. It’s very forgiving in terms of caramelizing the exterior and reheating it later. It’s not like steak where you have to cook it and “boom!” serve it right away.
Usually when you grill a piece of meat, you have to rest it so that the juice won’t bleed out, but for Meati, you don’t have to rest it, so there are just a lot of intrinsic qualities to the product that make it easier to work with than steak.”
YOU’VE BEEN WORKING ON THE FLAVOR OF MEATI’S STEAK. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THAT PROCESS, AND WHY YOU CHOOSE THE INGREDIENTS THAT YOU DID FOR THE MARINADE?
“I’m into balance. My research pointed me in the direction of the umami flavors that are so rich in red meat, so I started looking in the plant kingdom for sources. In addition to boosting the flavor, I asked myself, “what flavors can I grab from the plant-kingdom that can help communicate to people that this is a great source of protein?”
That’s when I started looking at plant-based ingredients like green tea, mushrooms, miso and koji that have natural glutamate compounds, just like meat or cheese do. These compounds in beef are what triggers the brain to say “Oh man, I want a big steak for dinner,” and it’s craveable. Getting Meati’s flavor to that level was really my goal, so that’s why we settled on marinade ingredients like green tea, kombu, chickpea miso, and shiitake and porcini mushrooms.”
WHAT IS YOUR QUALITY STANDARD WHEN IT COMES TO INGREDIENTS?
“Well to start, I always only choose ingredients that would make me stronger in the long run, and that I would put into my own body. When you have quality ingredients, there’s no reason to worry about the number of ingredients that you have; it’s about creating as much interaction between the five basic flavors - salty, sweet, acidic, bitter, and umami – as possible to create a symphony. It’s always about orchestrating something that’s greater than its parts.
Here’s an example: the humble brussel sprout on its own isn’t that likable, but boy I’ll tell you what: you blanch it in salt water, toss it in a little rice flour, fry it and put some honey-lime sriracha on it with a little bit of beet hummus, top it with a little picked onions and sliced almonds, and people will be like, that’s the best freakin’ brussel sprout I’ve ever had.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but I think that people are going to find Meati great on it’s own, and also that it plays really well with other ingredients because it’s marinated in such fantastic ingredients.”
WHAT DOES THE MEATI MISSION MEAN TO YOU?
“I have kids, and I really want to be working on things that are going to make the world better, so when I learned how this product could be scaled to supply sustainable, clean and nutritious protein for the world, Meati’s mission was totally alive for me. This is coupled with my desire to put my life force into something that I believe in, which I believe is truly an extraordinary development in melding the culinary world and the technological world that will work efficiently to create something that’s good for humans, animals, and the planet.”