Based on the positive feedback and interest from my last post on The Champagne of burgers (part 1), I decided to continue on the theme. Detailed below are some of the things I learned, cooked, ate and some handy resources.
Things I learned
Beyond Burgers are beyond Impossible
In my last post, I talked about the emergence of two front runner products in the plant based burger market which provide consumers with an alternative to traditional meat based burgers (or the much maligned tofu burgers of yesteryear which evoke the mental imagery of eating clay). The main alternatives emerging are Beyond Burgers and Impossible Burgers. Tracking down and sampling Beyond Burgers in Hawaii turned out to be fairly easy, with many restaurants including it as a vegetarian/vegan option on the menu.
The Impossible Burger as it turns out proved as illusive to find as it’s name suggests. Being in Hawaii for a limited amount of time, I was intent on trying to track one down for a taste comparison as my home country of Australia does not yet offer them. Furious airport research via Google while holding a baby, 3 changes of clothes and enough nappies and wet wipes to fully stock a childcare facility for 6 months had largely proved fruitless. Alas after almost 3 weeks in Hawaii, it seemed my efforts were in vain and I would return home without having tried an Impossible Burger.
Sitting in our Waikiki hotel room on the last night, Fiona suggested giving it one more try. So I went to the Impossible Foods website and clicked on the ‘find me’ option to track down nearby stockists. The familiar spinning dial of poor free wifi connections and international roaming seemed to be heralding my final failure… and then amazingly a result came up – Hard Rock Cafe Waikiki, only a 400 metre walk from our Hotel!
With no further encouragement needed I went straight there to order one. Scanning the menu I found it, and as evidence that meat free burgers do not necessarily equate to a healthy alternative I was shocked by the calorie count on the menu – over 1,100! That said, the burger was technically pitched at vegetarians and not vegans so a number of modifications were required with the order that dropped the calorie count – hold the cheddar cheese, the egg based aioli, the onion rings fried in a milk based batter and swap out the bun for a dairy and egg free bun. Wait – is there anything left on it?
The final product was a bit of a let down relative to my Beyond Burger experience. The burger itself was more a grey colour and fairly bland versus the pinkish hues of a Beyond Burger that make it look like the perfect medium rare burger. The Impossible Burger resembled that over cooked beef burger you get served at a friends place and depending upon how many drinks you’ve had ranges from being described as indigestible to the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted.
I give it a 3 out of 5. That said, given the burger prepared at Hard Rock is aimed at vegetarians and designed to be served with the various accompaniments I’d had to remove to make it vegan, likely not the intended flavour profile the chef would suggest. Had it been a true vegan alternative am sure it would have been a fairer comparison. The fact that a brand like Hard Rock is getting behind it shows how far the alternative burger inroads have come though. The more I look into this space, the more excited I am about this evolving industry.
Being on holidays, I took a book with me that required a serious time investment to get through, namely Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. This was a fascinating book which provided a candid account of Jobs throughout the initial formation of Apple with Steve Wozniak, his ousting from Apple and period in purgatory where he also developed the smash hit Pixar animation studios, and then ultimately his rebirth at Apple when John Sculley (the then CEO of Apple) brought him back into Apple. What I particularly liked about the book was that it depicted him warts and all, not just the many positives that other puff pieces written over the years describe with no mention of his more abrasive personality traits.
Reading this book, I got strangely sentimental as the story unfolded recalling getting my first iPod. Then iPhone. Then iPad. Then AppleTV. Then AirPods…
That first iPod I remember changing my life. The catchy tagline of ‘a thousand songs in your pocket’ got me hook, line and sinker. A generation got to take that back pack filled with a Walkman, Discman, cassettes, CDs and countless spare batteries and throw it in the back of their closet never to be seen again. Showing my age here for any millennials reading this who might ask what on earth is a Walkman or Discman?!? The iPod also spawned a complete new language and form of engagement, with articles including ‘what’s on your playlist’ as a means of shedding light on the personalities of celebrities. This question even featured on the dating scene as a means of determining if the person you were standing opposite was compatible or a serial killer.
So what does a book on Steve Jobs have to do with a blog aimed at researching all things vegan? Jobs had an erratic dietary philosophy over his life bouncing between extremes such as periods where he consumed only carrots. Jobs was broadly vegan for a lot of his adult life, with the book even recounting some pretty extreme views Jobs held around diet being able to eradicate the need for such things as deodorant. His former colleagues categorically debunked this myth for him…
One of the sadder parts of the book also refers to diet at a point where Jobs received his initial cancer diagnosis and opted to rely solely on diet as opposed to surgical intervention to remove the cancer. While there is literature out there that certainly suggests nutrition can avoid or help reverse some conditions including cancer if discovered early enough, unfortunately this was a case where that proved false and while surgery ultimately followed it proved too late.
The book was fascinating on a number of accounts, particularly the back and forth chronicled around Steve Jobs and Bill Gates dating back to the initial ground breaking innovations uncovered around graphical user interfaces at Xerox Park which both Jobs and Gates ultimately exploited (albeit in different ways).
One of the stories around Gates in the book talked about his reaction to the release of the Apple iPhone (on the back of the ground breaking iPod) and a feeling of frustration that Microsoft had ultimately aimed too low and missed seeing some of these opportunities. Part of me wonders if this has subsequently influenced Gates’ current investment philosophies and a desire to aim higher. An example of this in the evolving plant-based burger market where Gates has personally invested in both Impossible Foods and Beyond Meats as they embark on opportunities for mass disruption (yet he may not be certain which will will prove ultimately more successful).
I highly recommend this read to anyone interested in following the journey of Jobs and Apple over the years. It also provides a sobering reality check that I’ll keep in mind for any future reading on the stated healing powers of a vegan diet.
Things I cooked
After touring around Oahu, we moved to the island of Maui later in our holiday (more specifically the coastal resort town of Kihei). Instead of doing the hotel thing, this time we opted for an airbnb which meant we could cook our own meals … and wash the piles of dirty baby clothes. This stay coincided with Super Bowl weekend which meant we could try and do a Super Bowl cook up. Below are some of the things cooked.
Not satisfied to just try these burgers in restaurants where trained chefs are able to produce spectacular results, I was determined to see if the average hack home chef (me) could cook these. There were a couple of health food stores that stocked Beyond Burgers in Kihei so I grabbed some.
A couple of things nearly turned me off before I got going. Firstly, the packaging stated that the retailer should add the use by date, but there wasn’t one on the packet. Then when I opened the packaging, the smell wasn’t great. A far cry from the delicious burger I had first tried back at Turtle Bay Resort. This added to my anxiety levels around whether they might be off – then again, it’s plant matter not meat right, how bad could it be?
I decided to push on anyway and worst case could just throw them out if they still smelt funky after cooking. Glad I pushed on and cooked them. The cooking directions are surprisingly simple. Given the airbnb didn’t have a BBQ, pan cooking was the only option. Little bit of oil in a pan set to medium-high heat and give them 3 minutes each side. They have a fair bit of oil already in them so you don’t need to go overboard. The oil contained in the burgers serves two purposes: (i) to emulate the sizzling noise a meat burger makes when cooking; and (ii) to help the burger cook and brown on the outside.
Given it was Super Bowl Sunday, there wasn’t a lot of time to get fancy with the recipe so I just cut up burger buns and chucked them into the pan to brown them, then added some tomato, lettuce, onion, ketchup and mustard. There are more recipe options for those interested in getting fancier with their burgers on the Beyond Meats website.
The end product was delicious. The smell and taste were just like I had experienced in restaurants. Gone were the funky smells from when I had first opened the packaging. I give this recipe/product a 5/5. Reconfirmed my views that this product is a serious disrupter to the burger market. No flavour trade off and yet no animals harmed in the process and the burgers are less resource intensive to produce. Also surprisingly simple to cook yourself despite some of the internet threads out there suggesting even chefs need special training to cook these plant based burger products.
Beyond Meat sausages, brown rice pasta and Napoletana sauce
Buoyed by the success of cooking Beyond Burgers at home, I thought I’d try another one of offerings available – Beyond Meat Sausages.
Since going vegan, sausages is one of the things I’ve missed most. Tofu sausages have no appeal. Beyond Meat offers a range of options, I tried the Hot Italian. Cooking method is pretty much the same as the burgers above.
Instead of eating them on their own though I cooked up some brown rice pasta and a store bought jar of marinara / Napoletana pasta sauce. The result was very tasty, albeit probably not a balanced meal. I give it a 4 out of 5. Again I would say this is an excellent replica of a beef sausage, probably not quite the same caliber yet though as the Beyond Burger. That said this product is worth a try if you can find them (they aren’t yet for sale in a lot of locations like Australia).
Brown rice, home made baked beans and coriander (cilantro)
This is the type of dish that is perfect for your last night in an airbnb or serviced apartment. You have a random assortment of ingredients left from supermarket shops over the stay and aren’t quite sure what to do with them. You can’t take them with you, but at the same time feel guilty about throwing them away and yet can’t really remember what the hell you were thinking when you chucked them all in the trolley originally.
You also likely have to pack bags, get up early and really don’t feel like investing a huge amount of time to make dinner. This dish is perfect for that. I had left over cooked brown rice from a cook up earlier in the week, and an assortment of ingredients that suited the home made baked beans recipe shared in an earlier post titled The Bruch Crowd. Simple, easy, and tasty.
Things I ate this week
Hawaii once again proved that eating out vegan is not only possible while travelling, but downright delicious. Below are some of the dishes I discovered across Oahu and Maui over the past couple of weeks.
Some inspiration there for future home cooking efforts for sure. The biggest surprise discovery was a series of delicious vegan meal options at a brewery of all places – Maui Brewing Company. If you get to Maui (they also have a Waikiki brew pub on Oahu) highly recommend you check it out even if only for the food if beer isn’t your thing.
Key resources used this week
- How to cook a Beyond Burger – Beyond Meats website