With lifestyles changing to adapt to the exponential rise of healthcare costs, the Sarno brothers, Chad and Derek, created plant-based food lines Wicked Kitchen and Good Catch, which offer healthy alternatives to over-salted, over-sweetened, and meat-based meals.
How did you both become so passionate about healthy alternatives and vegan food?
We have always been passionate about food, having grown up in New England with a mom and a Nana who were equally passionate about it. We arrived at the conclusion that plants were the food that benefit bodies and the planet the best, though it was by different paths: Derek by training as a chef and starting the South Hill Farm Project, then cooking and learning about compassion while living at a monastery; and Chad by generally being an activist at heart and then joining the Living Light Culinary School.
We both ended up working at Whole Foods Market, Derek as the global healthy eating chef, and Chad as global coordinator of healthy eating. We saw firsthand what infusing the diet with nutrient-dense foods did for thousands of Whole Food Market employees as we created the Healthy Eating Program.
I love that your mission is to bring “delicious, unpretentious vegan foods to market.” Why do you think vegan food gets such a bad rap in the first place?
A lot of people are still under the impression that if it’s good for you, it must taste bad. We think this comes from people being so used to the instant gratification of the over-salted, over-fried, over-sweetened products on the market that are engineered to trick our brains into thinking we’re getting some kind of taste-experience when we eat like that.
The second part of it is that a lot of people lack basic cooking skills, and cooking at home is the best way to infuse flavor into everything you eat. Simple cooking techniques, like learning how to use herbs and spices, can make any plant go from boring to wicked delicious — without the added fillers that affect our health negatively. It’s our mission to help people get real comfortable in the kitchen so they can play with their food and make it taste as amazing as ours does!
What are common misconceptions about vegan alternatives to meat?
We think that there are some amazing things happening in the plant-based meat alternative space right now, and hopefully what we, and other companies, are doing to expand those choices will help change peoples’ minds about plant-based alternatives being full of processed ingredients that are not great for our bodies, and that lack in taste.
For us, we love the idea of whole food-based alternatives to meat. So just a simple maitake mushroom, slathered up with awesome barbecue sauce, instead of a steak, is a great nutrient-dense alternative, or our Good Catch line of plant-based seafood alternatives, which are made primarily from chickpeas and sea vegetables, have us super excited about this space in the market.
What is the key to maximizing flavor for vegan/healthy recipes?
Culinary technique is key! When you start to get comfortable in the kitchen and learn how to maximize the potential of the flavors the plant already has — its natural fats, minerals, and sugars — all kinds of magical things start to happen with your food.
Learning to properly caramelize, saute, steam, and roast makes a huge difference to a flavor profile. Tasting as you go, being careful about added salt and sugar, choosing the highest quality, freshest ingredients you can afford, and looking toward herbs and spices are great ways to punch up flavor.
Do you have a favorite vegan version of a traditionally meat-based meal?
It would have to be our Nana’s red sauce. Our Nana was second-generation Italian and this was the sauce that held many meals, and often our family, together around the dinner table. We’ve adapted it to be plant-based with love, and care, and respect for Nana. And it’s still awesome. We think Nana would be proud!
Plant-based food sales increased 20 percent over the last year. Why do you think these products are becoming so popular right now?
We think that with health issues and health costs on the rise all over the globe, people are starting to wake up to making choices that make better sense. That, combined with innovative new products like the Wicked Kitchen line of food (available in the UK at Tesco) and Good Catch (available in the US at Thrive Market, Whole Foods Market, and Fresh Direct) are making plant-based foods more accessible for everyone.
Courtesy of Wicked Healthy
Cauliflower florets get the BBQ–sticky fingers treatment here. Look for a head of cauliflower that’s not too tightly packed. You want to be able to break the whole thing down into larger, individual florets with some stem on there. The middle of the cauliflower is sweet, tender, and perfect for this preparation. If the cauliflower has some leaves attached to it, leave them on. They get nice and crisp on the grill. Hope you like Korean barbecue: That’s the flavor profile of the sauce that’s slathered all over these sticky cauliflower ribs. Or check out the “options” for other flavor variations. Eat these with your hands and keep the Wet-Naps nearby!
1 head (1 to 2 lbs.) cauliflower
1 jar (12 oz) hot pepper jelly
¼ cup Ninja Tamari Glaze
½ tsp sea salt
1 tbsp sesame seeds, preferably a black and white combo, for garnish
¼ cup fresh cilantro or parsley leaves, for garnish
- Light a grill for medium-high heat, about 375ºF. For charcoal or wood, pile the coals to one side of the grill. For gas, heat only one side of the burners, and leave the other side off.
- Begin breaking down the cauliflower carcass by holding the head upside down by the large center stem. Remove the florets from the center stem, leaving a long stem intact on each cauliflower floret. The stems should be reminiscent of ribs that you will hold as you gnaw the cauliflower from the stem. Try and make sure the rib pieces are thick enough and strong enough to stand up to saucing, grilling, and being eaten by hand when cooked.
- Whisk together the pepper jelly and tamari glaze in a large mixing bowl. This is your sticky, sweet, spicy BBQ sauce. Wash your hands, add the cauliflower ribs to the bowl, and rub the sauce over the ribs like you’re applying a generous amount of tanning oil to your bae. Coat all pieces thoroughly.
- Scrape the grill clean then place the cauliflower ribs on the hot grate. Grill for about 5 minutes per side. You’re looking for good grill marks and a golden brown color with some burnt edges on the rib pieces. You also want the cauliflower to be cooked through yet still have some crunch-ability. If the ribs char before they’re cooked through, move them to the unheated side of the grill, put down the lid, and cook gently until they are tender yet crunchy. If you have any leftover sauce, brush it over the ribs throughout the grilling.
- Remove the ribs to a platter and shower with the salt, sesame seeds, and herbs. Eat with your hands.
NINJA TAMARI GLAZE
2 cups water
1 cup low-sodium tamari
½ cup demerara sugar or light brown sugar
1/3 cup Ninja Squirrel sriracha, Homemade Badass Sriracha, or other sriracha
1 tbsp rough chopped ginger
1 tbsp rough chopped garlic
1 bay leaf
1 tsp arrowroot or cornstarch
2 tbsp cold water
- Combine the 2 cups water, tamari, sugar, sriracha, ginger, garlic, and bay leaf in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Whisk the arrowroot with the 2 tablespoons cold water (called a slurry), then whisk the slurry into the pot. Bring back to a simmer and simmer to cook out the starchy taste, 5 to 8 minutes. Shut off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes.
- Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a chillable container and let cool. Seal and refrigerate for up to 1 month.
ROASTED SWEET POTATO SALAD WITH ARUGULA AND HONEY BALSAMIC VINEGAR
For the sweet potatoes:
2 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon
For the dressing:
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp chives, minced
4 cups baby arugula
1 small fennel bulb, shaved thin on mandolin
Step 1: Preparing the Sweet Potatoes
Preheat oven to 375 °F.
Toss the sweet potatoes with the vinegar, black pepper, and cinnamon. On anon-stick sheet pan, or one lined with parchment or a silpat, spread out the potatoes evenly. Place in the oven and roast, turning vegetables over once, for 12–15 minutes or until tender and slightly browned. Let the potatoes cool until they are near room temperature.
Step 2: Preparing the Dressing
While the potatoes are cooking, in a small bowl, whisk together the remaining balsamic vinegar, honey, cinnamon, and chives.
Step 3: Finishing the Dish
In a large bowl, gently toss together the arugula, and shaved fennel. Add potatoes, drizzle in dressing, and toss.
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