It is February 2017 ,and in less than a year, we've already witnessed 2 major leaps forward for meat innovation. First, in May 2016 Beyond Meat convinced Whole Foods to place the plant protein-based Beyond Burger smack-dab in the middle of their meat department, a bold and unprecedented move that finally took high-quality plant meats outside the hippie-dippy "Alternative Meats" section and allowed them to directly compete with animal-based counterparts for shoppers' attention.
And now this: The Impossible Burger, the famed "bleeding" veggie burger-that's-not-a-veggie burger made by Silicon Valley geniuses at Impossible Foods has earned a Michelin star. Sort of. For those not in the know, a Michelin star is the Academy Awards of the culinary profession - it is a chef's highest aspiration to have their restaurant mentioned in the annual French-based Michelin guide next to one of these rarefied stars - which actually sort of resembles a flower or Yelp logo. What a Nobel Prize is to a physicist, or an Olympic medal to an athlete, so naturally goes a Michelin star for any chef. As such, it carries incalculable weight in the elite world of food criticism, which heretofore, has been defined solely by animal-based gastronomy. The idea of plant-based meats has never entered the conversation of fine, serious eating. So for the animal-free Impossible Burger to arrive, as it did on February 1st, at two vaunted New York City establishments, including the Michelin-starred The Public, is major news.
More background on the Impossible Burger: Since launching at NYC's Momofuku Nishi last summer, this meticulously made burger is actually just plant proteins and fats, but looks, tastes, and delightfully oozes like medium rare beef. But unlike cattle, it requires only a fraction of the land, water and energy to produce, and emits significantly fewer greenhouse gases. It's also antibiotic and hormone-free and obviously, much kinder to cows.
It's generated huge waves in several notable New York, San Francisco and L.A. restaurants where it's appearing in a strategically slow rollout. But it's the latest arrival at Chef Brad Farmiere's The Public and Saxon + Parole that's really made its culinary credits official, and elevating plant-based meats to a new realm of respect.
It's fascinating to note the burger's looks have changed significantly since the first launch at Momofuku Nishi last summer: It's apparently doubled in size and now resembles a fancy gastopub-esque burger - heftier and meatier than ever before. For a bonafide burger obsessee like myself, this development is quite exciting indeed. At The Public, it's being served up with a spicy Middle East-inspired curry sauce, a small garden of greens and traditional cheddar, while Saxon + Parole lovingly heaps their patty with generous mushrooms, onions and truffle oil.
Like its other debuts, the reviews for this launch have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic, except for a segment of seasoned food critics. For them, an ambitious product like the Impossible Burger must be compared to the best cuts of beef already out there, and against these very high standards, they find it falls short. But that is only because this burger represents the first iteration - Impossible Foods is continuously working on and improving their product, and intend to make it every bit as juicy, fatty, and indulgent as dry-aged Angus, Wagyu or any other type of prime beef available. Just like cattle were bred and "improved" over generations to make their flesh more tender, flavorful and appealing, so too The Impossible Burger is being diligently worked on and perfected. Just give them more time.
Until then, the popular success of the Impossible Burger proves humanity is making huge strides in replacing destructive animal-based meat with new, more sustainable and humane products. From Whole Foods meat customers now eyeing the benefits of plant-based protein against beef, to Cockscomb and Saxon + Parole - two very animal-centric restaurants - proudly featuring an cow-free burger at the top of their menus, attitudes toward better meat production are shifting in a new, positive direction.
Lastly, chew on this: The power of intelligent and creative food innovation to change the world could not be more obvious, as these two burgers have made such huge progress in a relatively short amount of time. And as consumers who believe in fundamentally changing our food system, it's our job to energetically promote and encourage it.