Wise words from the man behind Tesco’s Wicked transformation

New Wicked Kitchen products
2019 – Wicked Kitchen products

The UK is in the middle of a plant-based boom, and right at the forefront is Wicked Kitchen – the brand created and crafted by pioneering chef and Veganuary Ambassador, Derek Sarno, in collaboration with Tesco. Veganuary sat down with the man in question to talk all things Wicked, including the origins of the hugely successful brand and its bright future!

Why do you champion mushrooms as a meat alternative? What makes them so great in your eyes?

Mushrooms are the best for texture and meatiness. They take on flavours easily, are very easy to use, and cook and transform into some of the most amazing dishes. Not to mention they are super healthy! I’m not talking about button and chestnut mushrooms, even though they are good. I’m talking about the more ‘exotic’ types like King and cluster oyster mushrooms. They’re easier to grow than raising animals, require no slaughtering or killing, and the beneficial aspects of being much more sustainable is in our favour. They are an all-natural solution to anyone thinking processed foods are not for them, although I’d argue that any animal product is processed as well and takes way more resources to produce.

What was the inspiration for Wicked Kitchen and the name?

The name Wicked Kitchen came from our mother company called Wicked Healthy. And because it’s difficult to define what healthy is to any one individual, legislation makes it tough to put “healthy” on packs within retail. So Wicked Kitchen was born. It is much more culinary-driven and fits with us being chefs much better. We enjoy making innovative plant-based foods where there have been none. Making things “Wicked” to us means it has to taste great, look great and smash it on flavours no matter what the item is. We want to craft and create the tastiest, highest quality plant-based foods available.

When you’re coming up with a new recipe, what’s your process? Do you pick the vegetables first? Or the spices and flavours?

Our process in developing starts with the result, the end dish, the final product and working backwards. So that means creating what we crave, or even taking something we used to crave, and making it plant-based. Sometimes it’s the most simple things like mac and cheese or a naked burrito or Bolognese. To make them plant-based might seem impossible and to scale them up for hundreds of stores is daunting, but that’s what we’ve trained to do. Take any shredded style meat as an example, Wicked can shred King Oyster mushrooms as an all-natural alternative that tastes just as good, if not better. And if that doesn’t float your boat, we’ve got access to all the new innovation processes and meat alternatives like pea protein replacements and things like that to make dishes amazing and vegan!  Just depends what you’re into.

How do you feel about the huge success of the range? Did you ever envisage it being that popular?

Success in comparison to what? Compared to the meat industry, a plant-based future is just beginning. We are but a small blip and see loads of work ahead of us. We’re very thankful for where we are at and have worked hard to get here. Our mission is to challenge the status quo, provide amazing plant-based alternatives to every animal-based item across the board. We celebrate the small wins and are grateful for the opportunity, and at the same time we are constantly pushing for more plants. As long as there are factory farms slaughtering animals, we and the wider vegan community will work on finding solutions. Our goal was not to be popular. Our goal is to be a small part that challenges the current way of doing things, and opening eyes to what the future of food will become. Our mission is to make the sexiest plant-based foods possible.

How do you feel about the competition?…Every British supermarket now has its own plant-based range.

Bring it on! Just because Wicked Kitchen was first to market doesn’t mean we get to sit back and take it easy. We want to make the best items we can because we love what we do as chefs. The more vegan items out there, the better. That goes for the high street shops and retailers. I remember first coming to the UK and not having anything to eat from the major supermarkets other than a falafel wrap. It was unacceptable, so we changed that. The last three years has been incredible with almost every supermarket providing more choice. I see that as a win for the big picture. The animals and the planet don’t give a s**t who makes what, and nor should we. If we can play a role as being the benchmark to work towards, then we’ve done a good job. Create, create, create! More and more plant-based options to choose from is what excites me.

Where would you like to take Wicked Kitchen in the future?

With this newest launch, Wicked Kitchen is spreading across Tesco stores into more categories like the meat aisle, produce, chilled ready meals, front of store and into grocery…We’re making it easier than ever to transition to more plant-based items and cut down on meat and animal-based foods. We’d love to be able to help other countries Tesco is in, and of course all the other countries across the globe deserve to have plant-based alternatives to the current animal based products. Wherever we can make a difference and create high impact benefit is where we’d like to go.

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