At a fundamental level, competition is a part of cooking. Whether you challenge yourself with using unfamiliar ingredients, trying your hand at a new recipe, or simply looking to improve upon your go-to dish for dinner, there is almost always a new way to approach the kitchen.
The competitive side of cooking is most commonly seen in the spotlight of culinary TV shows like Top Chef or Chopped, but the challenges aren’t limited to chefs vying for cash prizes and professional opportunities. At Arlene, the test is simply creating the best. Our own ‘top chefs’ met the challenge to create innovative plant-based dishes that best suit the flexitarian lifestyle. In our global kitchen, they take familiar meat-based dishes and transform them into plant-based global cuisine without leaving taste and texture behind.
Chefs Arnaud Thulliez, Kamal El Sayad, and Zhang Xiang bring European, Middle Eastern, and Asian culinary influences to the kitchens of Arlene to reinvent traditionally meat-based regional favorites as vegetarian and vegan dishes. “We have more of a traditional approach of what’s available, what could entice creativity,” notes Thulliez. “When we are creating a dish, it is the same as when you are at home: You can look at what you have fresh in your fridge or from the market and read a recipe book and say, ‘this is what I want to create today.’” With this mindset, the trio’s collaborative effort contributes to the flavors, textures, and techniques to recreate dishes like Dan Dan Sauce with Noodles, Bolognese with Spaghetti, and Kebab with Biryani Rice.
Part of the flexitarian lifestyle is getting your daily protein from plants instead of animals, but you don’t have to be flexible about flavor. In fact, that is a main focus for Thulliez and his team. Once they’ve identified the plant-based protein for a dish, they discuss a global approach of using regional spices and seasonings to create a familiar flavor experience.
With chef Xiang Zhang’s Siew Mai, for instance, he used his knowledge of the dim sum staple to excite your palate with the rich experience of siew mai rather than imitating the pork or seafood flavor. “We’re not trying to create meat or seafood flavor as such,” Zhang noted. “The people will enjoy that product because if they have experienced meat or seafood dim sum, the vegan items are very close in flavor.”
Thulliez adds that they, “create food that is well-balanced, giving you the right flavor and texture experience that can replace the experience of a meat product but not trying to be a beef or lamb or chicken or a specific seafood.”
A common misconception of plant-based proteins is that they come up short when it comes to texture — but that’s where chef Kamal El Sayed comes in. El Sayed’s background is in butchery and preparing meat-based dishes at some of the world’s finest restaurants including Four Seasons Egypt and Shangri-la in Dubai. His time in these kitchens lends itself to creating plant-based dishes with the feeling, flavor, and texture of meat while combining with other components to fulfill the meat experience.
“With a background in butchery and as a meat lover, I try together to create plant-based dishes so that you aren’t missing eating meat,” explains El Sayed. “From our side, when we try to create the experience, we want you to love the kebabs and biryani without any side dishes… but if you want to, you can have it with some sauce and a wrap — it’s really good for making combinations.”
Creating typically meat-based dishes in vegetarian or vegan styles goes beyond replacing meat with tofu or another plant-based protein. It uses the inspiration and deconstruction of a familiar dish along with intentional use of available and seasonal ingredients. “It is a reverse process because we look at what ingredients we have access to and once we are excited with a product we feel can give us an angle, then we start the creating process,” says Thulliez.
The chef team regularly tries vegan and vegetarian products to find the right textures they feel they can create a better plant-based experience with. “When we try the raw ingredient and say, ‘that’s very nice,’ it gives us the flexibility to create so many things with that ingredient,” Thulliez added.
When the individual components of flavor, texture, and technique are brought together in the Arlene kitchen, the result is a diverse selection of dishes that enhance the flexitarian experience at home. Although our team of globally-lauded chefs carefully craft the Arlene menu, they left room for you to make it your own.
“They are ready meals for you to heat and consume, and people can experiment at home,” Thulliez says. The variety of dishes and sauces available encourages flexibility and creativity for the home cook to challenge themselves with the same curiosity and passion as the Arlene chefs. “I love food. I live for food,” muses Thulliez. “My favorite dish is the next one.”
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Whether grilled, roasted, or cooked in a sauce, kebabs are a delicious and easy way to enjoy meat and vegetables. The history of this dish is as rich and flavorful as the kebabs themselves!