Some lucky ducks are gifted with having careers they love, but they don’t always start that way. As awareness of the health benefits from eating plants spreads like wildfire many people are changing career paths to participate. Entrepreneurs are developing new products catering to new tastes, educators are helping inform the public, more vegan restaurants are opening, and the internet is abuzz new websites sharing recipes.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Stefanko, executive chef and research & menu developer at Gardein to see how this trend is shaping his career.
1) What initially attracted you to work at Gardein? After 15 years of running conventional kitchens at a very high level I was stressed out, overweight and suffering from a variety of health ailments. I switched to a plant based diet and as such sought after a new career that aligned with my new values. Working for Gardein checked all the boxes; environmental ethics, animal welfare, and health and wellness.
2) Do you feel like you are making an impact in informing the public about benefits of plant based foods? I've been working with Gardein for 5 years and each year we've seen 30-40 % growth, we've gone from 4 frozen offerings to over 20! Gardein is in over 20,000 retailers nationwide and can be found in some of americas top restaurants, hotels, theme parks, colleges and universities.
3) How do people react to the vegan options when you cater to omnivores? Cooking at Gardein is very rewarding and exciting. Omnivores are blown away by how "meat like" our plant based proteins are. I think in the past theres been a low expectation for plant based proteins (they tasted like cardboard) so when meat eaters try Gardein for the first time they are absolutely shocked by the taste and meat like texture. Watching it all unfold is pure joy; first the bite, then the chew, then the smile, then the accolades (this is great!) and finally where do I buy this and what’s in it? Even the meatiest of meat eaters can consider trying a meatless monday after trying gardein. Gardein makes it so easy!
4) What is your inspiration for coming up with new recipes? Making cooking without animal products easy, affordable and accessible to everyone! I like to take every day dishes that people grew up with and make those dishes plant based. Most people grew up eating meat; birthdays, holidays, and family gathering. All those occasions often center around meat, making those meals very emotional for people. Brining people those same meals but plant based versions is what I love to do.
5) Any advice for up and coming chefs who want to break into the food scene? First, go and cook in as many top named restaurants as you can for a couple years, experience classic french, japanese, thai, spanish, italian, vegetarian and raw vegetarian cuisines. This experience rounds out your resume but more importantly your culinary repertoire. Secondly, I can't tell you the number of times I meet culinary students and advise they consider plant based cooking. In conventional cooking new chefs are competing in a highly competitive field. I advise new chefs enter the niche cooking space of health and wellness and plant based cooking as their is a ton more room and opportunity. Finally as a chef in the plant based food scene you are a chef that is truly making the world a better place with every meal you cook. There is deep meaning and purpose to cooking in the plant based space; for the planet, for the animals, for your diners health etc etc.
6) Last year Gardein partnered with Rouxbe cooking school to make it more assessable for people to participate in their online plant based cooking course. Any new promotions or partnerships this year? The Rouxbe cooking school partnership is one that is ongoing. Gardein is was and is very excited to be the Plant Based Protein of choice for such an outstanding culinary program.
Here is a little food porn for your viewing pleasure.