Restaurateur and celebrity chef shares secrets to creating popular plant-based menu items. 

Due to the eating habits of younger generations, many believe that plant-based foods are the future. There are statistics that help fill in the picture: Datassential’s 2022 Plant-Forward Opportunity Report—released in June—found that 7 out of every 10 college students are looking to eat more fruit and vegetables. 

But it’s not just Gen Zers and Millennials who are looking to eat more plant-based foods. According to Datassential, the number of consumers looking to reduce meat consumption grew from 15 to 21 percent in 2022—a 40 percent annual increase that’s part of a long and steady movement away from animal proteins. 

So what can chefs do with this information? How do they make plant-based options that diners will love? After all, the same Datassential report found that the number one barrier holding consumers back from eating more plant-based foods is taste concerns (53 percent).

The following is an edited conversation between QSR magazine and Chef Jet Tila, a restaurateur who has appeared on various Food Network shows, including Iron Chef America, Guy’s Grocery Games, and Beat Bobby Flay. Read on to find out more about Tila’s approach to creating trendsetting plant-based items.


QSR: What are some of the biggest challenges chefs are facing? 

Chef Tila: For the near future, we’re all dealing with supply chain and labor issues. Shipping and fuel costs are systemic and ongoing issues. 

QSR: What are some of the challenges solved by adding plant-based foods to the menu? 

Chef Tila: Plant-based solutions can help address the costs of goods sold (COGS), or food costs. Plants traditionally cost less than meat and are typically easier to source in the face of ongoing supply-chain issues.  

QSR: Where do you see the plant-based trend heading? 

Chef Tila: Plant based has evolved beyond a trend and into a lifestyle. Eating less meat and more vegetables will increase on the menu across all segments, from fast food to fine dining. In order to ensure these options are appealing to everyone, the main solution is pairing plant-based items with umami flavors. 

QSR: What are some must-have pantry staples when cooking with plant-based items? Any secret weapons, or tips to share? 

Chef Tila: Seasonings are the key to successful plant-based cooking. Chefs must evolve past soy sauce, salt, and pepper. Oyster sauce is my go-to sauce—it adds incredible saltiness and savoriness. Also, heat and garlic combinations in sauces work really nicely with plant-based items. Roasted chili pastes that are not just acidic are great, too. Finally, chili crisp, sriracha, and harissa are excellent sauces to add to plant-based cooking. 

QSR: How can Lee Kum Kee help chefs and operators tackle the plant-based trend and add that umami flavor profile into dishes? 

Chef Tila: Lee Kum Kee products like oyster, hoisin, soy, and chili sauces are instant umami solutions where plant-based foods have very little. Seasoning effectively creates meat-like tastes quickly and effectively.  

Asian cultures have been eating plant-based foods for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and have rich experience in plant-based cooking and seasoning. 

For more on plant-based meets umami, visit the Lee Kum Kee website

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