At least one prominent chef has given a thumbs-down to the alt-meat product Impossible Burger. But he admits that he loathes vegans, and worse — he’s never even eaten one.
Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has become a prominent media personality by virtue of being outspoken, opinionated and often controversial.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America 40 years ago when he as only 21, Bourdain worked many years in restaurants and commercial kitchens, including a lengthy stint as executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles, the French restaurant in Manhattan’s Financial District renowned for its escargot, foie gras and steak tartare.
The place went bankrupt last year, but that was long after Bourdain had moved on as an author (“Kitchen Confidential”) and star of the culinary adventure show “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” which ran from 2005 to 2012 on the Travel Channel.
His new CNN show, “Parts Unknown,” is set to air the Season 11 premiere on April 29, in which Bourdain is reportedly going to sample snapping turtle patties and squirrel gravy on a visit with residents of West Virginia coal country.
The promos for the episode claim that Bourdain enjoyed the “exotic” cuisine, but in an interview posted on The Daily Beast website, he made it clear that there’s another type of “culinary adventure” that he’s decidedly not interested in sampling.
“Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain may not have tried the immensely popular lab-grown meat-free Impossible Burger himself, but he isn’t a fan of it,” the story began, noting that Impossible Burger is a plant-based alternative “that replicates the sizzle, smell, texture, flavor, and bleeding of a real burger” but is marketed as a product that doesn’t require the land use (agreed) nor the energy inputs (questionable) required to raise livestock.
Addressing the Real Question
Of course, Bourdain has been an outspoken critic of vegetarians throughout his career, as the story noted, calling vegans “a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn” in Kitchen Confidential.
He acknowledged to The Daily Beast interviewer that he hasn’t tried the Impossible Burger, although he understands the product’s appeal.
“Look, there are a lot of hungry people in the world,” he said. “I guess if it is a means of providing must-needed protein to people who need protein to live, I guess I’m all for it.”
Although culinary personalities other than Bourdain have endorsed the Impossible Burger, which adds heme from red blood cells to the formulation to simulate the “bleeding” evident in raw meat, Bourdain went on to say that, “As somebody who spent 30 years as a chef, of course I’m going to be resistant to the notion that there’s any replacement for the texture and musculature and funk of real meat.”
He added that, “I hate the idea that people are selling this at a premium at hip restaurants.”
In a negative way, Bourdain touched on the key issue with the development of the alt-meat sector: If these innovative products end up being merely a high-priced conscience soother for affluent veggies in the North American and Europe, then his criticisms are valid.
But if cellular agriculture, as it’s been labeled, can morph into a technology that surpasses conventional agriculture in terms of producing food with a smaller carbon footprint, then the technology should be recognized as an essential tool in the global response to the looming threat of food shortages as the world’s population exceeds nine billion humans.
That’s a far more critical consideration than taking sides over whether the flavor and organoleptics of test-tube shamburgers are less than or equal to those of actual beef.
The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator