Launching food innovations via gastronomy: An interview with food expert, chef and restaurant owner Adam Penney

  • Launching food innovations via gastronomy An interview with food expert, chef and restaurant owner Adam Penney (adam_penney_cover.png)

Photo: Three Buns

Chef Adam Penney is a pioneer of food innovations and an advocate of plant-based food.

With his restaurant Three Buns in Singapore, he was a launching partner for Impossible Food’s Grounded Beef and Next Gen Foods’ TiNDLE.
For the Earth Month in 2021, he designed a completely new menu hosting 9 fully sustainable dishes. All his creations are made from scratch and he loves experimenting. He is convinced that food innovation is the only way to shift consumers to non-animal products, because they want to eat what they know. So, it is essential to combine new ingredients with known flavors and textures.

What was your first thought when you were approached by Impossible Foods?

Actually, I approached them. I had heard whispers that Impossible Foods was coming to Asia, so I emailed them in 2016. I explained a bit about what we do at Three Buns and that we were looking into plant-based options. Henry (Woodward-Fisher) came to see me and tried one of our burgers, really liked it, and brought me the first version of Impossible to try. When my team tried it, we were blown away. I felt honored that we were chosen to be the first official burger restaurant in Singapore to launch Impossible. I think it’s an amazing product and I still have to remind myself that it’s made from plants, because it looks and tastes like meat. For future products I am more than happy to work with them.

Since you first approached Impossible, does that mean you are constantly looking for food innovations?

Yes, I am always looking for ideas because I like to provide new dishes for our customers to try. I have cooked for 26 years and am still learning new things every week. The technology of things coming out now is mind-blowing, so it is really exciting.

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    Adam Penney
    Photo: Three Buns

What is your motivation behind looking for food innovations?

There are a lot of people who want to eat better and because Three Buns is predominantly burgers, we try to add new items that people can have daily without worrying about their health. It’s important to give people options and educate them, because many people have a negative perception of plant-based products. As technology is progressing, plant-based products are getting better and better and I am happy to be able to give the customer something they want to have again and again. This way they can adapt and build new memories. We have a little step ahead with comfort food because as long as it makes people feel happy, that is half the battle.

When it comes to food innovations what aspects do you look for in a product?

I want stuff that is similar in terms of flavor, texture and smell to what people know so they can understand it. Impossible makes people think they are eating meat, TiNDLE makes people think they are eating chicken, Oatly makes people think they are drinking milk. The goal is essentially to trick people. So instead of nagging them about the environment, you can tell them that this product is not only better for both you and the environment, but it also tastes amazing and you cannot tell the difference. I also look for versatility, which is why we started using Next Gen Foods’s TiNDLE. It feels great, smells like chicken, is easy to work with and can be used in a variety of dishes. Plus, the customers love it. So, I like food innovations that stay true to the original.

Are you involved in the development of food products?

I was lucky with Next Gen because I was the first chef to be able to play with TiNDLE and was blown away by it. We worked with them on that product, discussing different fats, the aroma, mouthfeel, chicken skin and muscle. I tell them what I expect of a chicken product and they mimic it in their product.

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    Photo: Three Buns

So next to supporting in developing the product, what role do you think you can play as a chef in terms of food innovation?

We can test products both in our kitchen and with the public. With Impossible Foods, we are able to show people how easy it is to cook and how to do it the right way. Just like with normal meat, you can overcook Impossible meat, so it’s important to know how to prepare it. It also provides for a quicker meal because not only does it cook quicker than animal-based meat, but it does not need to rest like normal meat.

Would you say that you, as a chef, can built a positive reference case to counter the negative image people have of plant-based products?

The thing is, if people have a negative experience, they might not try it again, or are less enthusiastic about it. As a chef I respect the ingredient and am able to do justice to it. We also promote the product heavily and do joint marketing between our team, the brand, and delivery platforms. It’s always a good idea in this day and age to work with delivery platforms to help market the new products.

Do you discuss pricing with brands like Impossible Foods?

Always. When they were first launching, the initial price was really high, and I nearly had a heart attack. I told them that people would try the burger once but would not come back because of the price. They have since dropped the price, but we still need to explain to customers that it is a new technology and volumes are rather low. Right now, eating plant-based is a bit more expensive.

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    Photo: Peter Dawn, Unsplash

Would you like for more startups to approach you with food innovations?

Absolutely! We tried a lot of stuff last year but some of it was just not exciting. If something is good and unique in flavor, I am happy to work with it.

If you could send a message to all the food startups out there, what would you say?

I would tell them to make sure the product is easy to work with, flexible, and delicious. Price also plays a role because lower prices make it a lot easier to entice people to try something new.

When would be a good time for a food product in development to approach you? How early in the process would you get involved?

Not too early, maybe when they get their first or second batch done so they have most of the flavor profile down. Once they are looking for that last magical ingredient that makes people go “this is unbelievable”, that’s when chefs can support.

One last question: How important is the role of prestige gastronomy in building credibility and brand value for the product?

It is kind of a double-edged sword. Because plant-based products are pricier at the moment, they need to be in restaurants where the spend is higher. Our average guests do not mind spending a little extra on the products because they know that the finished dish is going to taste great and the “cannot believe part” also comes in. People want to try it and it is the job of the chef to make sure the product goes out to the guests the way it was meant to. And here good chefs are no guarantee, but more likely to deliver a good experience.

You want to know more about Adam's restaurant? Have a look at Three Buns.

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