Mung beans masquerading as eggs headlined a multi-course dinner prepared by chefs from the JUST foods company on April 13th at the Culinary Vegetable Institute. Five JUST chefs took over the CVI kitchen to prepare an “I can’t believe it’s not eggs” dining experience.
“My group is a very unique team,” said Chef Chris Jones, VP of product development and head of the JUST culinary team. “We’re product developers at heart, but all of us come from a culinary background. The way that JUST brings folks together is, we pair amazing chefs and culinarians with food scientists. I expect my food scientists to become chefs, and I expect my chefs to become food scientists.”
And he expects eaters to become believers.
Ancient Beans Meet New Ideas
You may or may not know what a mung bean is, but you’ve probably eaten them in the form of bean sprouts and glass noodles in Asian food. Those two applications utilize the plant’s starch. Chef Chris and the JUST team are focused on the plant’s protein, which is typically used as feed stock or simply discarded.
“People are not using mung bean protein in anything today,” he said. “We’re creating all these staple products, and we’re throwing away good product because we just don’t have the resources to study, or haven’t thought about studying, it.”
“The mung bean has been around for 2,500 years in our food culture,” he explained. “This isn’t new. We just haven’t explored it. We’ve been so focused on soy and corn and rotational crops that we’re like, okay, this is good enough. You have to look at life a little bit differently. And this is the way that we’re doing it.”
Chef Chris said The Culinary Vegetable Institute and The Chef’s Garden were a perfect platform for sharing JUST’s message and mission, and expanding people’s knowledge about the environmental and human benefits of plant-based food systems.
“I believe chefs have the largest voice in food, and we are the quietest sometimes,” he said. “And, really, it’s on us, and on our farmers, to say ‘This is what food could be. This is what we can do. This is where it should go. I couldn’t think of a better partner with better synergy than The Chef’s Garden to us. So we thought it would be really cool to have a dinner colliding their future and our future together.”
Keep it Simple, Keep it Real
Chef Chris said the menu was kept intentionally simple to make it a delicious teaching opportunity.
“I’m hoping it brings people down a little bit lower to the experimentation of how do you recreate food,” he said. “How do you take a food system that we know how to do every day, and now we’re changing it? We’re putting something a little bit different in there and we’re making it just as delicious.”
“This is the simplest menu I think we’ve ever done,” he continued. “The food is very 101. But to create this food we really had to reinvent how that system worked. So we’re taking our mung bean, which has these amazing properties of gelation and emulsification, and using them within food systems that it normally wouldn’t be used in. So you’re going to be having a taste of all the applications it’s capable of that we know today ─ from ice cream to waffles to cookies to an actual scrambled egg. And we’re going to take you through this journey of how you can take this beautiful seed all the way to a plate, and then how many applications are possible with just that one plant.”
JUST eggs look, taste and feel so convincingly like the real thing that hardcore vegans in the room looked decidedly skeptical. “You’re kind of on a whirlwind adventure with us,” Chef Chris told guests. “It’s kind of wild what plants can do. And we’ve only just scratched the surface.”
For a group of young hipster chefs on an ambitious mission to change the world, the atmosphere surrounding them felt more like a party. Laughter, banter, good-natured ribbing and a pervasive feeling of fun and friendship emanated from the kitchen. Prior to each course, the five sampled the featured wine pairings in a communion of kinship, each sipping in turn from a shared glass, uttering jokes and wisecracks in place of prayers.
Even when things didn’t go quite right ─ like the near crisis when squares of pasta refused to peel away from sheets of parchment, the vibe remained playful. “We aren’t going to yell,” said Chef Nate Park. “We’ve all had that experience.”
Course by Course
Saturday’s menu started with an amuse-bouche prepared by Pastry Chef Melanie Baron. “I do testing with bakery applications,” she said, which would include multiple elements on the menu. The one-bite brioche bun was prepared using JUST egg and was deliciously buttery and pretzel-like thanks to a sprinkling of coarse salt, served with an herb-infused compound butter and garnished with an anise hyssop bloom.
Chef Darrell Nemeth followed with a crudité salad featuring Chef’s Garden petite mixed lettuces and salad sensation microgreens, cuke with bloom, citrus begonias and pea blooms with a dollop of JUST mayo aioli. He topped each plate with a tall, upright olive and mung-bean “chip” with a delightful Funyon® texture.
Chef Nate Park, JUST’s director of product development, gave a nod to his southern roots with his play on a traditional fried chicken and waffle. He incorporated JUST egg into the crispy, fluffy waffle. For vegetarian guests, he crafted a mung-inspired vegan chicken, seasoned and fried identically to the real thing. He served both versions with a side of slaw featuring Chef’s Garden cherry bomb radishes and carrots topped off with red ribbon sorrel, carrot tops and pea blooms.
Chef Zach Tyndall served up a pasta dish of JUST egg noodles ─ large, single sheets of fresh pasta quickly boiled and casually draped like a dish cloth into hollowed-out plates. He sauced the dish with velvety, rich lemon beurre monté and finished it with mushrooms and a sprig of Calvin pea tendrils.
To showcase the JUST eggs at their unadorned simplest, Chef Chris prepared a classic “bacon and eggs,” swapping out the bacon for a thick braised pork belly resting beneath the soft scrambled eggs. A spoonful of steelhead trout roe sweetened with walnut syrup contributed a further egg element to the breakfast-themed dish.
A trio of Chef Melanie’s desserts rounded out the experience and featured pineapple and coconut “ice cream” and cookies, take-home JUST lemon cake petit fours, and liquid chocolate “cookie bombs” that came with a warning. “Eat this bomb in one bite, or it will get the best of you!”
Addressing his guests, Chef Chris said it took years of tinkering to perfect the convincing replica texture and flavor of JUST’s vegetable-based egg imposters.
“We’ve spent a lot of time working on this,” he said. “At first it tasted a little like the bottom of the lawnmower deck. But we did everything we could to take that flavor out and make it less vegetal.”
In It to Win It
When asked what he hoped guests would take away from the event, Chef Chris said awareness and initiative.
“I hope that, if one person tonight looks at food differently, that if one person goes ‘Aha! Food can be different!,’ then I think our mission goes a little bit further,” he said. “I’m not trying to change the world tomorrow. I think it comes from innovation. It comes from people taking leaps. It comes from one or two people understanding what we’re doing, and then talking about it.”
“I’m hoping that people go out and buy more than just our products,” he continued. “Yes, JUST egg is on the market, JUST mayo is there, our cookies are there, and they’re all wonderful. But there’s a whole movement. Even if they don’t buy JUST egg product, if they just think about having vegetables first, or thinking more sustainably what they cook, even thinking about what they are feeding their kids, and reading the back of the label, win.”
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