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The plant-based movement is no fleeting trend. According to analysts at Barclays, a British multinational bank, alternative meat will become a $140 billion industry over the next decade. As a result of these developments and changes in consumer preferences, more chefs are looking to sharpen their plant-based cooking skills. The challenge? Elevate “meatless meat” and give these ingredients a space on their menus.

But plant-based recipes are nothing new in the country. Since nomadic times, Filipinos have been experimenting with homegrown vegetables. Then, Chinese merchants brought tofu to the archipelago before the 13th century. And in the 1900s, mushroom culture began thriving in Pampanga. But it was only in the last 20 years that plant-based food inched its way to mass consciousness.

Philippine Restaurants Going Plant-Based

Today, more premium plant-based products are on offer. The best part? Food scientists and innovative brands like The Vegetarian Butcher made sure that these cook, taste, and feel like meat, minus the associated downsides.

As a result, there’s been a rise in more vegetarian-friendly restaurants in the Philippines. The Mexicali Group is among these local purveyors. Their restaurants include Mexicali, El Chupacabra, and Crying Tiger Street Kitchen – all of which serve vegetarian and vegan alternatives for some of their best-selling menu items.

At the start of 2022, they partnered with The Vegetarian Butcher to make these dishes stand out in the busy market. Here, Mexicali’s Executive Chef shares how their restaurants have embraced the plant-based movement.

Exclusive: Chef Mario San Pedro on Plant-Based Cooking

Exclusive: Chef Mario San Pedro on Plant-Based Cooking

Chef Mario San Pedro has been passionate about food since he started cooking in the fourth grade. He’s been in the industry for at least two decades already. And in 2022, he celebrated his 10th year with the Mexicali group. As a professional chef, he’s seen Filipino tastes evolve: “Pinoys are well-traveled now, so they’re more exposed to other types of food. When they come home, they look for dishes they had abroad, including [anything] plant-based.”

Mexicali started experimenting with The Vegetarian Butcher products to offer more varied options to consumers craving plant-based fare. “Filipinos love to explore new flavors, new textures,” he explains. “As a chef, need to offer them something new. Plant-based items are available almost everywhere now, [so it makes sense to follow suit].”

To stay competitive, restaurants must satisfy locals’ curiosity for all things new. In this meatless era, that may mean going partially plant-based: “Actually, we’ve been offering plant-based dishes for almost ten years. [We don’t need to open a vegan concept just yet, but it’s good to have vegan options since demand is increasing]. For now, our restaurants can handle it.”

Introducing The Vegetarian Butcher to Mexicali’s menu

If you’re a restaurateur who wants to ride the trend, take cues from the Mexicali Group and offer exciting new options alongside your regular menu items. No need to be a full-on plant-based restaurant to be more inclusive!

When asked about his first impressions of The Vegetarian Butcher’s meat-free offerings, the meat-loving chef shared that the soy-based NOChicken tasted much like the real thing. Of course, chef Mario works his magic to make them suitable for the Filipino palate.

“Pinoys are used to eating food with fat, like chicken oil, lard, and beef tallow. You need to tweak your recipes to [ensure that kind of] flavor is still there. We use enhancers like Knorr Liquid Seasoning [to make it meatier], plus other secret ingredients,” he explains. The takeaway? A little bit of seasoning is all you need.

Chef Mario also recommends plant-based food and meat alternatives for their culinary benefits. In his experience, they’re easy to prep and “kitchen-friendly,” which are perks in any professional kitchen. Just freeze when storing, thaw before cooking, and season to taste.

Boosting the appeal of vegan and vegetarian menus

Boosting the appeal of vegan and vegetarian menus

More and more people are beginning to go for a less meat-centric diet due to concerns for their health, the environment, and animal welfare. At least 14% of consumers already identify as flexitarian a term for people who are primarily vegetarian but consume meat or seafood occasionally. Meanwhile, 42% of consumers have expressed a willingness to swap animal meat for plant-based options.

The Vegetarian Butcher’s current line-up includes the NOChicken Burger, NOChicken Chunks (their most popular!), and NOMince. They’re indistinguishable from real meat on all fronts, including taste and texture – two things that help shape the meat-eating experience. These alternatives are perfect for people who want to give up meat but occasionally crave its distinct features.

On top of that, each product is as versatile as its meat equivalent. The Mexicali group puts them to the test by using them in their various restaurants. So far, so good: The Vegetarian Butcher works for both their Mexican and Southeast Asian concepts.

Want to try the dishes yourself? Chef Mario recommends the quesadillas, burritos, and street tacos from El Chupacabra and Mexicali, and the pad see eew from Crying Tiger Street Kitchen. “Our plant-based [menu] is rated positively by our patrons. Mostly vegetarians and vegans [go for these options, but we've also had] a few curious people [try them out].”

Offering healthier versions of your bestsellers

Offering healthier versions of your bestsellers

When brainstorming vegan and vegetarian menu ideas for your restaurant, don’t be limited to typical ingredients like vegetables and tofu. They may be cost-effective, but competing businesses likely use the same items. Make your menu more enticing to plant-based eaters by offering them unique and premium-quality dishes they won’t find anywhere else.

Start by providing meat-free alternatives for your bestsellers – a move that has proven lucrative for the Mexicali group. They have their “original” meat-based fare listed alongside their vegan and vegetarian versions. This ensures no one misses out on their top offerings.

Besides the dishes that Chef Mario recommended, their Mexican concept restaurants also offer taco salads for lighter fare. Like meat, you can transform The Vegetarian Butcher products to be more or less indulgent, depending on your customers’ preferences.

This further serves those switching to a plant-based lifestyle for their health and anyone looking for leaner options. “If you’re on your health journey or cutting back on meat, [these are really] good alternatives,” says Chef Mario.

Ready to improve your plant-based cooking skills to give your food business an edge? Shop plant-based meat by The Vegetarian Butcher here. You can also buy frozen packs directly from Unilever Food Solutions Philippines’ Official Distributor through this website.