A new food option is gaining popularity in the Uptown Athens dining scene, offering a healthful alternative for meat lovers and vegetarians alike.
Local restaurants and markets are beginning to serve Chakay Artisan Roasts, a plant-based meat alternative that allows customers to prepare or enjoy it any way they want, said Vicki McFarland, co-founder and co-inventor of Chakay Artisan Roasts.
“The roast itself has a very neutral taste,” McFarland said. “It allows it to be flavored in so many ways by local shops and foodies in their home kitchens. They can slice, cut or grind it. It can be turned into stew or grilled into flames.”
Athens is a fitting market for Chakay because students and residents here are especially health conscious, said Charles Beinecke, co-founder and inventor of Chakay Artisan Roasts. He added that Ohio University is considering serving it in the dining halls as well.
“OU has the capacity and the chefs to make this taste fantastic,” Beinecke said.
“We’re delivering them something they can do that with. They can make it taste like anything.”
The roasts contain water, wheat gluten, potato starch, rice flour and potato flour.
They provide a meat-like chewing experience, which make the roasts particularly appealing to people newly converting from a predominately meat-based diet to a plant-based one, McFarland said.
Different varieties of Chakay are showing up at Casa Nueva, the Not Guilty Food Cart, The Oak Room, Restaurant Salaam and the Busy Day Market.
Hilarie Burhans, co-owner and executive chef of Restaurant Salaam, said the chefs at the restaurant prepare Chakay by marinating and grilling it. Most of the time, they add it to their salads and vegan curry or make it into a veggie kabob.
“We were impressed by the amount of protein in the product,” Burhans said.
“These days, a lot of people are experimenting with a vegan diet. Some of those people really miss the meat and they have really taken to this stuff. It’s been selling quite well for us.”
McFarland and Beinecke began experimenting with the idea almost three years ago using ACEnet. Once they perfected their product, they began reaching out to local business owners.
“It’s pretty neat that we have local people in Athens making a new (protein alternative),” said Al Schmidt, food coordinator at Casa Nueva. “Who knows, this could be hugely popular, maybe even nationally and internationally.”