The man behind Tesco’s Wicked Kitchen range, Derek Sarno, joined the retail giant in 2017 as executive chef and director of plant-based innovation. He describes himself as a plant-pusher, mushroom enthusiast and squirrel whisperer (he raised one when he lived in Portland, Oregon). We caught up with him on the thinking behind his plant-based cuisine.
What’s your goal at Tesco?
When Tesco approached me for this, I told them straight that they were behind in plant-based and if I joined, I wanted to bring them to the absolute forefront. Now that I’m here, it’s amazing how well the Wicked Kitchen range has done - it sold more than four million units in its first 33 weeks on shelves and sales of plant-based are up by a quarter compared with last year. I also travel to find the newest and best innovations in plant-based cooking from around the world and bring them over.
Why didn’t the initial Wicked Kitchen lineup contain any meat alternatives?
I’m not opposed to alternative proteins, like you can see in the Italian Style Cold Cuts Sub we launched this week. But for the first round of launches, I wanted to prove that you can do vegan without those kinds of things.
What is your favourite ingredient?
Mushrooms. By far. They feed off decay, they can grow in pretty much any condition. They’re so versatile and easy to cook like meat. Seriously, there’s a great TED Talk about mushrooms I’d recommend everyone to watch.
What’s next on the horizon?
For the moment, we’re busy launching the new wave of Wicked Kitchen products. But there won’t be much downtime. Along with my brother Chad, I’m launching Good Catch, which we think is going to be the best alternative to fish out there. We also run our Wicked Healthy website and recently wrote a cookbook.