Thanksgiving is that time of year when the aroma of pumpkin spice is in the air and the table overflows with delicacies –– mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, salads, you name it! It’s a celebration where vegetarians, vegans, and other eaters gather together for the ultimate feast in gratitude. It’s better for you and the environment to make Turkey Day a turkey-free holiday, according to PETA who has a list of 10 reasons to ditch eating the bird. “Plantsgiving” will still be packed full of fall flavor and you won’t miss out on all the delicious vegan and vegetarian recipes.

We spoke to Chef Derek Sarno, the chef and founder of Wicked Foods, who also serves as Executive Chef and Director of Plant-Based Innovation for Tesco PLC, where he is leading the company’s efforts to bring delicious, unpretentious vegan foods to market. In an exclusive interview with The Beet, Chef Sarno talks about his plant-based Thanksgiving must-haves, his favorite vegan recipes of the entire evening, and what he recommends to families thinking about transforming Turkey Day into “Plantsgiving.” Let his advice inspire you to turn to plant-based meals this Thanksgiving without sacrificing the traditional fall favorites.

The Beet: Are you celebrating a plant-based Thanksgiving this year?

Chef Derek Sarno: This will be my fifth dedicated vegan Thanksgiving (slowly catching up to brother Chad’s 25th year) and I will be celebrating after work here in London. This year is going to be the easiest ever with all the new Wicked holiday items we have in the UK to support everyone eating more plants!

TB: What are some of your tips on creating a plant-based Thanksgiving?

DS: If I had one sure-fire tip it would be mise en place, mise en place, mise en place!  (French, meaning preparation) Simply put, prep ahead as much as you can the day before and get everything you can get done ahead of time out of the way.

TB: What are some vegan Thanksgiving staples to always have on hand?

DS: My kitchen is always outfitted with cupboard staples such as proper seasonings, garlic, onions, flour, plant-based butter and Oatly Barista Oatmilk as my milk of choice.

TB: What are your favorite Thanksgiving meals?

DS: I have a few Thanksgiving favorites! To get things started, I rely on a beautiful holiday veg board.

My favorite items for dinner include Country Fried Crispy Tofu Turkey and Wicked Herby Crusted Roasted Butternut Squash Tenderloin. Both served with Wicked Easy Mashed Potatoes and King Oyster Mushroom Vegan Gravy.

For dessert, I’m a big fan of our fruit tarts – they are very simple and easy to make!  And now that we have Wicked ice cream launching in the U.K. you can bet I’ll be adding that on top.

TB: What are some of your do's and don'ts of a plant-based Thanksgiving?

DS: I’m not the type of person to have do’s and don’ts other than my personal choice not to eat any foods made with animal products. I realize the difficulty when eating at friends/family that serve animals. Honestly, I avoid those situations when possible and when it’s not possible, being cordial and coming from a compassionate place is best. I’ll always make do.  My advice is to just smile and enjoy what you can – you can always eat more when you get home.  I’m the one cooking around these parts so it’s never really been an issue. Learn to cook vegan and then you can be in control.

TB: Do you have any advice for families who are thinking about whether they should have a plant-based Thanksgiving?

DS: DO IT! The best thing I’ve ever done was to draw the line to only cook plant foods.  That’s when it became real and the creative juices started to flow making me an even better cook, if I do say so myself. Habits are hard to break, like ex’s or old jobs - but there is a whole new compassionate world to be had and it’s up to us to take that leap.

TB: What are you most thankful for this year?

DS: 2020 – what a year!  There is certainly a lot to complain about, but that does nothing but perpetuate the crazy. I’m constantly checking myself and where my motivations are at – am I being driven by ego or compassion? One way to ensure I’m on the right path is to always be grateful. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and for friends, family, team members, and people that support and open their minds to changing the old ways of doing things.  I’m also grateful for my new pup Ms. America. She’s amazing and so full of love and innocence – she reminds me what it’s all about!

More From The Beet