Questlove’s Got a New Beat: Cheesesteak Made From Impossible Meat
The only thing more popular than the Impossible and Beyond Burgers these days are the celebrities championing their success. Snoop Dogg has gone full Beyond, driving the company food truck and appearing in the latest Dunkin' commercial promoting the chain's Beyond Breakfast Sausage. His best bud Martha-Freaking-Stewart is also promoting the meatless meat for Subway's new Marinara Meatball Sandwich.
JAY-Z and Katy Perry are both investors in Impossible Foods. Filmmaker Kevin Smith would give a kidney to California-based vegan fast-food chain Veggie Grill if they ever asked him for it. But The Roots drummer Questlove may just be taking the whole celeb endorsement thing up a notch. He's got the Impossible Foods Questlove Cheesesteak named in his honor. It's even trademarked.
"I wanted to provide a plant-based version of a sandwich that I have always enjoyed, and making my quintessential cheesesteak using Impossible meat was the way to do it," Questlove (born Ahmir Thompson) recently told Forbes.
The Demand for Vegan Meat
The Late Night With Jimmy Fallon musician, author, and NYU professor said he started seeing a shift toward vegan products.
"Over the years we have had some guys in The Roots who were vegetarian or vegan, and my manager, Rich, was a vegetarian. I was reasonably familiar with tofu, tempeh, and wheat gluten products, not just as foods but as part of smarter thinking: about the infrastructure around food production and food choices," he said.
That awareness was punctuated by the success of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. Impossible slid into fast-food a few years ago, first in a partnership with White Castle (the chain teamed up with vegan members of the Wu-Tang Clan to promote the sliders). Beyond Meat was featured in a 2019 Carl's Jr. Super Bowl ad. But it was the launch of the Burger King Impossible Whopper last April that sent the meatless meat craze into a feeding frenzy.
Not Just for Vegetarians or Vegans
"People want to eat things that are better for them and better for the planet they’re standing on," Questlove said. "Fans of Questlove’s Cheesesteak™ are not only vegetarians. In fact, I would say a majority of people who gravitate to the cheesesteak are meat eaters. They want options. They sense (or, if they do research, they know) that the overall ecosystem around our current meat production will be difficult to sustain. And because eaters want options, restaurants are expanding their menus. It’s a cycle, and a virtuous cycle. So now we have a plant-based product that can go head to head with meat."
A Billion-Dollar Market
He's not wrong. Meat eaters are driving the demand for vegan options. In 2019 they ate more than 200 million vegan burgers before July, according to data from the NPD Research Group. And new numbers show vegan meat sales in the U.S. will likely top the $1 billion mark in 2020 for the first time.
Questlove, like the people in the Impossible Whopper commercials currently airing across the country, said he had a hard time believing the meat was plant-based. "We all did. We cold-called the company and were lucky enough to convince them to let us taste it. For me, it’s all about the taste test. I am investing in companies that I believe in. The product was impressive, and that kicked off a relationship."
The Questlove Impossible Cheesesteak
Fast-forward to now, and the Philly native is bringing his town's namesake sandwich to quick-service restaurants and sports and entertainment venues across the country. Only, with a plant-based twist. But, he says, don't call his meaty sandwich a veggie burger.
"The terminology is shifting," he says. "The mainstream press and the average diner is coming to call these products 'meat-alternative.' They have flavor. They cook like meat, and smell like meat when they’re cooking."
And just like the taste and texture of vegan meat is changing, Questlove says so is the way consumers see vegan food. The stigmas around meat being manly are being turned on their heads in films like 2019's "The Game Changers," which was co-produced by action stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan.
"The mainstreaming of plant-based foods has been so interesting for me to watch," says Questlove. "As more and more people find out about these products, there’s a growing awareness that these plant-based foods aren’t only for niche diners who are pursuing a specific agenda. They’re not for aggressive dieters or radical activists. They’re for everyone, in the sense that they are becoming an important part of the overall food picture. This is a new frontier and people are curious."