Hans Rueffert isn’t your average chef. It isn’t because he grew up working at his family’s iconic landmark restaurant in Jasper, Georgia, finished third on the Next Food Network Star television series, is an acclaimed speaker or hosts a successful podcast.
He’s a phenomenon in the foodservice industry because he doesn’t have a stomach.
Discover why this culinary thought leader who trains hospitality workers to explore the connection between how we eat and what we feel is using Impossible™ Burger to create dishes that win over meat eaters, and why we should all eat like there’s no tomorrow.
Impossible Foods: Tell us about your journey to Impossible Foods
Hans Rueffert: I’m a 16 year stomach cancer survivor living without a stomach, gall bladder or esophagus. People often make the assumption that I can’t eat, but humans don’t actually need a stomach to digest food -- it’s a waiting room that gets things ready for digestion in the intestines. However, lacking a stomach means I don’t have any stomach acids, so it’s very hard to break down certain foods like meat.
Meat is actually difficult for all of us to digest and extract nutrition out of, that’s why we feel heavy, lethargic, and bloated when we overeat it. Meat sits in my gut like a rock and I get nothing from it nutritionally, so I’m 95% vegetarian. When the first meat alternatives popped up 10 years ago, I tried them all because I love and miss the flavor of meat, but they were just terrible.
A few years ago, I visited Umami Burger with 2 chefs I know from the Next Food Network Star. Their standalone burger is fantastic and I had read about the Impossible™ Classic Burger,(opens in a new tab) so we decided to give it a try. We asked the server to give us a blind taste test and incredibly, all 3 of us picked the Impossible Classic Burger as the ‘real’ beef burger with the better flavor! We were shocked when we found out we were wrong. That moment was a paradigm shift for me. I never believed you could have a meat substitute that was on par with beef, but Impossible Burger is a different story. I love the science, heme, the fact that it bleeds -- that is so fascinating to me. Now I can enjoy the flavor & texture of meat that I had given up and it’s my go-to when I crave meat. It also gives me a new tool to build menus at the Old Mulehouse (opens in a new tab)restaurant where I’m the culinary ambassador.
IF: What made you want to choose Impossible Burger over a competitor?
HR: There’s no comparison. The Old Mulehouse’s owner was going to go with your competitor and visually it’s a night and day difference. One product looks like something you can eat in a tartar, and the other looks like it came out of a litter box! He tried your competitor without doing a side by side comparison and thought it was functional, but wasn’t impressed. Impossible Burger, changed his mind from ‘we’ll carry it so we check a box’ to ‘I will be proud to serve this.’ The fact that it's meat free is secondary to it being an extraordinary product.
Visually it’s a night and day difference. One product looks like something you can eat in a tartar, and the other looks like it came out of a litter box!
Impossible Burger cooked rare
IF: How do plant-based products resonate with younger generations?
HR: When you tell a kid that meat comes from a cow, they don’t want to eat it. My 18 year old daughter is a vegetarian and has been since she was 6 years old, and now my 7 year old is vegetarian as well. I know that doesn’t cover everyone, but it’s refreshing that my kid can have a cheeseburger without the guilt that this was once a cow. When we go to places with an Impossible Burger on the menu, she’s excited because she likes cheeseburgers and knows that a cow didn’t have to die for her to eat it.
Younger generations really care about the environment and it’s a good idea to have alternative options for them, whether they’re vegetarian or carnivores who want the chance to make a difference without compromising on their favorite foods.
IF: How do Impossible™ products help you create better customer experiences?
HR: When guests come in that are vegetarian, have a gluten intolerance or are diabetic, and we have options for them, it creates an amazing experience for them. Instead of zeroing in on what they can’t eat and making them feel like a burden, we focus on what they can eat. By carrying Impossible™ meat made from plants and a few extra ingredients like gluten free panko, flaxseed, etc, we can create vegan and gluten free versions of almost everything on the menu.
Is it a pain in the butt? Of course it is. But when guests know you took the time to make sure their meal is extra special, you just won the hospitality game, and that can help drive repeat visits and word of mouth to get new customers in. The way I see it, Impossible products give me another arrow in my quiver for guests who crave meat -- it’s a win win. Oh and by the way, the Impossible™ Chicken Nuggets Made From Plants are fantastic! I can't wait to get those in.
When guests know you took time to make sure their meal is special, you just won the hospitality game. Impossible products give me another arrow in my quiver for guests who crave meat. It’s a win win.
IF: Once you decided to add Impossible meat made from plants to the menu, was it challenging to convince the team?
HR: It was a bit of a battle at first because our head chef had a bias against plant-based meat. He was open to trying it, but had a bad experience in the past and didn't think it was in the same league as animal meat, so I knew I had to create something that would blow his mind.
The Old Mulehouse has a lot of Greek-inspired dishes on the menu, so I decided to use Impossible Burger to create a sliceable, plant-based and gluten free Gyro meat with traditional Greek seasoning. When I was happy with the recipe, I held a blind tasting for the entire crew and intentionally left out descriptions because many of them are die hard carnivores and I didn’t want them to be influenced or swayed.
The team universally agreed that the product was really good and there wasn’t a single person who didn’t like it. I was shocked by how many said ‘Oh my god, that’s FANTASTIC’ and ‘Do we have a new lamb gyro?” They couldn’t believe it wasn’t animal meat and everyone agreed they’d be 100% satisfied eating an Impossible™ Gyro if they didn’t know it was plant-based -- that’s a slam dunk in my book.
IF: What other Impossible™ menu items will appear on Old Mulehouse’s menu?
HR: We love that we can use the same recipe in different builds and applications and get the same phenomenal results. We currently have a black bean burger that I’m not a fan of -- it’s the same thing that you can get in any grocery store. I want to use the Impossible Gyro meat in a sandwich format to create an Impossible™ Greek Burger. That’s a no brainer & so easy to menu.
We also want to add Impossible meat as a protein add on in our wellness bowls and salads, it’s a perfect option for people who want more protein or a beef-like component. My plan is to use the Old Mulehouse as a test kitchen and scale out recipes to other locations. The Old Mulehouse is more of a traditional sit down restaurant vs counter service, but we’re excited to lock in the recipes and scale them out because we know they’re going to perform well on the menu.
We love that we can use the same recipe in different builds and applications and get the same phenomenal results.
Want to learn more about Hans Rueffert? Check out his website Hanscooks.com(opens in a new tab) and get inspired by his work videos, line of spices and work with the Gastric Cancer Foundation. You can also check out his podcast, But I Digest(opens in a new tab).