Chef Adam Penney and the story behind “TiNDLE Messes With My Head”
He’s the man behind gourmet burgers like The Big Cease and From Russia With Love. He’s the Group Executive Chef at Three Buns and Tiga Roti, where they make their ketchup from scratch. Frequently named as the creator of the best burgers in Singapore, Jakarta, and London, this is Chef Adam Penney, a truly courageous man to talk food with us before he’s even had lunch.
Interviewer: Chef, let’s not keep you from that meal for too long! Over his time in Singapore, Andre (TiNDLE CEO) has brought you many food samples. Why’d you choose TiNDLE?
Chef Adam: Yes! We were quite lucky that Andre brought the very first sample that they had in Singapore. And I was blown away– I thought it was amazing! I remember opening the packet and I could literally smell, and reminisce, coldroast chicken. Which was already cool before I even tasted it.
I: Had you worked with plant-based food before that?
Chef Adam: Yeah we’d done the launch of [Other Brand One] in Singapore; we were the first partner, the official burger restaurant to have them. And I tried stuff from [Other Brand Two] before, and quite a few plant-based chicken brands which were always a bit so-so. Just personally, I’ve never been a big fan of [Other Brand Two]– it reminds me that I’m eating vegetarian, plant-based food. Whereas [Other Brand One] messes with my head and TiNDLE messes with my head.
I: That’s a fun description of good food– that it straight up messes with your head!
Chef Adam: Yeah, I like it when I still have to keep reminding myself that I’m eating plant-based. That it’s not meat. That’s what I love about TiNDLE.
I: What’s the first thing that you made with TiNDLE?
Chef Adam: The very first thing we did was a simple Buttermilk Fried Chicken, where we marinated it, floured it, and fried it off. And then we realized: traditional chicken will marinate down, and break down the enzymes that tenderize it and get the flavor running through. With TiNDLE we didn’t have to do that, we could just brush it and fry it. And then the second thing we did: we played around with Butter Chicken Kiev, which is a dish that I grew up with in the UK and Ireland. Very comfort food. It’s usually just chicken breast in a sandwich with garlic butter, and then breadcrumbs, and fried. So we did ours with miso, roasted garlic parsley butter, and we incorporated a little bit of truffle and some dried ceps into the flour, and served that with a truffle aioli. And that was delicious. Andre loved it– we put that on the menu right away, and people still get blown away by it.
I: So this first chicken sample that Andre got to you in a little plastic bag–
Chef Adam: Yeah, literally just a baggie.
I: From getting that first bag, to TiNDLE as it comes to you now, what’s changed? Any noticeable differences from when it was all in R&D?
Chef Adam: Obviously the first bag was just a little packet. And as it progressed… It comes in these little, 50g ‘pucks,’ which are really easy to work with so you don’t have to take the whole bag out of the freezer. Normally, I’d work with 2-3 pieces at a time and I can just vacuum seal them tight and defrost them in water. I’m quite spontaneous in the kitchen; as soon as I get a little idea in my head, I want to start playing with it, and I don’t need to wait a long time to defrost TiNDLE. I’d compare it to [Other Brand One] for example, that comes in these huge 2.2kg bricks. So you’ve got to take that whole thing out, you’ve got to defrost it, or try and cut a certain amount, keep the rest still frozen . With TiNDLE, I can just take some out portion by portion, and it’s really easy to adjust how much. The portioning size is amazing for chefs.
Behind the scenes: Chef Adam marinating the first ever TiNDLE he ever cooked with!
I: Is there any taste and texture difference between what you first got and what you have now?
Chef Adam: No, the texture and taste is just really good. I was lucky enough that I got to try their new, ‘whole muscle’ product and a few other things which they haven’t launched yet. Andre said they should be able to get that done at a place in Singapore. The first product, TiNDLE Thy, is amazing as it is, but the second ‘whole muscle’ version– it’s gonna make people weep! It’s got slightly different textures in it, almost little nuggets of meat which is more similar to a chicken thigh. So when you bite into it, you just have a whole bunch of things going on…
I: What was your reaction when you first bit into TiNDLE?
Chef Adam: I was wow-ed. Again, I thought this isn’t a plant, this is meat. That just makes my job as a chef easier. I’ll just work around the product, and ideally do as little as possible to it so I can get it to guests and customers, and they just love it, they get taken to a different place with it. Even to versatility– TiNDLE’s got an amazing texture so it’s easy for chefs to work with. I’ve wanted to do Chicken Kiev as a burger for years but with actual chicken it’s just messy and it takes time and it can be quite boring. But with the TiNDLE product, I can knock it out in 2-3 minutes, it’s that easy. And virtually mess-free as well. Another big plus in the kitchen.
I: But why start making plant-based food at all? You mentioned that you worked with [Other Brand One] before, and now with TiNDLE: why switch in the first place?
Chef Adam: Yeah, we wanted to make sure that we were able to offer our guests a choice so it’s not just meat, meat, meat. I’ve got to the age now where I need to start watching my cholesterol. So for a healthier choice, it’s just easier that people can have plant-based options and not worry so much about what they’re consuming. Then also for the environment and what’s going on in the world, I think it’s better. I think eventually it’s going to get to a stage where food is predominantly plant-based, especially for a comfort food menu. I wouldn’t call us fast food, but more of your relaxed, comfort food that people want to have freely– and be able to have that food more often, without the guilt, and without having to worry about health or anything at all.
I: Are you thinking of doing any new TiNDLE dishes in the future?
Chef Adam: Yeah, we’re playing with a few new dishes at the moment actually. We’re playing around with a Caribbean-style jerk TiNDLE sandwich for Potato Head. And then, if we can go with a very classic, old-school Cordon Bleu, which is normally chicken with ham and cheese wrapped inside it; we’re doing a version that’s going very well using a truffle cheese and a Mexican cheese called Oaxaca. We were also playing around with a sort of charred pineapple salsa, smoky fried chicken the other day and just loving it. There’s nuggets and… the possibilities, right! You just put in a little bit of imagination and it’s so versatile– chicken is so versatile anyway– but TiNDLE works amazingly with so many different dishes.
I: Chef, what’s your favorite food in the world?
Chef Adam: It really depends what mood I’m in. Obviously, I’m a huge fan of burgers. I like traditional stuff like roasts as well, lots of different things in the UK. I love breads; I love soups. I love Indian food, I love Spanish food–
I: Last meal.
Chef Adam: That’s tough… but I’d probably go with a really good, old-fashioned roast dinner or a bit cut-throat Tournedos Rossini, which is like a steak with truffles and foie gras, with madeira sauce. That would be my death row meal.
I: Delicious. And what’s the best food that you’ve ever made, at any time in your life?
Chef Adam: Again, it’s been so many. I’ve had a couple of nice reactions from guests over the years. There was a pub that I was working at in London, probably 15 years ago now, and I had two guests at different times. There was a gazpacho that we made and a guest came up to me and told me that I made her grandmother cry. I was so sorry, but she said, no, it’s because her grandmother grew up in Spain and our gazpacho brought her back to her childhood. I couldn’t believe it. And then we did a ham salad that we glazed down, slow cooked for a very long time, like a sticky ham hock with pears and walnuts. And a guy came up to me and literally said ‘If I was on death row, that would be my last meal and I’d die a happy man.’
I: Wow– I wouldn’t even know how to handle that comment. That’s a lot!
Chef Adam: It was a lot!
I: So you’ve been in a lot of places and you’ve cooked a lot of good food. What do you feel excited to do next, to try, or innovate?
Chef Adam: I’m just quite happy to see what new ingredients come out. The way I look at Three Buns and Potato Head is that it’s quite an organic menu so that there’s always room to improve. We make everything in-house pretty much, so there’s always a little tweaking room. Very occasionally I’d make something and go, ‘you know, that doesn’t need to be touched.’ We’re always trying a new ingredient, even from a new vinegar to a new salt or a new spice. The way I look at it: I’m a chef and I’m still learning things everyday, and that’s part of the fun of being a chef.
I: Do you have any hot takes about food or for the food world?
Chef Adam: Oh, so many different little things. It’s always important to remember to season your meats very well. To rest it. Especially with hamburgers, people don’t think they have to rest hamburgers but they do. One thing that I like that I do at home, when I’m making toasted grilled cheese sandwiches, I use a little bit of butter on the inside and then on the outside, I’ll just use a plain mayonnaise, just to get that lovely little crisp outer layer. So when you cut or bite into the grilled cheese, you’ll get an amazing crunch. Then the butter on the inside works better than butter on the outside. And green vegetables: always remember to season the water. It should be pretty heavily salted, just to keep that color and keep that flavor.
[Psst; Chef Adam’s got more home recipes for you here.]
I: Chef, this has been amazing. Finally, is there something people don’t usually ask about TiNDLE that you want to talk about?
Chef Adam: I think it’s an amazing product– there is stuff that Andre got me to try before, which I don’t know if we can talk about yet, but if NGF (TiNDLE’s parent company) can do it…. I’ve already been playing around with the skin. And I keep pestering them about that, because if they can nail skin as well, they would just go rule the world! I personally love TiNDLE Thy, I think it works really well, and I know chefs can do it loads of different ways. But just one thing to remember is you’ve still got to look after the product, treat it well, cause if you take it too far, you’ll kill it. There’s that lovely, beautiful sweet spot of temperature where it’s just perfect. And enjoy it!