We speak to KARANA's co-founder Blair Crichton on plant-based dim sum, sustainability and how KARANA will revolutionise the food industry.
Could you tell us about your journey to KARANA?
If you’d asked me 5 years ago where I saw my career going in the future, I definitely would have not answered being a founder of a plant-based food company. I started my career in banking working for HSBC in Shanghai, Hong
Kong and New York. Whilst I learned a lot from those years, I was never fully satisfied as I wasn’t doing something I was passionate about. I left banking to get my MBA at Dartmouth and it was during this time that I made the decision I wanted to do something that helped address climate change and environmental issues. At first I was mainly focused on renewable energy, but I was also keeping tabs on the emerging food and tech space. I was
fortunate to then spend some time working for Impossible Foods and that totally launched me onto the food-tech path. Not only was the potential impact for positive change massive, it’s a large and fascinating industry, plus as a long time vegetarian and recent vegan it aligned with my ethical views too! During this time I was doing some work on international expansion strategy and I realised there was so much room to do something more Asian-focused,
concentrating on the most commonly consumed meats in my home of Asia and so the seed was sewn. Luckily I met Dan my co-founder at a conference in 2018 and the rest is history!
Why is KARANA revolutionising the plant-based market in Hong Kong? And beyond?
KARANA’s mission is to make delicious whole-plant food you wouldn’t feel guilty about eating more of. To achieve this, KARANA is innovating around abundantly available and sustainable ingredients found in Asia, to enhance their naturally meat-like textures. Dan and I are both deeply passionate about transforming our food industry to address climate and environmental issues, so we set out to make sustainable taste amazing. Karana uses proprietary processing technology to enhance the texture of our natural ingredients, whilst retaining their whole-plant benefits and keeping the product minimally processed. This differentiates us from other plant-based products as we don’t rely on highly processed commodity crops, we want to give consumers more choice so that, together with the other products on the market, we can all do our bit in transitioning to a more sustainable food system. In-fact we are the first whole-plant based meat brand in Asia.
Which restaurants are you working with and what dishes can we look forward to?
CHAAT - Baked KARANA™ Jackfruit Samosa (V)
ELEPHANT GROUNDS - BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Burger (V) (Mon-Fri only), and Spicy Jackfruit Taco (VG) (everyday)
EMERALD - KARANA Black pearl served with cauliflower fungus and spinach sauce (VG), and Seared black & white sesame KARANA Lotus Root Patties with Teriyaki mayonnaise sauce (VG)
BEEF & LIBERTY - KARANA Jack Stack (V)
HOT & MEEN - KARANA™ Dumplings in Artisanal Chilli Sauce (VG), KARANA™ Ja Jang Meen (VG), KARANA™ Dan Dan Meen (VG), KARANA™ Rainbow Meen (VG)
Cheung Kung Koon – Dim sum and Main course items including: Pan-fried bun stuffed with KARANA™ meat & vegetable (lunch only), Deep fried spring roll stuffed with KARANA™ meat & yam (lunch only), Wonton with KARANA™ meat & vegetable served in soup (lunch only), Sauteed string beans with minced KARANA™ meat and black olive, Thai style KARANA™ san choy bao, Fried purple rice with KARANA™ meat and egg white
SIP SONG - Lāb Mangswirati (VG) (Meatless Mondays only)
What is the importance of shifting diet in a predominantly meat-based market here in Hong Kong? Do you have hopes for the future of Hong Kong cuisine?
It is hugely important from our perspective. Hong Kong has the highest meat consumption per capita globally and this is a big driver of HK’s carbon emissions, particularly as 90% of our food is imported with much of the meat coming from places like Brazil adding more to the carbon intensity. I have seen first-hand how Hong Kong’s environment has changed since I was a child, with worsening air quality and many environmental pressures if we want to safeguard this wonderful place for the future we need to take action and reducing meat intake is one of the
most impactful things we can do. Moreover it isn’t just great for the planet, reducing meat consumption will lead to better health outcomes with issues such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease all impacted.
Will KARANA be launching in supermarkets too? What are the next steps for KARANA?
Yes, we are launching into retail later this year with our dim sum products and can’t wait to be able to offer these to people! Beyond our retail launch we’ll continue to expand into other markets and in the longer term also look to develop additional product platforms using other naturally meat like ingredients that may enable us to offer say a fish or chicken alternative.
What are your top five recommendations for plant-based dining in Hong Kong?
Obviously all of our launch partners are a great bet with delicious KARANA whole-plant based offerings! Beyond those I always have great dim sum at Pure Veggie House, enjoy the food and atmosphere at Pop-vegan, am always looking out for pop-ups run by Peggy Chan (such as the one this coming weekend at Tatler Haus), and for something special Arcane is a fantastic option too. There are also many great Buddhist vegetarian restaurants around HK.