Green Rebel founders Max Mandias and Helga Angelina Tjahjadi (Photo: Green Rebel)

Already delighting diners with its cuts and pulled “meats” at eateries such as The Dragon Chamber, Privé and Grain Traders, alternative protein brand Green Rebel will hit supermarket shelves later this month. Plant-based and free of MSG, preservatives and refined sugar, the easy-to-reheat dishes include familiar delights such as Chick’n Satay with Jakarta-style taichan sambal and Beefless Rendang marinated in delicious Padang-style rendang curry.

Singapore is the first country outside Indonesia to serve up Green Rebel, which was  launched in 2020 by business and life partners Max Mandias and Helga Angelina Tjahjadi, founders of Burgreens, Indonesia’s largest vegan restaurant chain. Backed by prominent agri-food tech VCs (Unovis, Better Bite Ventures), food conglomerates (CJ Group) and even a Netflix star (Singapore-born Kane Lim of Bling Empire) the pair are also set to launch their clean label foods in Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea and Australia later this year.

Mandias, Green Rebel’s Chief Innovation Officer, reveals how his proprietary emulsion technology is able to recreate the fibres and juiciness of meat, and why it’s just as perfect for wok-frying in sauce or for steamboat.

(Related: Love Handle opens Singapore’s only fully plant-based butchery)

Privé added “Beef” Rendang Spaghetti Alfredo to its menu. (Photo: Green Rebel)

Tell us a little bit about your personal journey with food.

I went to university in the Netherlands in 2006 and lived there for 7 years. (It was during this time that I met my business and life partner, Helga.) During those uni days, I worked at a number of Asian restaurants, learning techniques from Chinese wok frying to Indonesian slow cooking. But it was in Belgium, while on an exchange programme, that I truly gained confidence in my cooking skills. I lived in a dorm with 50 international students and it got to a point where people were asking me to cook almost every day because they loved the flavours of the food I created. That was when I first realised how much appreciation people have for South-east Asian cuisine. 

I later became vegetarian in 2012, a decision that was sparked during my volunteering work at raw food restaurant Alchemist Garden in Amsterdam. I saw how people gained health benefits by simply improving the quality of their food intake. In 2013, Helga and I gave up dairy and became vegans when we saw the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet. 

We returned to Indonesia that same year, and because we missed the vegan options we used to have access to, decided to launch Burgreens using some of the recipes I developed in Amsterdam. 

And cooking also runs in the family, right?

My late grandfather, Tjen Tjee Kay, was originally from Fujian province in China, emigrated to Indonesia in the 1950s and became a renowned chef in Grand Brilliant Palace, one of the first high-end Chinese restaurants in Jakarta. I grew up watching him in the kitchen. When I was living alone in the Netherlands, I finally started cooking daily and discovered that I actually enjoyed it very much. 

Are you driven more by food security, climate change, or by your personal experiences?

For me, personal experience is definitely my strongest driving factor. I have always loved nature and animals, and I also love to cook. Previously, the main protein I worked with was always animal-based and I never connected the dots until 2012, when I was going through a tough time and did some much-needed soul searching. Through that, I learned a great deal about purpose, happiness and karma which eventually led me to connect the dots between vegetarianism and sustainability. I became vegetarian in December 2012, then transitioned to veganism in 2014, and have been on this path ever since.

(Related: Natalie Portman and French firm bring home the faux bacon)

Sweet & Sour Green Rebel “Pork” at Chinese restaurant Empress. (Photo: Green Rebel)

What makes Green Rebel stand out among other plant-based proteins? 

We cater to the Asian, in particular the South-east Asian palate, and we currently offer four product categories — beef, chick’n, whole food and cheese — with 14 products that are authentically Asian in format, texture, and flavour. They can be marinated and absorb deep flavours typical in Asian cuisine. Our products are stress-tested for the high moisture cooking typical of South-east Asian and Asian cuisine, such as steamboat, hotpot, stir-fries with sauce. And our products taste good without the need for deep frying. 

Green Rebel is also designed for people with busy schedules. Our range of delicious South-east Asian flavoured products like Beefless Rendang and Chick’n Satay can be heated up in under 10 minutes. 

As a chef, what do you look for when working with plant-based proteins?

Part of the meat eating experience is the mouthfeel of meat, and our proprietary tech, Rebel Max, manages to recreate this. With a proprietary formulation of coconut oil, water and natural vegan seasoning, the meats are created through emulsion technology, which acts as an animal fat replacement to achieve the distinctive taste, aroma and juiciness one associates with animal protein. This enables us to create fibrous meat textures that you will see in our Beefless & Chick’n alternatives. What’s more, these “meats” are able to absorb deep flavours and marination, and are also heat-stable — making them perfect for Asian culinary methods like braising, steaming, stewing, skewers for grilling, even deep frying.

Why do you think people want meat alternatives that look and feel like meat? Why not just just enjoy the base ingredients in its original forms?

I believe that this is because people eat not only for health, but also for the pleasure and experiential factor. Many people need to eat meat to feel satiated. Meat gives a sense of “wow” and satisfaction when it’s served. And this is simply something that a bean can’t do. 

Many people don’t enjoy eating plant-based protein in its original form, but are willing to try a flexitarian diet, without altering the appearance and taste of the foods they usually eat. With an alternative meat product, the only thing that needs to change in the recipe is the meat itself. That being said, the alternative meat product also needs to be up to the task. 

Best meal you’ve ever had with a Green Rebel alt protein? 

The best Green Rebel meal I’ve ever had was in Manado, Indonesia, in February 2022. It was our signature Green Rebel Chick’n braised with vegetables in a richly-spiced, coconut gravy, cooked inside a bamboo tube. It was served with warm rice, acar and local sambal, and it was truly delicious. We experienced this at the Murex Resort, an eco-resort right next to the beach. Paired with a glass of white wine, this plant-based Ayam Woku was definitely one of my more memorable dining experiences.