Aug 21, 2021 - Technology

Bringing cell-grown meat to high-end restaurants

Dish of cultured chicken

A dish by San Francisco chef Dominique Crenn using Upside Food's cultivated chicken. Photo: Courtesy of Upside Foods

A food tech startup is partnering with an avant-garde San Francisco chef to serve the company's cultivated, cell-grown chicken at her restaurant.

Why it matters: Cultivated meat — animal products grown from cells, rather than processed from slaughtered animals — faces technical and economic challenges, but it also has to gain consumer acceptance.

  • Placing the products in high-end restaurants could help speed that process.

What's happening: Cultivated chicken from the Oakland-based startup Upside Foods will be served in San Francisco chef Dominique Crenn's Atelier Crenn restaurant, Upside announced on Thursday — the first such partnership between a cultivated meat maker and a three-star Michelin chef.

  • This will mark the first time Crenn has served meat since 2019.
  • "She took meat away from her restaurants because she didn't like the impact it had on the environment," says Uma Valeti, a cardiologist-turned-founder and CEO of Upside Foods. "When she saw what we were doing, she said she had to get this stuff for her plates."

How it works: Like other cultivated meat startups, Upside grows chicken and beef products from cell lines grown in production facilities.

  • The result is meat that tastes like meat without most of the environmental or animal welfare drawbacks of conventional production.

What to watch: Upside's cultivated chicken will be served in Atelier Crenn only after it passes regulatory review from the FDA and USDA, something Valeti says he is hoping for "in the near future."

  • Studies indicate consumers are open to cultivated meat, but have some concerns about health and food safety.
  • Regulation will likely help with that, but the long war over genetically modified crops shows that government approval isn't enough to gain full consumer acceptance.

The bottom line: Enlisting top chefs to make items with cultivated meat will help the industry mature, but to make a real difference, cell-grown meat needs to be cheap enough to be sold in supermarkets, not just three-star restaurants.

Go deeper: Your future sushi dinner could be cultivated, not caught

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