Haute vegan chef Mike Bagale is charting a new path in delivering his knowledge of the changing cuisine by teaming up with Sakara Life, a pioneering plant-focused national food-delivery service.
Whether he’s foraging for berries, herbs and flowers in the Himalayas or combing the busy markets of Bombay and Kashmir for spices and curries, Bagale has spent the past year traveling the world immersing himself in plant-based cultures.
Bagale, who earned three Michelin stars at Chicago’s Alinea, is kicking off the tie-up with Sakara in June. (Sakara is essentially vegan but for its occasional use of honey and bee pollen, a spokeswoman says.)
Vegan fare prepared by a three-star Michelin chef is a far cry from the plant-based food scene just a decade ago, when Michelin-starred chef Amanda Cohen launched her pioneering plant-based restaurant Dirt Candy in the East Village. She was followed by popular Michelin-starred chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who launched abcV, and John Fraser, of Nix.
Bagale, who was executive chef at Alinea for eight years, was known for his original ideas like creating floating food — in the form of a green apple balloon.
While Bagale says he incorporates plant-based foods into his own lifestyle, he is not strictly vegan. Still, he says he does like the diet and the politics of sustainability.
Instead of finding inspiration with plant forward chefs in his home country, Bagale has been traveling the world, exploring plant-based cultures from India to Mexico, with stops along the way in Thailand, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, France and Scandinavia.
“There isn’t one chef who inspires me. I’m inspired by plant based culture as a way of life,” he said, adding travel has been a major influence: “from the markets and the products available, to the color palettes, the architecture, fashion and street food of each country.”
Bagale recently showed off his new creations at a tasting hosted by one of Sakara’s clients in her posh and airy skypad at 432 Park Avenue, the tallest residential building in the world.
Nibbles for Sakara clients — where career women mingled with socialites — included makhani, puffed water-lily seeds, popular in India, mixed with popcorn, nutritional yeast, Korean chili, pink dragon fruit powder, coconut oil, and Himalayan salt.
“Three Michelin stars is not synonymous with a food delivery service. But I am focusing on ingredients, and can provide my travel experiences, creativity and originality,” Bagale told Side Dish.
The Sakara dishes are flavorful and indeed unique, even when they are interpretations of comfort food dishes, like a vegan Cacio e Pepe, and medicinal mole tacos, where a combination of mushrooms with a little cocoa powder imitates a traditional Mexican mole.
“I’m excited to bring my creativity to an already great brand,” said Bagale, who left Alinea last year after eight years as executive chef to travel the world, consult and work on his next project.
Co-founders and childhood besties Whitney Tingle and Danielle DuBoise launched Sakara in 2012, and fans embraced its “sexy” qualities. It has since morphed into a wellness brand based on microbiome gut health and a “food as medicine” philosophy.
“We were always science based, but it took eight years for people to catch up with us,” said DuBoise, of Sedona, Arizona.
“When we first launched, people told us that no one would order a healthy food delivery service. They just wanted pizza,” Tingle said. “Now healthy eating is part of the conversation. When you eat, you are making a choice about your current and future health.”
The friends launched Sakara in 2012 with $700 raised at a Manhattan dinner party.
The concept caught on quickly with Victoria’s Secret Angels like Lily Aldridge and Karolina Kurkova, while Lena Dunham was spotted with a Sakara bag heading into Taylor Swift’s downtown digs. Other fans include Gwyneth Paltrow, Chrissy Teigen and Drew Barrymore.
The food service is now in 48 states and delivered more than 1 million meals last year.
“We thought our clients would mainly be in metropolitan areas, but they are everywhere, in small towns too,” Tingle said.
While Sakara won’t release financial data, Tingle and DuBoise say revenue has grown “10 times” in the past three years.
The menu does not contain meat or dairy. It’s organic, gluten-free and has no refined sugar. Calorie counts are not provided, and none of this is cheap: The cost is $349 for five days of three meals a day, or $69 for one day of three meals. Weekends are not part of the plan because everyone needs a break, the co-founders say.
Sakara will be adding guest chefs into the mix from time to time, but they still focus on their in-house chefs’ innovation, research and development teams.
“We have been working on our recipes for years. Healthy eating should be fun. Transforming your life and your body should be joyful. It’s part of our way,” DuBoise said.