When we heard Chipotle was coming out with a new tofu-based dish, we were sceptical.
The dish, called Sofritas, is the Mexican chain’s first addition to its original menu in 20 years, so our expectations were high. But as carnivores who had only ever tried tofu a handful of times — and generally thought it was bland and unimpressive — we had our doubts.
Ahead of the dish’s launch in New York, Boston and D.C. on Monday, which marks the start of a nationwide rollout, Chipotle invited Business Insider to try the new Sofritas in its test kitchen in the Flatiron district of Manhattan.
Three of us, including retail reporter Ashley Lutz and deputy editor Julie Zeveloff, took Chipotle up on the offer. When we arrived, we were served the chain’s signature Patron tequila margaritas on silver platters. Other drinks were available at a make-shift bar, as well:
Toward the back of the room, Chipotle’s culinary manager, Nate Appleman, and test chefs Tatiania Perea and Sam Benson, were busy cooking a few hors d’oeuvres.
Here’s Benson preparing steamed buns filled with braised pork belly:
The meat inside was tender with a sweet barbecue flavoring.
The chefs also served rice crisps topped with crab, shallots, lemon, parsley and black garlic:
After half a margarita and some appetizers, it was finally time for the main event.
As the chefs prepared the Sofritas in a saucer, Chipotle founder and CEO Steve Ells explained that the tofu is from Hodo Soy Beanery in Oakland, Calif. Hodo Soy is beloved on the West Coast for its GMO-free, nutty-flavored tofu.
Here’s Ells (right) discussing the new creation with Appleman (center) and Hodo Soy founder and Co-CEO Minh Tsai (left).
As Ells spoke, the chefs were busy preparing the Sofritas in the kitchen.
Appleman told us he tried hundreds of tofu recipes with variations of Mexican flavours for about a year before discovering Sofritas.
Like us, Appleman is a meat-eater. He said he wanted to find a way to make tofu “as good as, if not better than meat.”
“I really thought hard about what’s so appealing about meat, and what’s not so appealing about tofu,” he said. It came down to the flavour, he said, “and it all starts with great tofu.”
After starting out with a tofu chorizo in mind, he finally settled on the Sofritas’ chilli-inspired recipe. It’s made with shredded tofu that is braised with chipotle chillis, roasted poblanos and a blend of Mexican spices.
Chipotle restaurants will serve the dish like their other protein options: In a burrito, a bowl, tacos or a salad.
It was served to us with black beans, tomato salsa, and guacamole. The guacamole will cost a little extra for Chipotle customers.
I thought the dish was delicious. The tofu flavoring was pretty spicy but the guacamole tempered the heat. The tofu was firm and granular, resembling ground beef.
In fact, in a blind taste test, I might have thought I was eating ground beef chilli.
Zeveloff and Lutz agreed that the dish has a surprising burst of flavour.
“The Sofritas dish has some heat, but is not nearly as spicy as Chipotle’s hot salsa,” Lutz said. “The item has a chilli-like consistency, and could be added to meat without being overpowering. The chewy protein also stands on its own. There is no moment of ‘I’m eating tofu’ while you’re eating the bowl. This vegan product has widespread appeal.”
Zeveloff added: “As someone who never orders tofu, I was surprised by the texture and taste. It felt more like meat than like spongy tofu I’ve tried in the past.”
The night ended with a tofu mousse served over vanilla pearls, blood orange granita and sweet meringue. It was light, tart, and sweet.
Here’s the dessert:
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