Meet the Chef
- Stockholm, Sweden
- "Giving is living. We also have to learn how to give to ourselves."
- 90s rap, heavy metal, rock ‘n’ roll, skiing, paddle tennis, and nature.
Stockholm-based chef Ankan “The Duck” Linden doesn’t care about Michelin stars. His goal in life? “To be the best industrial chef in the world.”
Cooking in professional kitchens since age 16, he is relentless in his pursuit to create the most delicious, versatile plant-based product for home cooks. In 2015 he co-founded award-winning Swedish plant-based meat company Oumph! to bring craveable, proteins to plant-based culture.
When it comes to food, Ankan has a zero-tolerance for boring. In fact, his motto is “Rock the Food.” Tired of lifeless plant-based textures that home cooks couldn’t transform, Ankan invented Oumph!’s easily customizable product, The Chunk, a soy protein seasoned only with salt so that it can be customized with spices and sauces to make a variety of mouthwatering snacks and entrees, whether soft and stewed or crispy fried.
Ankan Linden's Recipes
Dakota Kim talks to Chef Ankan about his rock-chef ethos, the importance of texture, and toughness in a soft approach.
Oumph!’s brand image is consciously daring and fearless. How does that represent your ethos?
With Oumph!, we want people to get out of their comfort zone. It’s like stage diving. Behind Oumph!, there’s kindness that combines sensitivity with toughness. If you’re on the rock ’n’ roll stage, you’re cool and have an attitude, but behind the scenes, you’re so gentle.
Very good chefs in the kitchen can be pretty raw because it’s such a time press, but you also put your heart in it. If you’re only tough you’re not cool, but if you’re only soft you’re going to get eaten up, but to combine this! Toughness with a huge softness. That’s what we do with the brand.
As a musician, a drummer, and an appreciator of many forms of music, it seems to permeate your food. You even have rock ’n’ roll booths at food shows.
Food and music are the perfect marriage. For me, it’s the same system — a carrot is one note in music, and if I take a carrot and add butter and salt, then I have a chord with three notes. So I was trying to figure out, how can the music industry make things so cool? Why is AC/DC so cool? How can AC/DC make 60,000 (people) move their bodies and be so united? Most people come around the booth because it’s like hanging out backstage with a band. I build it up like a rock ’n’ roll show, with smoke machines, lights and music like a concert.
Our crew gets recognized — they’re all in black, blasting AC/DC, Snoop Dogg, Tupac and Biggie, and some Swedish rap too. Our graphic design is creative, raw and handmade, with handwritten words on a black package. Oumph!’s marketing resonates because it’s authentic.
What’s your favorite Oumph! snack and how do you like to make it?
I get hangry and need to plan meals quickly. You can do this with Oumph!, LIKEMEAT or Fry’s Family Foods — it doesn’t matter. I fry up Oumph “The Chunk,” put it in a bowl, and toss it in buffalo wing sauce. Then, I take an avocado and toss it in the bowl and eat it together. It’s delicious, fast, and fulfilling.
Your plant-based innovation with Oumph! is cutting-edge, but this wasn’t always your cornerstone. What was your “Aha!” moment that compelled you to hone your focus on plant-based foods?
I started experimenting with plant-based food in the nineties, but I started consulting on plant-based products in 2004. In 2005, I started my first brand. I tasted a new ready-made plant-based product and it tasted terrible, so they challenged me to do it better. I looked at the ingredient list and didn’t understand the names — E32? E12? What were these things?
I started experimenting. I went to the grocery store and did five dishes with those real ingredients and they loved them. In the factory in Czechoslovakia, they were making sauce with powder and water in a blender, so I told them that we need to start at the beginning. I had them fry onions, and make the sauce from there. Then I flew home and said, “I have a new mission in life. I’m going to be the best industrial chef.” Forget the Michelin star. I can feed millions of people in a good way.
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Texture is important to you when you make plant-based meats—to some, even more so than taste. What have you learned about texture and how to manipulate plant fibers?
Texture is 98 percent of food, and we combine pressure and heat to create that texture in a way that it’s hard to do at home. With one protein like Oumph!’s Chunk or Grilled Style, you can create textures ranging from oysters to potato chips. We control plant-based fibers so that they’re fibrous just like in chicken.
When you have the right texture, it’s easy to use sauces and spices to make it taste right. Fry it up like crispy chips or stew it so long it becomes soft like an oyster — or you can make it like scallops or chicken, whatever texture you desire.
Stockholm’s plant-based scene has grown explosively over the past five years. What’s your attitude toward being inclusive in the Swedish plant-based space as well as globally?
We need to make the plant-based shift cool and enjoyable or it’s never going to last. We need to inspire people to change — it shouldn’t come with negativity because it’s never going to hold. It’s about being positive, about creating energy and energetic people, about the body saying, “It’s good and I like it.”
It’s our responsibility to change ourselves and improve our lives and the lives of others.
It’s been a tough year and then some. What’s the first thing you’re going to do when the pandemic ends?
I’m excited to hug. That’s the first thing I’m going to do. I haven’t hugged a person except my son for a year. It’s started to affect my body. I need a hug. I’m going to take a human being and hug them for 15 minutes.