Benjamin Thain’s lifelong vision is to sell the sizzle in all things vegan.
A self-taught home cook and vegetarian for the past 12 years, Thain is committed to demonstrating why and how vegan food need not be bland. Along the way, he founded Ardent Fine Sauces, a range of vegetarian-friendly sauces that promotes healthy eating and cooking with ease.
“My own line of sauces is the result of my journey in experimentation, hence the name,” says Thain, 43, in an interview.
Through “tonnes of research and experimenting”, Thain created rich-flavoured pesto sauces that were initially meant to be gifts for his friends and family.
Their encouraging response led to him bottling and coming up with the Ardent Fine Sauces brand, featuring three pesto sauces – Thai Basil & Pine Nuts, Coriander & Sunflower Seeds, and Sun-dried Tomato & Cashew Nuts – and selling them commercially.
“That wasn’t the original plan,” confides Thain. “But I love experimenting, thanks to the strong desire for healthy delicious meals.
“We are what we eat, and ill health is often the result of consuming unhealthy food. It’s all the added preservatives, unnecessary salt and sugar, and monosodium glutamate (MSG) in both groceries and restaurants which lead to an inevitable path of poor health in our modern lifestyle today.
“Healthier food options are often bland. As one with a typical Malaysian palate that craves for rich flavours and imaginative foods, I quickly realised that the choices for vegans were really rather limited,” he says.
So Thain set out on a journey to answer essential questions such as “How do I make herbal soup taste hearty without adding meat?” or “How can salads be exciting and yet fill the tummy?” These led him to create vegetarian meals that are not typical.
“I try to achieve that important blend of healthy cuisine and tasty flavours in all my cooking. I use unconventional ingredients and methods to create original vegetarian recipes that excite the senses and leave the meat eaters feeling flabbergasted!” enthuses Thain.
Thain has a creative background in advertising and branding, which he believes to be key in his current cooking profession.
“Just like I conceptualise and visualise an advertising campaign, I often envision a recipe in my head and how the flavours come together before experimenting on a new dish.
“As in any approach to brand, media and target audience, I need to take hold of the ingredients and imagine how the profiles complement one another. It’s especially challenging with vegetarian food. It’s a hit-or-miss, but that’s what makes cooking rewarding when I get it right,” he adds.
Thain attributes his inspiration to learning from both other home cooks and Michelin-star chefs on YouTube. He picks up on certain cooking techniques and unique ideas, and applies them when creating his new recipes. He also takes inspiration from rich authentic Asian flavours, from which he can create fusion dishes that combine the best of both Asian and Western worlds.
“It’s that innate passion and the playfulness that drives me when I cook. I look up to anyone who has the passion for food, and those who maintain integrity in their cooking. They could be artisan chefs in a Michelin-starred restaurant, the guy who spends his whole life making cheese, the village auntie who cooks by heart, and of course … my mother,” he beams.
Thain has adopted what he calls “the art of mindful cooking and ethical eating,” which he defines in three parts: a state of being where people are mindful about the use of ingredients and striking the balance of flavours; the steps in cooking to bring out the best of the ingredients and maintaining its distinct taste; and the fact that no animal was killed for cooking.
Although Thain has no plans to open a restaurant just yet, he is not ruling out that option in the near future.
“It would be great to be able to share my cooking with more people and spread the message of mindful cooking and ethical eating. Modern society is more conscious about a healthier lifestyle and is open to it being plant-based.
“I believe my culinary passion will have a positive impact. I’m currently committed to growing Ardent Fine Sauces, and introducing my line of sauces into homes to encourage healthy cooking as well as easy and delectable meals.”
And what about the doubters?
“There will always be naysayers, but I’d like to ask them to open their minds, be informed, and explore,” answers Thain. “You’ll be pleasantly surprised that eating healthy can also be a tasty affair. Choice is what we humans have. Try it and you’ll walk away with better health. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
Thain is in the process of making his sauces more easily accessible to customers. For more on Thain’s sauces go to Ardent Fine Sauces’ Facebook page.