We sat down with Ariela and Richard of Tempea Foods for the second edition of our Meet the Maker series. Their team makes the delicious tempeh we serve in the shop.
Can you tell us a little bit more about tempeh?
Ariela: Tempeh is a fermented soybean product originally from Indonesia. Our tempeh is made with only three ingredients: organic, non-GMO soybeans, starter culture, and water. The best description for tempeh would have to be SUPERFOOD. It’s a great source of protein that could rival that of meat products, fibre, calcium, iron, omega-3 and omega-6’s… We could go on forever. As a fermented food, it has a unique, nutty flavour and firm texture that people wouldn’t normally expect out of soyfoods. The fermentation process also makes it easily digestible and breaks down the nasty stuff (a.k.a. phytic acids) soybeans are notorious for.
Richard: The fermentation brings out the umami element, producing flavours that are reminiscent of sesame oil, soy sauce, miso. Whole soybeans that gets bound by living culture also produces an almost meaty texture. It’s tofu’s interesting brother. Don’t forget that the fermentation also breaks down oligosaccharides too (the stuff that makes you gassy).
How did you get started with Tempea?
Ariela: Our story started in a kitchen… at BCIT’s Food Technology lab. Andrew and I were students in our last semester, enrolled in a product development course. Our team entered a competition organized by Pulse Canada where we created a chickpea-lentil tempeh nugget that we called Tempea. We had the privilege of winning the regional competition, and with the encouragement from our mentors and industry professionals, we decided to just give it a shot. We didn’t know how Vancouver would respond to a product like tempeh, so we decided to start with traditional soy tempeh and sell it at the farmers market.
Richard: We grew up eating tempeh. Most of the time it was deep fried and sold on the streets of Jakarta, Indonesia from tiny food carts. For us Tempea, is not just a matter of creating food that is good and really good for you, it’s also a selfish re-fulfilling of our childhood. We’re just glad that a large number of Vancouverites enjoy tempeh as much as we do, it gives us an excuse to keep making it.
What do you most enjoy about your role?
Ariela: I have so many feelings about being an entrepreneur… But there’s nothing better than the sense of fulfillment after a long day’s work. Our company is still at the stage where we have to wear different hats from time to time and do things that we don’t necessarily have the training for. We find that that’s where the beauty lies; we never stop learning new things and we keep growing from these experiences.
Richard: I enjoy watching the facial expression that I get to see when I give away a tiny bite of tempeh to an unsuspecting passer-by. That and knowing that some people get as passionate about tempeh as we do, it’s an amazing feeling.
What has been the most challenging?
Ariela: If there’s a universally acknowledged fact about being an entrepreneur, it’s that it can be absolutely exhausting. 24 hours hardly ever feels enough. The hardest part for me is admitting that I’m tired and accepting that I’m only human. There’s always more work to do and since the beginning, it’s always been difficult for me to give myself space to wind down and rest.
We created Tempea with the insight to be open: to making mistakes, to working as hard as I physically can, and to just be genuine. Wherever Tempea leads, I'm happy that we got here, and it's not just out of pure might. When passion, luck, and skill come together, you know you're onto something. I feel very fortunate to have Tempea at this point in my life, and my greatest hope is that other people find whatever it is that makes them happy. It’ll never be easy but it has to be something that’ll you keep on choosing no matter how hard it gets. Keep trying and never give up! I really appreciate all the support we’ve gotten so far and we hope you stick around as we continue on with our adventure!
Richard: Whoa… ditto.
Our team is mostly composed of people with technical backgrounds, so while we are quite good at R&D, operations, and troubleshooting, we needed to learn everything else on the fly. Sometimes I’m still trying to distinguish the difference between selling tempeh and doing a lecture in a tutorial class.
What are some of your favourite simple ways to cook tempeh?
Ariela: I like to do a quick, 5-minute marinade in soy sauce, lime juice, garlic powder, and fish sauce (optional though!), after which I’ll fry the tempeh strips in coconut oil. I often get snaccidents just munching on these, they almost never make it to my bowl of rice.
Richard: I’m lazy by nature, and I think some of the best ways to cook up tempeh is actually the simplest. Pan frying creates a lot of flavours and textures and can be the start of a lot of dishes. Slicing it thin and fried/baked turns it crispy, which would be great with a bowl of guac or salsa. Marinated and grilled is also awesome as it creates smoky rich flavours that goes well between two buns.
Where can we find your tempeh outside of F/S if we want to try cooking at home?
You can find us at various farmers markets this summer and at select retail stores in Vancouver. We can also deliver our super fresh tempeh straight to your doorstep. Check out our website at www.tempea.ca for more info!
Thanks, Richard and Ariela!