Sam Lippman, former executive chef for Airbnb,  is one of the chefs behind Hooray's plant-based bacon.
Sam Lippman, former executive chef for Airbnb, is one of the chefs behind Hooray's plant-based bacon.

Jewish chef’s plant-based bacon ‘sizzles and bubbles’ like the real thing

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

Not all chefs have slogans that they live by, but if chef Sam Lippman could choose one, it would be this: “You can make anything out of anything.”

He first learned that lesson at home. His mother had many dietary restrictions, some for common foods, like regular potatoes, so he figured out how to make latkes out of celery root and sweet potatoes. He has spent much of his career as a vegan raw chef, making noodles out of zucchini and creamy desserts out of nuts and avocados.

So it’s probably not all that surprising that he’s now head of culinary for a company that has introduced a plant-based bacon to the market: Hooray Foods. The bacon, which can be found at Whole Foods and a few other upscale markets, has three main ingredients: coconut oil, rice flour and tapioca starch (most of the other ingredients are seasonings and beet juice, as a natural color). In addition to being plant-based, it’s also gluten-free and soy-free.

Hooray Foods was founded in 2019 by Sri Artham, who came from the sustainable food industry and wanted to make a product that would help reduce climate change.

Lippman came early on as a consultant, and then joined the company as employee No. 1. While he didn’t invent the bacon recipe, he has been the one to scale it.

A native of Humboldt County, Lippman, 40, who now lives in San Francisco, got his love of Jewish food from his father, who grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and his grandparents, who kept kosher. Ratner’s was a favorite restaurant of theirs when the family went to New York to visit.

The product can be found at Whole Foods and other upscale markets.
The product can be found at Whole Foods and other upscale markets.

He also grew up attending the Humboldt area’s small synagogue, as well as visiting Arcata’s popular bagel shop “Los Bagels.”

Lippman got most of his experience working in catering and then became Airbnb’s executive chef, growing its culinary program between 2011 and 2016.

“When I started working there, it was just me cooking for about 50 people, and by the time I left we had brought about 50 people on to cook, feeding over 2,000 a day,” he said.

Lippman isn’t vegetarian himself, but he makes a credible spokesman for Hooray Foods because he joined the company only after being impressed with the product. Like others in the plant-based space, Lippman and his colleagues do not see each other as competitors as much as all working toward the same goal: helping to reduce the consumption of meat in the American diet and helping to mitigate climate change.

Yet he does feel good about getting behind a plant-based product whose founder developed it in his own home kitchen, meaning it is much less processed than other plant-based proteins on the market.

And then there’s the taste. The sample I was sent was by far the best bacon approximation I’ve tried. Like all plant-based proteins, there’s going to be a certain meatiness missing, but the texture and flavor of Hooray’s product come remarkably close.

“Because it’s made mostly from coconut oil, which liquifies when you put it in a hot pan, it cooks in its own fat, just like real bacon,” said Lippman. “There aren’t the usual off-notes you get from many plant-based proteins, which is pretty common in proteins made from soy or seitan. They can be bitter, or have a rough, grainy texture, or taste astringent. But because we’re not working with those traditional ingredients, we don’t get the same negative effects.”

Lippman says it cooks just like the real thing, in that “it sizzles and bubbles in its own fat,” he said. “You can watch it sizzle and make it as crispy as you like it.”

Hooray’s bacon strips cook up nice and crisp. (Photo/Alix Wall)
Hooray’s bacon strips cook up nice and crisp. (Photo/Alix Wall)

Of course, that means it isn’t the healthiest product on the market, but one shouldn’t eat real bacon every day, either.

Lippman’s position has expanded to include marketing, such as product demos, recipe development, sales and events. He’s currently at work on another imitation pork product that he can’t name, based on the same formula.

One of his favorite recipes, he said, is a gluten-free mac ’n’ cheese made with Hooray bacon. He recommends cooking with the bacon, as opposed to putting strips on a plate alongside eggs. (He also suggests checking out the company’s Instagram account for more ideas.)

Of course, the topic of kosher certification had to come up. Could Hooray Foods be the next Bacon Bits, meaning a fake bacon product that gives those who keep kosher an approximation of eating the real thing? It’s definitely something Lippman has thought about.

“It’s something we can do in the long run,” he said.  “Right now we’re still in startup mode, so it’s about getting our market where we want it to be. But eventually, it would be easy enough to do.”

Hooray’s bacon has been selling at Whole Foods nationwide and the market is expanding. Other local stores that carry it include Bi-Rite Market, Mollie Stone’s Pacific Heights, Gus’ Market and Rainbow Grocery.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."