At the abillionveg for Business table, we’re serving up the stories of the restaurants, cafes, and companies who are driving forward a more plant-based F&B industry.
Experiment like crazy - that’s what Afterglow is all about. Their culinary team comes from all walks of life without traditional culinary backgrounds. What puts Afterglow at the forefront of the plant-based scene in Singapore is a relentless drive to innovate and draw inspiration from the world, but also from their customers!
Carmen discussing Afterglow’s menu items with her staff.
When Carmen opened Afterglow 5 years ago, it was one of the first health-focused vegetarian restaurants in Singapore. Interest in veganism has spiked in the last year or two, and Carmen remarks that teenagers will come into her restaurant and have conversations about sustainability and vegetarianism. Since the year started, there has been an influx of people, ranging from families to school kids, all searching for healthier food and a more sustainable lifestyle.
With a youthful, energetic team, Afterglow has ridden the tide of the surging plant-based trend by unleashing unique dishes with a crazy, experimental spirit. The dish which best tells Afterglow’s story was conceptualized 9 years ago, in China.
Afterglow’s cornerstone menu item: the avocado kimchi roll. Image: Afterglow
The Avocado Kimchi Roll was a game-changer, says Carmen. While living in China, a series of major food scandals including swine flu and a tsunami rendered Carmen to become vegetarian by default. She became bored eating salads for 3 months until a friend, a raw food chef, invited Carmen to their home. One of the dishes there was the avocado kimchi roll. “When I ate it together with cauliflower rice in a pate, I was like wow this tastes like chicken, in terms of the complexity of flavors. That how it all started.”
When Carmen came back to Singapore, she noticed a growing group of people keen to include more healthy, clean options. “The majority in Singapore are not vegetarian or vegan, but people understand the purpose and vision behind it; a day to go meatless or eat clean,” she says.
The tofu seafood caviar burger. Image: abillionveg
Afterglow’s next creation is still in trial, but it sold out in mere days in its first release. The Tofu Seafood Caviar Burger was born in a brainstorming session to answer the question - but what about seafood? “This is our take on a seafood burger. We couldn’t really find recipes online, because nobody has done it before,” Carmen recounts.
The patty is made from firm tofu, marinated overnight with a vegan seafood sauce then wrapped in a yellowish crust of chickpea, capers, peppers, and layered with seaweed. To make the caviar, chia seeds are soaked in two types of seaweed (fresh and dried) to give a true, seawater salt taste. It comes out powerful enough to require just a small amount drizzled onto cherry tomatoes. Cashew dill tartar, fermented cucumbers round off the seafood flavor combination. It’s complex, but not heavy. Layers of flavor come out as you continue to eat.
The layers of flavor in the tofu seafood caviar burger.
Afterglow has also taken note of the less experimental clientele they receive and have created dishes for them. “Most of our clientele will be women, you know who bring their reluctant boyfriends - we sell beer just to cater to them, the grumpy guys! - and so we thought, let’s create something for the grumpy men!” Thus was born the Teriyaki Mushroom Meatball.
Teriyaki mushroom "meatballs" on a bed of romaine. Image: abillionveg
Drawing inspiration from around the world and right at the table
Carmen travels the world to find inspiration for Afterglow’s food, but is also open to co-creating dishes with customers sitting right in her restaurant.
“We get so many customers who chat with us on social media. So we invite them to have a chat and they share about the recipes they’ve been creating. We ask - do you want to co-create something? Share a recipe with me, and my chef will create their take on it.”
Trailblazing new culinary creations means that Afterglow finds themselves in a constant flux of feedback and iteration. That’s why review platforms like abillionveg are crucial.
“Nobody has done this before. What we do is not like cooking a classic dish. We’re very open to feedback and we need to keep getting more of it. Reviews are really good, like comments on how we can improve. We can only draw inspiration from around the world,” says Carmen.
The Israeli palate for food includes plant-based favorites like hummus, falafel, and olives. Image: Afterglow
Carmen’s latest inspiration comes from a recent trip to Israel where she was amazed to see how plant-based food is usually half the menu - even at a kebab restaurant! Her greatest takeaway is to start Sunday sharing sessions with invitees from across sectors to discuss sustainability. With dishes in R&D from the Israel trip, the kick off event will be Middle-Eastern themed: Dates & Palms.