Galettes, pastitsio, pastelón: the next dynamic chapter in vegan food

Sabrina Vixama closes the wrappers on a tray of Haitian pancakes.Josh Reynolds for the Boston Globe

She started to experiment. “I did some filling. I made dough. Let me see if I can create this amazing food in our culture as a vegan. My mom tried it and loved it. My friends were amazed that I was able to make it taste like real meat. Vixama, who studied international relations and business administration, was working in insurance at the time. As she blogged about her vegan patties, interest grew. People kept telling her that she should start her own business.

Today, Vixama runs a catering service, catering business, and pop-up and event business called Discover vegans, taking its name from the blog that initiated it in this direction. She started looking for a storefront. Its patties – in flavors such as ‘steak and cheese’ (made from oyster mushrooms), ‘beef’ (walnuts) and Buffalo chick’n (tofu) – are the cornerstone of its menu, which also includes dishes like Haitian djon djon rice made with quinoa, banana blossom “barbacoa” tacos and “the cooking plate”, a perfect summery combination of plant-based “ribs”, vegan macaroni and cheese and ears of corn of corn. She makes everything from scratch, avoiding the processed foods and meat substitutes now common in grocery stores. They don’t make her feel good, so she doesn’t want to serve them to her customers. “I want Discover Vegans to be a brand that really cares – not just about food that tastes great but makes you feel good,” she says. “I really believe that food should make you feel good. “

Kedian Dixon of Black Bougié & Vegán sits at her booth at a <a class=vegan market in Dover, NH, on Sunday.” class=”height_a width_full width_full–mobile width_full–tablet-only” src=”” bad-src=”×0/”/>
Kedian Dixon of Black Bougié & Vegán sits at her booth at a vegan market in Dover, NH, on Sunday.Carl D. Walsh

Since her beginnings as a vegan, plant-based options have grown exponentially – in part thanks to entrepreneurs like Vixama herself, as well as increased public interest in eating less meat. For example, according to grocery delivery company Instacart, 1 in 3 customers bought plant-based meat or milk, with sales of the former surging 42% and the latter by 27% from 2019 to 2020. Vegan startups d ‘today have come a long way from the serious bowls of tofu, steamed vegetables and brown rice. They feature the flavors of Greece, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, burger restaurants and American restaurants, reflecting the cultural influences and heritage of their creators. And they are likely, at least initially, to operate outside the walls of a restaurant – posting menus on Instagram, taking orders online, delivering directly to customers’ doors, appearing in d ‘other restaurants.

Deconstructed Vegshi, Viviana Torres' vegan interpretation of sushi, awaits diners at a vegan market in Dover, New Hampshire on Sunday.
Deconstructed Vegshi, Viviana Torres’ vegan interpretation of sushi, awaits diners at a vegan market in Dover, New Hampshire on Sunday.Carl D. Walsh

Many prepare their food in a commercial kitchen like Food revolution in Stoneham, whose suppliers have included vegan operations such as the gluten-free meal preparation service Ginger Roots Kitchen, Mediterranean pop-up and delivery outfit Littleburg, and former Boston food truck Bartleby seitan stand. In addition to the cooking space, Food rEvolution provides advice and support. “The idea of ​​the space is to make it easier to start a food business,” says owner Lisa Farrell. It allows people to test and refine concepts without taking huge financial risk, to see if business models are working, to feel and grow their customer base, to know if the demanding lifestyle of running a business. food business is really for them. “People who have always had a passion for food might be going back to their roots and yet have day jobs or other responsibilities, or don’t know what that would look like as a real idea in quotes. Approaching this as a side gig, being really disjointed and nimble, that’s great. “

It is also a particularly welcoming model for women and people of color, who often face bigger challenges access capital. For women, says Farrell, “it’s a very accessible avenue for valuing the work you’re already doing. “I make them and people love them, so I want to see if people will buy them. Yes people will buy them and charge a lot for them because you work hard and they are really good! “

Viviana Torres of Viv's Garden, Sebastian Flores, and their daughter, Aleena, sit at their stall at a vegan market in Dover, NH, on Sunday.  Their offerings include the Whistle Bomb, a vegan take on a steak bomb.
Viviana Torres of Viv’s Garden, Sebastian Flores, and their daughter, Aleena, sit at their stall at a vegan market in Dover, NH, on Sunday. Their offerings include the Whistle Bomb, a vegan take on a steak bomb.Carl D. Walsh

When Viviana Torres started her business, Viv’s garden, she worked as an ophthalmic technician. In February, she quit her job to pursue her dream full time, working in a commercial kitchen in Lowell, where she lives. She runs the operation with her fiancé Sebastian Flores, offering ready meals, catering and pop-ups; their 2 year old daughter, Aleena, loves to mix. Since becoming vegans, Torres and Flores have seen their health improve. “I feel good being a vegan and wanted to share how I felt with others,” says Torres. “I always knew I wanted my own restaurant, a food truck or a little cafe or whatever. I knew I wanted to do this. When I started with vegan dishes, my love for cooking grew even more.

Any day, Viv’s Garden can offer sushi, pasta, make-your-own tacos or dishes inspired by Torres’ Puerto Rican heritage: mofongo; a version of a tripleta sandwich made with assorted vegan deli meats; pastelon, the lasagna-esque dish made from plantains. “I try to integrate all types of culture, I don’t just focus on my culture, and I think that’s where my creativity comes in. I like to share what I’ve learned from my mother, my grandmothers and my sisters, ”she says. “Putting the flavors in vegan food and people are so surprised by it, it brings me so much joy. It’s like, ‘Wow, how can that be vegan when it has so much flavor?’ We do the exact same thing, just removing the meat and replacing it with mushrooms or jackfruit or whatever I want to create that day.

Vegan subs are topped with ketchup and ranch dressing.
Vegan subs are topped with ketchup and ranch dressing.Carl D. Walsh

TO Bougié Black & Vegan, comfort food (potato peels, baked ziti), healthy salads and Jamaican dishes share the space on the menu. Chef-owner Kedian Dixon works full time as a therapist, cooking meals and doing pop-ups alongside: “I have two passionate projects,” she says. As for his company name, “My friends have always called me candle because they think I’m picky or they always want high-end stuff. I am black and I am proud to be who I am; I love my skin, I love my melanin, I love my story. I am of Jamaican origin; both of my parents are Jamaican. And then I’m vegan. It all came together.

She loves making dishes that take her back to childhood, she says. Guest favorites include curried chickpeas and rastafarian pasta, made with coconut cream, jerk seasoning, and Caribbean herbs. “My customers love it when I cook Jamaican food,” she says. “I think a lot of people bring their culture, and that’s what makes it great. We can still have the food that people would miss, but we can just make it vegetate. “

Littleburg is one of the best-known local vegan startups; it won Boston magazine’s Best of Boston 2020 award for its pop-ups and delivery service. “Restaurants need to be more dynamic and have more sources of income,” says owner Graham Boswell, a longtime vegan who has worked at restaurants such as Oleana and Taco Party. “The pop-up model was a great way to experiment and see how it goes, and we could really reinvent ourselves from event to event.” Then the pandemic came and everything stopped. “Pretty much on a penny we launched a meal delivery service the following week. “

As of last week, Littleburg also has a brick and mortar takeout counter, operating Friday through Sunday evenings from a Union Square space by backbar, Bronwyn and Field & Vine. This is only the next step in the evolution of the business. “It’s still not the final version of Littleburg, but I always wanted to fund myself and not rely on investments or bank loans,” Boswell said. “I hope people find us and appreciate what we’re trying to do. I think that’s why you see a lot of vegan concepts that aren’t restaurants, because it’s a leap of faith to open up a place and I don’t take it for granted that Bostonians will react to vegan food. The cost of starting up in Boston is so high.

Littleburg’s food draws on the Mediterranean flavors that Boswell absorbed in Oleana, and in particular the Greek cuisine and hospitality he learned through the family of his girlfriend Olivia Kotsopoulos. “It’s similar to the Jewish hospitality I grew up with, which was: I love you so much, I cooked all this food for you, you better eat it all,” he says. The menu includes dishes such as seitan gyros and mushroom pitas, spanakopita and chickpea tagines, garlic za’atar flatbread, and baklava.

“Vegan food is not cooking. It’s a set of ingredients, ”says Boswell. “It must be delicious – not vegan food, just delicious food. We don’t cook for vegans. We cook for my girlfriend’s Greek dad, who won’t mind with anything that isn’t straightforwardly delicious.

Find these businesses on Instagram at @ black.bougie.vegan @discovervegans @littleburg_ and @ vivsgarden_2020

Devra First can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.

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Tanya S. Norvell