Bonita Woods, owner of Chef Bon’s Yum Truck and the Bonita Woods Institute, has transformed the menu of her food truck so that it is exclusively vegetarian and vegan.
She told the News-Press that she wishes she had thought of making the change, which was partially inspired by the closing of the all-vegan Native Foods Cafe, sooner than she had.
But now the truck is open for business, five days a week during the late morning/early afternoon hours, next to the Bonita Woods Wellness Institute at 140 Little Falls Street.
“Currently there are no vegan grab and go places in our local community,” Woods said. “And I have a community wellness education center, so I felt that since I could I should fill that void.
“And part of it is when I cook I try to put as much added nutritional value to every bite and every calorie and give as much sustaining energy as we can while making the food taste really good and that draws us more and more to a plant-based menu.”
The vegetarian and vegan dishes now on the Yum Truck’s menu were previously featured for a limited time on the original menu, which was omnivorous.
She will be serving food like grilled veggie white pizza, sweet potato-ginger soup, Mediterranean season sprouted lentil burgers and Chocolate Cherry Yum Bites. Woods prefers using whole ingredients and maintaining their integrity when creating recipes.
For example, the Sweet Potato-Ginger Soup only has three ingredients: sweet potato, ginger and water. But that doesn’t take away from the dish – it’s still full-bodied and rich.
Another example is the salad that is featured on the Yum Truck’s menu: The salad consists of leafy greens, orange slices, tomatoes and kalamata olives, but the dressing for the salad is what is exceptional.
It only consists of citrus juice from oranges and olive oil and is more flavorful than the salads at several restaurants around town.
“Fruits and vegetables, in their own right, taste really amazing. And then we add salt and cream and cognac and butter, we overwhelm the natural delicate flavors and people forget what the fruits and vegetables taste like,” Woods said. “So by keeping the ingredients simple and uncorrupt, we allow people to remember what the food tastes like.
“It’s funny, when people eat our food they actually get repressed memories or forgotten memories returned to them, like childhood memories or when they were in the countryside and it brings so much joy to them that it gives a really beautiful experience to us when they eat the food and they smile and say ‘This reminds me of when I was a kid and visiting my grandparents and my grandmother would make an apple pie and I hadn’t thought of that in 30 years.’ So when you bring food back to its real ingredients, that’s the kind of joy you tap into for people.”
But there is a lot of science that goes into creating that joyful experience for people.
Woods’ professional background includes experience as a fine dining chef, food scientist and nutritionist and she uses all of the experience when creating new dishes for the Yum Truck’s menu.
“When I was learning her recipes, I found that her conversions are down to the molecular level,” said Daniel Steinberg, chef with Chef Bon’s Yum Truck. “She knows how to break it apart and put it back together. She really knows the science of what she’s using.”
Woods also has food products, like the Chocolate Cherry Yum Bites, that are soon to be featured in local Whole Foods stores and she has a booth at the Falls Church Farmers Market. She said that she often gets into the minutiae of ingredient usage with regular customers, which she enjoys.
And she isn’t one to back down from a challenge. She has been trying to figure out how to convert some of her vegetarian recipes, like the crust for the Yum Truck’s veggie pizza, and the vegetarian blueberry muffins, into vegan ones.
“I’ve tried vegan baking and it’s challenging, which I love,” Woods said. Currently, she’s working on getting more rise out of the crust of the vegan veggie pizza.
One surprising element of Woods’ transformation of the Yum Truck’s menu was that, according to her, food costs remained relatively the same from when the menu was omnivorous. Because there is a niche market for vegans and vegetarians, vegan ingredients and food products are usually expensive, sometimes costing twice what the alternative costs.
Actually, the creation of an exclusively vegan and vegetarian menu has allowed Woods to include ingredients she couldn’t originally afford.
“I chose to keep the food costs the same and what we’re doing is increasing the exotic ingredients we couldn’t afford to have before,” Woods said.
“So we were comfortable with our food cost and our profit margin. So we’re just bringing in things like the PowerGreen chips, which we couldn’t afford before.”