In a little green truck in the Third Ward, 27-year-old Matti Merrell and her husband Rodney Perry, 32, create incredible vegan lunchtime entrees. Both are Houston natives, and both are all about making their hometown a little more leafy.
Eating Our Words: How did your food truck start?
Rodney Perry: We wanted a restaurant initially. But the start-up cost was too high, so we started looking into food trucks. I was doing it in California, and we always go to Austin and they're all over the place. So we were like, well, we'll do one in Houston. There's nothing to eat around here for vegans. That was our other motivation. Everything's either tofu-saturated or it's Asian cuisine. We wanted to do something a little different.
EOW: Are you both vegans?
Matti Merrell: I initially went vegetarian back in 2001 when I was a freshman in college after I gained 15 pounds, the Freshman 15. I was like, this is ridiculous! So I stopped eating meat, but of course I wasn't a healthy vegetarian. I was eating cheese pizza and French fries and a bunch of other nonsense. It wasn't until 2005 that I did a total detox, on colonics and stuff like that. I went raw for seven days and I lost all this weight, had a ridiculous amount of energy, and I was like, okay, I'm going to eliminate certain vegetarian foods from my diet and just keep it a whole plant-based type of deal. I've been doing that since then.
RP: Pretty off and on since '01...I had a condition where I didn't have gall stones, but it was kind of like gall sludge. The gallbladder fluid is supposed to help aid digestion. But mine was almost like a milkshake. It was causing problems to where I wasn't digesting food properly. I was getting these episodes where I would start vomiting and couldn't stop. I couldn't even hold down water. They tried to give me medication -- I don't like taking pills or anything like that, so I'd kind of just wait it out. When I switched over and found out the cause -- fried foods and all the processed stuff I was eating -- I stopped. I had more energy. I didn't have the problems anymore with digestion...it's a lifestyle change, and it's just good. I feel lighter, like you could jump up higher than anyone. It's a weird feeling but it's awesome.
EOW: Wow. So do you drink alcohol?
RP: I used to; not now.
MM: Does kombucha count? (laughs)
EOW: Is this the only real vegan restaurant in Houston?
MM: Well, food truck, yes. We do vegan on a totally different level. We don't do any soy, no tofu, no processed. We make a lot of things from scratch, and if we don't make it we use local bakers and farmers. We're all about unprocessed. We want it straight from the ground, from the earth, as natural as possible.
EOW: What is so bad about soy?
MM: Well the fact that about 90-something percent of it is genetically modified. There's too much estrogen in it. Tofu itself is super-processed. It's really not good for people. With all the GMO crops starting out now, we don't know what kinds of effects that'll have on us long-term. Prior to them creating so much fast food, everything was natural. Most of the produce you'd find was from local farmers. Now, you can even go to Whole Foods, and they'll have pears from Peru.
EOW: Where did all these recipes come from?
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MM: From us. From the kitchen, from the lab. Actually, honestly, we opened up with a set menu of four to five items. We were sitting here during downtime and started creating stuff.
RP: We have a lot of different ideas and dishes and recipes, but we just don't have the space. I went to culinary school at ACC; we studied under some good professors. Just the stuff I learned there, of course they only teach you how to work with meats and proteins and stuff like that, but it's easy to transition that over to some mushrooms or some tempeh. You don't know that you're not eating meat. That's our whole thing, playing with different spices.