For Katy McDonald, cooking with purpose and passion is an intrinsic value. “I’ve been cooking whole foods from scratch my whole life,” she says. “My mom and dad taught me how to cook like that, and it’s just what was natural and done around the house. Now that I’m a mom of two, it’s just innate. It’s kind of our lifestyle, that slow food kind of cooking, connecting with the food and preparing from the source.”
Today, she uses that slow food method to create gluten-free Cassava tortillas, tacos, and quesadillas to share with Columbia through her pop-up restaurant, Cassava Mama Tortillas. McDonald's tortillas have been available for sale in packs of six at Clovers Natural Market, where she works part-time, since late 2017, and she’s been popping up around town since then, too. “My first event was a booth at Baker Creek Seed Festival two springs ago; I didn’t know what I was doing,” she laughs, “But I had a wonderful time. I came back so excited not just to share my tortillas, but cooking for others has always been such a huge passion of mine, and here is this market for gluten-free [food] that needs to be nurtured more with the variety of people we have in our community.” This nurturing nature inspired the “mama” in her name. “I had to find a name and one of my friends said, “You’re a mama – Cassava Mama!” she says. “It just rang perfectly.”
The Cassava Mama menu always includes both a meat and vegan option, featuring ingredients from local farms such as Brush and Treble and Stem to Table Farm. Her most popular item is the Flamin’ Frijoles taco, a medley of Cuban beans with roasted bell peppers, jalapeño and corn topped with Cassava Mama’s signature “cilantrocado sauce,” a creamy avocado-cilantro sauce, and her “Quick Draw Slaw,” a slaw made with lime juice and olive oil.
At Cassava Mama's next pop up, hosted at Clovers on Wed., Aug. 21, McDonald will serve barbacoa tacos and a few other surprises alongside the fan favorite vegan option, which are all also available as quesadillas. Many of these recurring menu items first sprung up at her first event, where she had to rely on her instincts. “I was never in the food industry before this, so I would just follow my intuition,” she says. “Baker Creek clientele, they don’t eat pork and I was also having to haul all this food and prepare on-site, and so I went for vegan tacos for my menu. I had two choices. The Potato Fuego, roasted skillet potatoes with Beyond Meat crumble that I seasoned like chorizo, with cilantrocado sauce, on top, and Huevos Rancheros with homemade rancheros sauce. My most popular vegan item, the Flamin’ Frijoles, was born at that.”
The idea for Cassava Mama sprang from McDonald's love for bringing friends and family together over a meal – especially tacos. When one friend developed a gluten intolerance, she set out to find a worthy replacement for wheat. After trying several gluten-free flours, she settled on Cassava. Also known as yuca, cassava is a root vegetable that hails from South America. “When paired with coconut oil and just salt and water, it makes a very nice, pliable tortilla,” McDonald says. “Like a fresh corn tortilla; I tell my customers that it’s close to that in texture and feel. People that have been missing that kind of texture in their cooking and food; it’s really comforting.” In addition to tacos, McDonald says the tortillas are also great for gyros and as a base for other foods. “It’s a flatbread, so it can transfer to so many different cuisines,” she says. “I’ve used it at home for pita bread, and at Nourish [Cafe + Market], they use it in their chicken wraps and tuna wraps.”
McDonald loves the relationship-building aspect of her pop ups and the opportunity to bring people closer to the source of simple, healthy meals. “The heart and soul of my business is re-establishing that connection, and helping people in our community love food and love basic, simple food,” she says. “I’d really like to build this tie with authentic street food, because there’s such a connection between the person preparing the food, the person growing the food, and the person who’s eating it.”
Pick up your own pack of Cassava tortillas at Clovers, or visit Cassava Mama at her next pop up at Clovers on Aug. 21, Range Free on Sept. 6 and DogMaster Distillery later this year.
Cassava Mama Tortillas, facebook.com/CassavaMamaTortillas