For the love of Winged Beans Young entrepreneurs reinvent what it means to eat healthy

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Now that the first month of university is over, most students have come to the realization that eating healthy is not only difficult, but a lot of the time expensive and inconvenient.

My plan to meal prep and eat right didn’t last past the first week of September, and the hunt for an affordable wholesome eatery near campus was not as fruitful as I hoped.

In dire need of a break from over-priced pizza, I turned to Instagram.

That’s when I came across an account boasting all plant-based and gluten-free meals, from curried beet soup with crisp tandoori chickpeas to Swedish-style lentil “meatballs” and mushroom gravy.

The Winged Bean is a Hamilton-based service that allows you to pick a subscription plan, while the chefs cook your meals on a weekly rotation and deliver them right to your door at no extra cost.

Every week features a new menu, but their commitment to entirely animal product-free, gluten-free and locally sourced meals stays the same.

A five-meal subscription is amounts to a little over $7 per meal, making it one of the most affordable vegan friendly options in Hamilton.

At only 20 years old, Daniil Kiselev and Melanie Kuntz founded the Winged Bean.

Kiselev and Kuntz met at McMaster University in their first year, where they found themselves in a draining cycle of spending long hours studying, then cooking, then back to studying.

As vegans, it was difficult for them to eat well on a budget.

For aspiring vegans or anyone who wants to adopt a plant-based regime for their own health and the wellbeing of the environment, it’s even more difficult.

“For us, it’s been all our friends and people around us who genuinely appreciate that sort of lifestyle, but don’t follow it because of the difficulties,” explained Kiselev. “[The Winged Bean is a] solution that we made up and it fit in with both aspects of having a plant-based routine as well as an affordable and convenient [eating] solution.”

The Winged Bean also recognizes that eating plant-based foods can also change lives. Seven years ago, Kuntz was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory disease of the digestive tract that led to countless hospital stays.

“What was really able to help her out, and she’s been in remission ever since, is switching to a plant-based diet; that’s one of the reasons why we’re such huge advocates and it’s been amazing how many issues have been solved by eating that way,” explained Kiselev.

The Winged Bean’s 100 per cent gluten-free policy allows them to cater to a demand in the food industry and expand their market reach.

Kiselev and Kuntz’ experience in the food industry spans several years but as first-time entrepreneurs, their passion for good and purpose driven food is what fuels their ambition to run their business.

The Winged Bean launched in July, but has been in the works since Aug. 2016. Kiselev and Kuntz decided to take time off university and pursue their idea full-time. They’ve had the support of The Forge, a McMaster-affiliated entrepreneurship initiative and Innovation Factory, Hamilton’s incubator for start-ups.

Since then, Kiselev and Kuntz have been doing what they love: cooking, innovating recipes and changing the perception of plant-based foods in Hamilton.

“A big part of having plant-based food is that many people think that it’s boring, many people think that it’s just salads, nuts and lettuce, and we wanted to combat that and show people that there is [an ethnically diverse] variety of foods…. The idea is to show people that it can be both delicious and vary by cuisine,” said Kiselev.

Many Indian dishes that are traditionally plant-based, such as chana masala and coconut curry, inspire the Winged Bean. Kiselev and Kuntz also get creative with substituting for vegan-friendly ingredients to create dishes like cauliflower “butter chicken”.

The Middle Eastern-inspired falafel platter, Italian-inspired handmade gnocchi with basil pesto, and the reinvention of Texas’ chili with quinoa and lime cashew cream make the Winged Bean menu a multicultural experience for customers and even the founders.

“We’re both Eastern European, and for us it’s been a change…. Eastern European cuisine is generally very heavy on meats and dairy, which is the opposite of what we do, so we’ve been having a lot of fun trying to convert those recipes and try and make them plant-based. We have a lentil-walnut ‘kotleti’ served with cranberry sauce; [the goal is] to copy the Christmas dinner at your grandma’s,” explained Kiselev.

The Winged Bean currently only serves Hamilton, but Kiselev and Kuntz’ envision their business moving out of their rental kitchen at the Kitchen Collective and expanding to their own production facility that will service all of Ontario.

Rather than opening up a restaurant, their business model allows them to keep operation costs low, increase affordability to their customers and profitability for themselves. With the Winged Bean, customers can skip the fast food, lines and dishes.

Since then, Kiselev and Kuntz have been doing what they love: cooking, innovating recipes and changing the perception of plant-based foods in Hamilton.

Review

For $39 I was able to try The Winged Bean’s five meal subscription plan. The price included five individually packaged meals delivered straight to the Silhouette door in a cooler bag embellished with The Winged Bean logo. The containers were microwave friendly and all I had to do was heat and eat! For someone who’s always on the go, it was a convenient and cost-effective solution. As for presentation, the general tso tofu, chana masala and basil pesto pasta looked fresh, colourful and visually appealing.

The chana masala and cauliflower ‘butter chicken’ were less spicy and emphasized the taste of tomato more than I’m used to, but the crispy chickpeas made up for that.

The Swedish-style “meatballs” looked plain compared to the other dishes. As a meat-eater I was hesitant to try the disguised lentils but I have to say I was impressed by the taste.

The general tso tofu won me over. I only like my tofu fried, but this dish is an exception I’m more than happy to make. I love contrasting flavours, and this dish is sweet and savoury thanks to the touch of peanut butter, maple syrup and black sesame seeds.

Overall, The Winged Bean is not only an easy way to eat right but it’s tasty multicultural experience too!

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Author: Razan Samara

Arts and Culture Reporter Razan Samara is a second year Life Science student writer and community advocate. When she isn't taking a nap on a go bus, she spends her evenings watching crappy sci-fi series and mourning their subsequent cancelation.

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