If you’re the kind of person who would turn down a hot stack of waffles, you’re a monster and you should go to your room and think about what you’ve done. Breakfast, is not only the most important meal, but it’s clearly the most delicious. From bacon to eggs to french toast, there’s nothing better. The problem of course, is that what usually makes breakfast food so damn delicious, is how easy it is to make it unhealthy. You can douse everything in bacon grease, fry everything up, stuff yourself with more bread than should be allowed, etc etc.
Which is what makes Rebecca Peress’s Swapples so interesting. Comprised entirely of vegetables, the waffle impersonators (and I mean that in the best way) manage to pretty much maintain the consistency of crispy chewy regular waffles, without any of the ingredients. So we met up with Peress to talk about the creation of all veggie waffles, how it feels to be a part of the Union Kitchen community, and the healthiest way to shop.
Can you tell me a little bit about how this all started?
I have been experiencing a series of autoimmune disorders as a teenager and changing my diet was the one way I was able to remedy some of those. It started off with eliminating sugar and then I started eating paleo… and then I was like, wow, you really do feel better when you eat real food. So I threw all my junk out the window and cooked everything from scratch. I started a food blog called The Sweet Defeat which is now very very dead. From there, I was just cooking in my kitchen and experimenting one day and Swapples were born. The idea of yuca waffles exists, but a lot of bloggers were doing it with ingredients I didn’t want in there, and none of them were savory. So it was pure experiment, trial and error, and then people were like wow these are good.
How did they scale up into becoming a product you sell in stores?
So I am very much a fast mover and once I make a decision that’s it. So I was sitting there and at the end of September I was like, “I’m starting a business.” I told my parents and they were like, “Yeah, yeah, sure okay.” I called up Union Kitchen and asked for a tour, met with Membership. They showed me the kitchen and I was sold in the first ten minute, they didn’t know that, but I was sold. It seemed like an amazing opportunity for me to grow something so small, and my dream, into something much larger and to help other people. So that’s how that happened. Starting slow but we’re getting there.
Hows working at Union Kitchen?
So there are two locations. I work out of Union Kitchen NOMA, which is the older location and then Union Kitchen Ivy City is the newer one. There’s definitely a lot of camaraderie. It’s a lot of fun. It is so great to be surrounded by people with the same passion as you. Everyone loves food. There is not a single person there that you can’t rant to for hours about your favorite go to sandwich place or what you made for dinner last night. And everyone is so willing to help. That’s just the culture of the D.C. business world, small business world in particular. It is so amazing when you see it and when someone helps you, it just makes you want to pay it forward. Whether it’s something small like giving advice or running an errand for each other. Everyone is just very very friendly.
I have a two part question so get ready. One, what is your favorite local business in D.C? Two, who would you most want to collaborate with?
Oh my god… My favorite local business in DC?
It doesn’t have to be food… but it should be food.
It’s gonna be food… I feel like I would be giving someone a little too much praise. You know what… can I do two?
Of course. I’m not a monster.
Number one, Bazaar Spices. I’ve been friends with them for quite a bit, but what I love about their shop is that for someone who really loves to cook and needs that unique can’t-find-that-shit-anywhere ingredients, they always have it. They grew their dream out of Union Market and now they have a brick and mortar up by U Street and it is amazing. You can go up there and get anything you want for any recipe and they are the nicest people. That also makes it a great business, just the experience of being in there. They’ve always taken care of me. Second, gotta pay homage to my favorite treat, dark chocolate, Undone Chocolate… I have been obsessed with them since way before I even conceived the idea of making a business. When they first came to Union Kitchen I was fascinated because Adam, the founder, was previously a scientist and turned that knowledge into making crazy chocolate. I’m a chocolate fiend and it is some of the best damn chocolate I’ve ever found. So I will say that.
So you created Swappes. Why did you want that to be the first thing you put out on the market?
Well, it was the only thing I had in mind at the time. I definitely have ideas for other products, but Swapples in particular… dude, you can eat them with anything. They’re so versatile and in today’s age of “I hate bread… bread get away from me,” honestly, gluten free bread sucks. There are some brands that are pretty good, but most of them suck and it’s like ugh god, why even waste my time? With Swapples you’re not eating anything processed. It’s all vegetables. It’s the cleanest stuff, but it has the texture of bread, you can eat it like bread, you can use it as bread crumbs you can use it as croutons, whatever. It’s just mind boggling that you’re eating so clean. So that’s why I love them and that’s why I think that as health becomes a growing concern it was a great thing to start with.
What’s the secret ingredient that makes it the consistency of bread?
There’s no secret ingredient. So the main ingredient for all of the flavors is yuca root, also known as cassava root. It’s indigenous to Central and South America. It’s a tuber, similar to a potato, but much much healthier. It has a lot of vitamins and minerals, like copper and magnesium. It’s very easily digestible, and, I don’t know if you’re familiar with glycemic index score and all that..
So basically every food spikes your blood sugar to a certain extent. When your blood sugar is heightened you’re more likely to go into fat storing mode, your insulin surges, all that stuff. So every food is given a score. Potatoes have double the score of yuca, which is why it’s such a nutritious starch that is eaten so much around the world. I mean, we don’t hold candles in terms of the consumption of yuca, but it is a very large staple in paleo diets now, because of its nutritional value and because it’s not a nightshade vegetable, which is what a lot of paleo don’t eat. So yuca root has natural binding properties, which allows you to use it as a dough without having any levin or whatever. It’s pretty cool. So my product actually has no eggs or dairy or sugar. It’s straight up vegetables.
Is that the goal?
Yeah. That was the goal in the beginning.
So when you were in your kitchen you were looking to make something that was all vegetables?
Since they’re made this way virtually anybody can eat them. So many people have allergies now and you look at all the waffles out there, and this is referring to Swapples as specifically waffles though I think they’re much more than that, you can’t find a waffle in the grocery store that doesn’t have one of those things. You can’t find one that doesn’t have sugar. Some people don’t want to eat coconut flour, some people don’t want any grains at all, and there’s a lot of stuff in gluten free products to make things thicken. This doesn’t have any of that. It’s straight up clean.
Why do you think people are more health and food conscious these days?
So, one, the allergies thing. Allergies are coming out of nowhere, every single kid has like 12 allergies, so that is concern number one and has certainly made people pay more attention to what’s their food. Two, back in the 50’s when everything was about convenience and they started adding preservatives and additives… Just put it in the microwave, everything was about convenience. We really forgot about true agriculture and real scratch cooking. I don’t know what it was, but I guess everyone kind of woke up and looked at their food and said, “Oh my god. What am I eating?” And I think there are also some studies that came back that were showing… oh red dye in your candy might not be so good and I don’t know about those trans fats.
So a combination of those studies and people realizing that they want real food. Just looking at the larger supermarket industry and wow, we are so far from where we started and then looking at what other countries are eating. You go to other countries and they aren’t eating half the things that we have here. You know there are ingredients here that are illegal in other countries? Like additives and stuff. It is ridiculous… and the way we treat our animals and stuff. I just think our generation in particular is so much more conscious of the larger environment. Of the world itself and with that comes health consciousness. Care for your environment, you care for your body. The two are definitely intertwined as far as agriculture goes. Then common interest fuels more interest, so you see more people caring about something you’re more likely to care about something.
Really it’s all rooted in just eating better which I think our country is moving toward… which is thank god because I think the majority of food in the grocery store is disgusting.
Where do you shop?
I shop the perimeter of the grocery store. When you eat real food, you do not touch the center aisles. You go in there for maybe condiments, like mustard. I really just go around the circumference of the store which consists of the produce, the dairy, and the eggs and that is it. I don’t buy cereal, I don’t buy flours, I don’t buy sugar, I don’t buy snack bars. None of that. I drink water. Water and milk. That’s it.