Williamsburg’s latest vegan kitchen, HAAM, will bring its Dominican and Trinidadian flavors to the neighborhood starting November 15. The name stands for “Healthy As A Motha” and despite its pork-inspired acronym, its menu is fully plant-based.
HAAM is the result of years of work from chef Yesenia Ramdass, who grew up in a Dominican family in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. “I’m a first generation Dominican American, so I was very tied to the island,” she says, explaining how her own eating habits shifted to a healthy emphasis as she grew up. “If I can make a little bit of an impact with a small part of the population in my city, that will be worth it.”
In this edition of the Resy Rundown, we sat down with Ramdass to chat about all things community, king oyster mushrooms, and the future of vegan cuisine.
1. HAAM began as a ghost kitchen.
HAAM initially started as a ghost kitchen during the pandemic, serving delivery-only food for the first two years of its existence. Ramdass says they also maintained a “maniacal” focus on doing pop-ups, growing their following and increasing their reach across the city at various festivals. You may have previously encountered them serving their vegan favorites at Smorgasburg, the Vegan Night Market, or the New York City Wine and Food Festival. HAAM plans to continue having a presence at popups when they can in addition to their new brick and mortar space.
“Going from that [ghost kitchen] space to the new space, obviously we’re going from zero to 100. We’re really excited,” Ramdass says. The decision to build a brick-and-mortar space grew out of increased demand for her food over the past few years.
2. Before the pandemic, Ramdass had never worked as a professional chef.
Before COVID-19 hit New York City in 2020, Ramdass worked in retail.
“I didn’t go to culinary school or anything like that, but I love to cook,” she says, adding that once she lost her job due to the pandemic it felt like a sign that she should test her concept in a ghost kitchen.
Each member of her family of five maintains plant-based diets, which was a big part of the inspiration that led to HAAM’s recipes.
“I started messing around in the kitchen and veganizing the dishes that were really close to home, or that I grew up with,” Ramdass says. “I was posting on social media what I was cooking, and my husband said that we should try a pop-up event. Our food sold out.”
Those who loved the ghost kitchen and pop-ups won’t be disappointed by the menu at HAAM — many of the old favorites are staying on, with a few new additions.
There’s a ceviche made with tender hearts of palm, settled on top of a plantain chip. Mofongo is made with lion’s mane mushrooms, and a roti plate comes with jackfruit and pumpkin. King oyster mushroom “scallops” are served with yucca mash. Fans of the pop-ups will be excited to see that the empanadas, macaroni, and the sweet plantain boat, which is stuffed with “beef” and jalapeño queso, all make a return appearance.
HAAM also has a beer and wine license, and plans to serve only vegan wines (believe it or not, not all wines are considered vegan). There will also be fresh-pressed sugarcane juice, fresh coconut water, juices, mocktails, and, pending a full liquor license, juice-based cocktails.
For dessert, expect to see cassava cake with housemade soursop ice cream, arroz con leche made with housemade cashew milk, and guava cheesecake.
3. The interior is classic clean.
HAAM has 30 seats inside, with an additional six seats at the bar. Ramdass worked with local Williamsburg designer, OAD Interiors, to create a clean, modern, plant-filled environment.
“I’m really excited for the space. There’s lots of neutral tones, lanterns above the bar. The outside of the building is going to be green, so it screams ‘plants’ and ‘islands’,” Ramdass says.
There’s also a green bamboo quartzite bar, black and white tile floors, and custom-built niche walls.
4. Plant-based eating is personal for Ramdass.
Ramdass’ own plant-based journey started when she read a book about the animal farming industry at 17 years old.
“It just stuck with me, and I said that I was never going to have meat again. I had been a vegetarian and pescatarian for 13 years when my mother became sick with cancer,” she says. Her mother’s illness inspired her to further her healthy eating habits into becoming fully plant-based more than five years ago.
Maintaining flavor and elevating dishes with plant-based options that make sense are at the core of her cooking.
“We do have dishes with faux meats in them but, on the other hand we have things like the king oyster mushrooms, which have great texture to play with. That’s what I really focus on. The texture comes from plants, so it’s not hard to season things to make it taste like chicken or beef or whatever the case may be,” she says.
HAAM is open from 1 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, from 12 noon to 10 p.m. on Saturdays, and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays.
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