Gabriella da Silva-Taylor and her wife Mal launched their Hartford-based catering company – serving gourmet, plant-based food rooted in all things vegetable – in the name of love. AMOR is the passion-driven project of two women who are partners in both business and in life.
Realizing the need for locally sourced plant-based foods, the couple dreamed of catering to the growing demand for meat- and dairy-free foods with inventive dishes inspired by their travels, families and love of food.
“I think there’s a misconception about vegan and plant-based food that is quickly changing – that vegan food is hippie food. It’s salad,” Gabriella says. “But it doesn’t have to be that way. Treat vegetables like you would meat; it’s how you flavor it and cook it and prepare it.”
As the plant-based diet continues to gain traction worldwide, evidence suggests it’s more than a fad. Millennials and Generation Z are largely behind this shift in thinking and in eating. While the vegan way of life may not yet be the norm, it becomes more popular every year as veganism gets a much-needed image reboot.
With meat- and dairy-free options now much more readily available – and, frankly, downright tasty – becoming vegan doesn’t have to mean munching on alfalfa sprouts while your friends sink their teeth into bacon cheeseburgers.
“Most restaurants these days are at least providing a vegan option. For me growing up, that wasn’t even an option,” says Gabriella, head chef at AMOR. Raised in Los Angeles, she has been a vegetarian since before birth, dating back to her vegetarian mother’s pregnancy.
As the eldest of five, she taught herself to cook and developed an unwavering passion for food, drawing culinary inspiration from her vegetarian mother and two grandmothers – one of Mexican descent, the other a native New Englander.
When she later discovered she had an allergy to eggs, making plenty of foods off-limits, including birthday cake, Gabriella trained herself to create modified versions of the meals and treats that would otherwise be forbidden. Years later, her self-taught skills, combined with a passion for good food, would come together in the name of AMOR.
But let’s go back to the beginning. Or the middle.
Ten years ago, living in Vermont, Gabriella Taylor was planning a return to the West Coast. But at her going-away party in North Hampton, just two weeks before heading back to Los Angeles, she met a woman from Hartford by the name of Mal da Silva, who would become her wife just three months later.
“I literally never left. And it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life,” Gabriella says. “It was a leap of faith.”
Born and raised in Santa Catarina, Brazil, Mal had moved to Hartford to live with her brother and had been working as a DJ. She says when she first saw Gabriella, the stars aligned.
“When you know, you know,” she says.
They married at Hartford City Hall just 90 days after meeting. The couple took a combination of their maiden names – da Silva Taylor – as their common legal surname and planted their roots in Connecticut.
Gabriella began catering and working as a personal chef, servicing clients in West Hartford and local venues like Real Art Ways and West Hartford Yoga, and working as a raw chef at Alchemy next to Trinity College, Red Lentil in New Haven, and Six Main in Chester.
“Right after that, we decided to open our food truck. We thought, ‘Why don’t we try to do something just for us?’” Mal says.
The pair got started with their food truck venture, originally dubbed The G-Stream, but quickly rebranded as AMOR (“love” in both Spanish and Portuguese).
The brightly colored turquoise and red truck traveled to large-scale farmers’ markets – in Wethersfield on Thursdays and Coventry on Sundays – with a rotating menu featuring street-food classics made with local and organic ingredients.
And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love street food classics, from burgers to grilled cheese to tamales? But what’s a vegan to do?
Serving up authentic veganized dishes like an Un-Beet-Able Burger (made with beet burger, tomato, avocado crema cashew cheese, and greens, and served with a side of baked home fries), the food truck served as a canvas for creative cooking.
Mashing up indulgent favorites like pumpkin-spiced whoopie pies or cinnamon sugar donuts, Gabriella has mastered the art of serving wholesome yet familiar veganized foods reminiscent of those we enjoyed growing up.
Vegan food inspired by Italy, Portugal, and Brazil seems almost like an impossibility, given that these regions tend to offer a heavy, meaty cuisine. Yet Gabriella and Mal don’t just pull it off. They do it so well that you don’t even notice the missing meats, eggs or dairy.
“The influence of our travel palate inspires our dishes. We try something in another country and we translate the recipes to plant-based. Like a Hummingbird Cake we discovered in Australia or a Brazilian potato salad. We are forever translating recipes,” Gabriella says.
Favorite dishes include a vegan potato salad; roasted polenta with vegetables; and the Bangin’ Beet Salad, with beets, carrots, apples and raisins on a bed of arugula, maple pepitas and lemon-maple dressing.
And no one misses out on dessert – despite the absence of eggs or butter – after sampling a luscious triple-chocolate baked doughnut with chocolate glaze and a scattering of chocolate shavings.
“We wanted to provide delicious, healthy, plant-based food and you can really only do that from scratch,” Gabriella says.
AMOR specializes in raw cashew-based cheesecakes that are to-die-for, Mal says. “Usually I have two for my birthday; I can’t make up my mind,” she jokes.
Creating celebration cakes for birthdays, anniversaries, or events is Gabriella’s first love.
“For me, I don’t like to be pigeonholed,” she says. “It’s about the creative process and what the client wants. Maybe they had something they grew up with that is a favorite cake but they’ve never had it vegan. So I’m able to help facilitate what they’re missing because we all have our comfort foods. And making cakes is my first love.”
But after four years, the couple made the decision to close their food truck at the end of 2017 to focus on catering and private chef services.
“With the food truck, you compromise yourself and your life with a demanding schedule. Whether it’s every Saturday or every Thursday, you are tied to a schedule,” Mal says. “When it came to the summer season, there were so many catering events and weddings, we couldn’t manage the food truck as well. So we needed to make a change that was in the best interest of our business and our life.”
Transitioning out of the food truck and into a more flexible career in catering and special events allows for plenty of travel – three to four international trips each year, in fact.
“Traveling is everything. It’s the cuisine, the culture, the people. When you’re in that open mind of the unknown, new things, it’s amazing. I don’t think there’s anything greater than travel. It opens your mind, your heart, your perspective,” Mal says.
Operating out of the shared commercial kitchen space at Hands On Hartford on Bartholomew Avenue, AMOR continues to craft creative vegan dishes that rival anything grandma makes, for clients from all over New England and New York.
The AMOR menu is a moving target, but dishes like Tofu Banh Mi, Turmeric & Spinach Ravioli filled with Roasted Sweet Potato and Kale, and Enchiladas with Papián Verde, Avocado Mango Salsa, Arroz a la Mexicana, and Frijoles Negros are typical of their veg-friendly efforts.
The duo is looking for a more flexible kitchen space that could lend itself to the production of half-baked plant-based meals to go.
“When we sold the truck, there were so many of our regulars who were like, ‘We want your food and where do we get it?’ After having a little bit of a break and thinking about how we can make it work so that more people can access plant-based meals, we’re looking for opportunities for a flexible kitchen space to craft build meals from scratch to go, catering to people with dietary restrictions,” Gabriella says.
And yes, you can still get the doughnuts. Lemon lavender, vanilla beach, hibiscus, blueberry and even the triple chocolate are made to order in large batches for your private event.
“The secret ingredient is love. Everything is made with love at AMOR,” Mal says.