Tastemaker: Portia Yiamouyiannis, owner and chef, Portia's Cafe

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Why she's a Tastemaker: A meal at Portia's Cafe inevitably becomes a game of How Did She Do That. Vegan chef Portia Yiamouyiannis, whose mastery of coaxing familiar flavors from raw ingredients-rich cashew cheesecake, spicy kelp noodle pad Thai, creamy veggie pate disguised as tuna-has caught the attention of vegans and omnivores alike since she opened her bright Clintonville eatery in 2013. Later this year, she'll start scooping house-made ice cream, add a weekend brunch menu and eye a second location in Granville.

Wellness perspective: Yiamouyiannis ran Beechwold Natural Foods for eight years before opening her cafe. Every time a customer had a question, she would read any book or attend any class or seminar to learn the answer. The cafe, in her mind, is an extension of that process, of that willingness to help others. "I thought if I went even deeper and gave people good, healthy food made with love-because I really believe in the energy going into the food-they wouldn't have to go to the doctor or the health foods store as much," she says.

First meal: By fall, Portia's will add a full weekend brunch menu. In addition to Yiamouyiannis' popular Belgian-style waffles, she's testing recipes for smoothies, coconut bacon, sweet potato hash, chia seed pudding parfaits and overnight oats topped with rice milk, cinnamon and apple. "No place has really good vegan breakfast," she says. "I really want this to be a place where people can come and get something hearty."

Stamp of approval: Portia's was one of four local restaurants to earn Slow Food Columbus' 2014 Snail of Approval. The award recognized Yiamouyiannis' unwavering commitment to local organic produce, composting, recycling furniture and kitchen equipment, using scrap paper instead of server tickets, paying employees a living wage and offering no-questions-asked personal days.

Approachability: You won't find Boca burgers or slimy, processed tofu at Portia's. Instead, Yiamouyiannis deconstructs and reimagines familiar fare to offer something healthier and heartier without compromising on flavor. Take her raw but meaty Savory Patty (served inside a gluten-free house tortilla) made from blended and dehydrated spinach, kale, celery, carrots, apples, herbs, nuts and seeds. Or her luscious Cheezecake, blended with soaked cashews, fresh fruit and raw extra-virgin coconut oil. "I do what I do for the taste first," she says. "You feel good when you leave, physically and emotionally. Then you may look into it further and help yourself. It's my sneaky way of saving the world."


Age: 46

Previous gigs: Portia's Creations, Beechwold Natural Foods, Tommy's Pizza and Subs

Guilty pleasure: Her own vegan Cheezecake

Recommended reading: "The Oh She Glows Cookbook" by Angela Liddon

Favorite ingredient: Cashews

Favorite off-night eats? Bon Thai Bistro. "At ethnic restaurants, the people that [cook] are usually the owners, and they usually care and you can taste it. It's hard for me to go out anywhere because I got to the point of tasting if the person in the kitchen is indifferent, angry or depressed. Even if the food tastes good, it doesn't feel right."