On the heels of a successful career as executive chef at Broken Top Bottle Shop (note: winner of 2014's Best Of Central Oregon for Vegetarian Food), Bethlyn Rider is branching out on her own with Bethlyn's Global Fusion Farm to Street Food Truck.
Drawing inspiration from the film The Chef, Rider says she felt constrained by the limitations of the BTBS kitchen (without a gas stove, she says, she couldn't fry, sauté or do quick orders) and was ready to spread her wings.
"I just wanted to branch out on my own," Rider says. "It was time."
So, with encouragement from her good friend and roommate, Locavore Board President Niki Timm, she parked her truck in front of the local food market and began serving her unique mix of world cuisine about two weeks ago.
The location is both convenient—Rider gets most of her ingredients from Locavore and producers that sell to the market—and strategic. First Street is part of the emerging Maker's District, a neighborhood angling for Galveston-esque status with anchor businesses including Humm Kombucha, Natural Edge Furniture, Sara Bella Upcycled, Bend Velo and Gear Peddler.
With Global Fusion, Rider is exploring diverse flavors and textures as well as testing the waters for a possible full-scale restaurant.
"I've seen it done in town and I'm influenced by people like Barrio that started out small," Rider says. "I would like to open a restaurant in a couple years."
She says she first caught the fusion bug while working for Whole Foods, where many of the dishes are inspired by global fare. She also weaves in influences from the decade she spent living in Santa Fe, N.M.
"I have extreme passion to cook international cuisine," Rider explains. "Anything new and exciting I try to grab on to."
Global Fusion's menu is a testament to its name and to Rider's flair for creating unconventional dishes. If dared to take a Top Chef-style taste test challenge, we would have likely failed in identifying the exact flavors and ingredients in the dishes. Fortunately, the mélange of crisp veggies, savory proteins and spicy sauces did not need to be identified to be enjoyed. There was lots of mmmm-ing and "What IS that?!"
For someone who is so well known for her vegetarian cooking, we were floored by Rider's meat preparations, both chicken and steak, with a signature street food punch of house-made sauces.
The Vietnamese Sandwich (which came with a choice of marinated seared tofu, DD Ranch Steak or a daily-rotating local farm protein—we opted for the drool worthy chicken) was topped with carrots, bean sprouts, onions, cucumbers, romaine, cilantro, mint, and peanuts. The kicker was Rider's special Vietnamese sauce, which if we had to guess was a carrot and habanero mixture, spicy and hearty. All loaded on a soft hoagie bun and served with a boatload of crispy fries the meal was both filling and fresh.
The Puerto Rican-style Jibarito sandwich (no, not a burrito, Jibarito is traditionally made with plantains replacing the bread of a sandwich) was overflowing with DD Ranch steak sliced and seared with onions and fried plantains. Stop. Bananas on a sandwich? We were skeptical too, but the fruity morsels added the perfect sturdy sweetness to the balance salty steak topped with jack cheese, lettuce, tomato and garlic. Another epic sauce slathered the sando, a cumin cilantro aioli, one more instance in which Rider's food was a challenge to our palate-brain connection.
The cart is so authentically global that just those first two sandwiches took us 16,372 km around the world. We couldn't place the origin of the corn flake and beer-battered (beer for breakfast forever!!!) fried avocado taco, but it seemed perfectly at home in our mouths. The palm-size hunk of avocado was surprisingly meaty, and the fried coating added a divine textural contrast. Add romaine, sweet pickled onion, salsa, rice and chipotle brown sugar cream sauce and this was one dish we could have easily gorged ourselves on. (Fortunately or unfortunately, the plate of three substantial tacos was perfect for sharing.)
We balanced out our decadent lunch with the tofu salad, which despite resembling a standard Thai restaurant side, was bursting with flavor and easily a meal on its own. The tofu was well marinated, slightly charred, and firm ("Not jiggly-puff at all!" raved our resident tofu skeptic, Brianna Brey). The rice gave it extra oomph, and the spicy peanut sauce had us licking our lips. (We were not at all surprised to learn that Thai is Rider's favorite food to cook.)
With interchangeable protein options and an eminently customizable menu, Rider says every item can be made vegetarian and many can be vegan or gluten free (even the sandwiches). At the request of friends, Rider says she may even offer paleo options before long. Global Fusion is starting strong and sure to only get more interesting with time—and a constantly rotating specials menu. In other words, we may be obligated to try everything on the menu—with an avocado taco on the side, please.