Philly-style cheesesteak wit Wiz on HBO is a vegan jawn made in Delaware
A cheesesteak with Wiz on HBO's new "Mare of Easttown" limited murder series isn't exactly what it seems.
Small-town Delaware County, Pennsylvania, detective Mare Sheehan, played by Kate Winslet, seems to be biting into Philadelphia's beloved signature chopped steak sandwich blanketed with oozy neon yellow Cheez Whiz.
But what she actually eats is a vegan version that was made in Delaware.
What kind of jawn is this?
Call it a Delco don't — or just a little Hollywood magic.
The plant-based sandwich – well, actually more like 50 sandwiches – was made by Kristen Jackson Bowen, who with her husband, Milton, ran the now-closed Wilmington vegan restaurant V-Trap Kitchen & Lounge that operated in the city's Little Italy neighborhood.
Bowen also made Winslet vegan hoagies. (Calling them subs is a Delaware thing.)
Bowen said in about the fall of 2019, a few months before the coronavirus pandemic began, she got a call out of the blue at her then-operating Wilmington restaurant.
The woman on the line had an unusual request. She said she worked with actress Kate Winslet and needed plant-based versions of Philly-style cheesesteaks for an HBO series filming in nearby Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, and parts of Chester and Delaware counties.
Winslet, who would be eating the sandwiches, has long said no to meat.
"I'm vegetarian and my husband is vegan, so there’s a lot of plant-based focus in our home," she told InStyle magazine in a 2018 interview.
Bowen said the Hollywood connection and request took her off guard: "I was a little star-struck and also thought, 'Is this a real call?'"
After a few weeks of "chit-chatting" with people associated with the HBO series, Bowen said she first made about 24 cheesesteaks for the set "so they could do multiple takes."
Winslet eats "cheesesteaks" twice in the first episode of the series that debuted April 18 on HBO and streams on HBO Max.
The series has gotten good reviews from Delaware County residents for Winslet's dedication to nailing the local dialect. Using local colloquialisms, she says "wooder" for water and is seen clutching a cup of Wawa coffee.
Bowen never talked to Winslet but did hear the actress was very specific about her preferences and did not want the usual V-Trap plant-based cheesesteak.
Winslet wanted her "cheesesteak" witout – that's Philly dialect for no onions, no peppers. "That's not normally how we would make it," Bowen said, but she was told Winslet doesn't like peppers or onions.
"It was super basic and plain."
Bowen said she made the "cheesesteak" with chopped Impossible Burger, a plant-based food that looks and cooks like meat, along with a cheese sauce that Bowen blended with a variety of plant-based ingredients and seasonings.
Bowen packed the "meat" in one pan and the "cheese" sauce in another pan. She also included freshly baked rolls delivered from the Philadelphia-based Amoroso's Baking Co. Someone on the set put the sandwiches together.
"I didn't want it to be soggy and disgusting while [Winslet] was eating it," Bowen said.
About six months ago, Bowen got another call for more cheesesteaks. The series had apparently resumed filming after being shut down due to COVID-19.
Bowen made another two dozen "cheesesteaks" and also filled a request for plant-based "hoagies." They also were plain with little more than lettuce and tomato.
"We didn't normally sell hoagies at V-Trap," Bowen said, but she shopped in local markets and put together a mix of plant-based cold cuts that were made with beans, chickpeas and lentils.
Bowen said she had to make a large number of sandwiches, with the ingredients all packed separately, because scenes are shot several times.
"They wanted like 20 to 24 of them because [Winslet] takes a bite and then just throws them away. It's kind of crazy."
Bowen said she isn't sure why the HBO crew came to Delaware and didn't select a Pennsylvania-based restaurant or deli to make the faux hoagies and cheesesteaks.
A message left with WarnerMedia, which owns HBO, was not immediately returned.
"I did say, 'Why did you choose us?'' Bowen said. "And the woman said, 'I don't know. I just found you through Google and looked at your food.'"
Bowen said she didn't charge extra for the food.
"It was our typical pricing per sandwich," she said. "It was just something fun to do. It was like a mini-catering event."
Dining restrictions due to the coronavirus have devastated Delaware's restaurant industry. V-Trap Kitchen & Lounge closed its doors permanently in May 2020 after more than a year in operation.
Kristen and Milton Bowen also no longer operate Nude Food-On-The-Go, a vegan/vegetarian food truck that catered to those with special dietary needs or preferences.
Bowen said the vegan cheesesteaks and hoagies can be savored now only on the small screen while viewers watch "Mare of Easttown." She and her husband are no longer cooking or selling vegan dishes.
"I did a few pop-ups," Bowen said, but now she is only coaching clients on healthy living and eating. "It's been really nice and relaxing. I like the one-on-one."
Bowen said she never talked to Winslet, but she did send her some V-Trap Kitchen & Lounge sweatshirts. So far, the actress hasn't been photographed wearing the clothing.