While only three percent of Americans are vegan, the numbers in the African American community tell a different story: more than twice as many, eight percent to be exact, maintain a vegan lifestyle. From plant-based twists on classic soul food dishes to nutrient-dense powerhouse recipes, we’re highlighting eight Black vegan chefs and restaurant owners who know exactly how to tempt our taste buds. Whether you stop by their cafes, purchase their cookbooks, or simply follow their Instagram accounts, you’re sure to learn a few new tricks and techniques to take back to your own kitchen.
In her quest to heal her own poor health, at age 18 Sepsenahki Aahkhu, better known as Chef Ahki, transitioned to a plant-based diet. But it wasn’t only eschewing animal byproducts that turned her health around — she also maintains an “electric,” or alkaline diet. Why? She believes disease can flourish in an acidic environment. Ahki, who was raised by four generations of medicine women, also avoids hybrid (manmade) foods (such as seedless grapes and watermelon, carrots, and white potatoes) and instead chooses leafy greens, asparagus and bok choy. This busy mom and food activist resides in Atlanta and is the author of, “Electric: A Modern Guide to Non-Hybrid & Wild Foods,” a book of recipes inspired by her studies as a naturopath and a Choctaw native of Oklahoma.
Few people love sweet potatoes as much as Jenné Claiborne, who grew up in Atlanta devouring candied yams and sweet potato pie. In her younger years, she avoided most fruits and vegetables in favor of processed, store-bought treats and fast food. Upon becoming vegan to help stop the exploitation of animals, Claiborne also managed to heal her digestion issues, acne, clinical depression and fatigue. Her cookbook, “Sweet Potato Soul,” features 100 vegan recipes steeped in southern cooking traditions, such as Bootylicious Gumbo, jalapeno hush puppies and sweet potato cinnamon rolls. You’ll also find 15-minute meals and some soul food recipes — including black-eye pea gumbo and vegan cornmeal buttermilk biscuits — on her website, Sweet Potato Soul.
With a degree from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts (read: trained in cooking with meat and butter), chef Charity Morgan is passionate about health, nutrition and introducing others to living a plant-based lifestyle — something that’s relatively new to her and her family. She now provides vegan meal preparation for a dozen NFL players at the Tennessee Titans practice facility (her husband, Derrick Morgan, is a former linebacker who gave up meat and dairy to improve his athletic performance). Morgan’s goal is to make it easier for anyone wishing to transition from animal products to a plant-based diet by providing easy-to-follow recipes that are rich in nutrition and flavor.
Angela Means Kaaya
Yes, she’s the one, the only, “Bye Felicia!” actress from the cult classic “Friday” — but these days, iconic comedian Angela Means is also known for her vegan café, Jackfruit Café, in Los Angeles. Why? Kaaya says veganism “saved her” from poor health. She believes food is medicine for her body, spirit and soul and wants more people to add “living foods” into their lives. She’s taken all the comforts of soul food and made them healthy, transforming jackfruit and cauliflower into meat-like dishes even nonvegans mistake for the real thing. Menu favorites include jackfruit tacos, smothered fries, and a Super Soul Bowl filled with jackfruit, cauliflower wings, mac and cheese, cabbage, beans, grilled plantain and cornbread.
Plant-based for 30 years now, Atlanta-based Chef Afya Ibomu is a holistic nutritionist who gave up meat and dairy when a doctor suggested it could help with the asthma, allergies, IBS and chronic dehydration she suffered from as a child. Spoiler: it did. Years later, she introduced her husband to the lifestyle, which healed his gout. Ibomu is the author of several vegan cookbooks, including, “The Vegan Soul Food Guide to the Galaxy,” which offers delicious and nutritious versions of such classics as Buffalo wings, sweet potato pie and corn bread without white sugar or white flour. Her fourth book, The Vegan Remix, was named one of the best vegan cookbooks of the year by Vegetarian Times magazine.
On a mission to heal the world with deliciously satisfying tasty plant-based foods, chef Stacey Dougan is owner and CEO at Simply Pure Vegan Café in downtown Las Vegas. Dougan’s passion for gourmet vegan and raw foods stems from successfully using them to cure her own eczema and candida health issues. Her popular menu offerings include fresh-pressed juices, grilled paninis, street tacos and lasagna. Good news for anyone living in Sin City: Simply Pure not only offers dining at Container Park on Fremont Street, personal chef services and catering but also be on the lookout for its new weekend food truck (on the corner of Fremont Street and 9 Street).
Aisha “Pinky” Cole
Growing up in a hardworking Jamaican household in Baltimore, Aisha “Pinky” Cole had a flair for entrepreneurship from an early age. She moved to Atlanta for college, became a vegan in 2014, and then opened Slutty Vegan, a plant-based burger joint so tasty that patrons happily line up down the block for hours to wait their turn. She started her brand to fill the void of vegan comfort food in Atlanta and now cooks up burgers with saucy names like One Night Stand, Ménage A Trois, Sloppy Toppy, Fussy Hussy, Big Dawg and Hollywood Hooker. Cole hopes to franchise her business so every American has an opportunity to indulge in a healthy twist on a classic dish.
A lifelong vegan who has never tasted meat because his mother converted the family to a vegan lifestyle before he was even born, Ayinde Howell is a chef and actor who started a café in 1999 in Seattle that featured sandwiches and soul food. Howell is the owner of I Eat Grass, LLC, and creator of its signature product Mac & Yease — the vegan mac and cheese now sold at select Whole Foods locations that’s inspired by the traditional dish his great-grandmother would bake for Sunday family dinners. Plus, he’s cooked for many celebrities, including India Arie, Alicia Silverstone, Russell Simmons, Erykah Badu, and Jidenna. Howell is the author of “The Lusty Vegan: A Cookbook and Relationship Manifesto for Vegans and Those Who Love Them,” featuring such recipes as habanero portobello fajitas, Tuscan 12-vegetable soup with savory biscuits, and crispy spring rolls.