Welcome to our guest writers from Once You Go Vegan. I met this lovely family on Saturday morning at the Durham Farmer’s Market selling the most amazing donuts – and they were vegan! It turned out they had extensive culinary experience at some of my favorite DC restaurants. But how the move from southern soul food to veganism? We’re delighted to hear about their culinary perspective (true artists!), food as an expression of love (and marriage & children!), and journey to veganism. Welcome!
I have learned that the paths of life are as varied as the people in them. We can never fully dictate what happens in life although we can choose our response to it. A question that we frequently receive is “Why are you vegan?” To many, our elusive answer given is incomprehensible justification for what many view as an extreme lifestyle. Extreme in comparison to the standard American fare that has literally been crammed down our throats since we were children. This fare is quite often considered normal thus making our way of life abnormal to many. We have now become the family that everyone is hesitant to invite to their social gatherings because “Whatever will they eat?”. Before we became a socially ostracized couple we were living in the Nations capitol working to change the world through non-profit and still pay the bills eating the standard American fare with the fast paced lifestyle that has come to be known as the American way.
Our first meeting occurred during this period where she was a graduate intern with the same passion for changing the world that I possess. By night I would work at fine dining restaurants. During my tenure, I’ve had the fortune of working in some of the finest dining establishments DC had to offer such as B. Smith’s and Georgia Brown’s. It was here that I truly began to understand the misunderstood passion of the Chef. I remember how serious they would take their dishes both in presentation, flavor and consistency. I remember watching Rock Harper working on his craft as a sous chef before he went on to become recognized on an international level through the show Hell’s Kitchen.
Having fashioned myself an artist through various mediums, I came to understand that food was their artistic expression as their dish became their muse. I understood that to an
artist, a misrepresentation of their art is an unforgivable act. Conversely to have it fully appreciated the way in which it was intended meant everything. I remember a Chef once
preparing a dish specifically for a high priced clientele that had come to the restaurant I was working. After carefully crafting the dish I observed as he watched its delivery to the
table while scrutinizing their expressions as they sampled the course. He was watching for reaction in the same way as the jazz musician looks over his horn as his fingers
fervently pressing upon the keys at unfathomable speed, the basketball player that has less than two minutes on the clock, down by five but feeling the pulse of the crowd chant
in either opposition or support, the ballet dancer with every muscle contracted as she completes her pirouette before her final climatic move on the closing night of the show
that she spent her life in preparation for. This was art. The Chef was an artist.
I began to practice many of the dishes that I would see them make and tailor making it to fit my preference and palate. During this time as a bachelor it would be one of my great
joys to open up the windows letting the natural light illuminate my space, turning on some jazz, sipping on an exclusive bottle of wine with incense lit and oven burners on.
While dating, you allow the other person to slowly be introduced to your world in layers. Our revelation to one another came in artistic layers. The first time she heard me speak at
a poetry open mic event, the first time she drew me a sketch and the first time I cooked for her. All was meant to reveal differing aspects of ourselves that may not necessarily
come out in conversation. We were learning each other and making decisions that would alter our life paths. I viewed my cooking for her as a defining moment. It was the first
time that she would be coming into my space and was the culmination of a beautiful courting period. I knew what I wanted and I viewed the dish as being my means for
I prepared her a cedar plank Tilapia dish inspired from my time working at Georgia Brown’s. I broiled some Tilapia, serving it over seasoned coconut milk grits sautéed
with onion and corn in an olive oil white wine sauce finishing it with cranberry chutney. I wouldn’t quite define it as a culinary masterpiece but it achieved its purpose and she
became my life partner.
Becoming vegan was a path we were considering although it wasn’t until the birth of our first child together that it was first truly manifest. Our daughter would be stricken with
skin problems throughout her infancy. In our many attempts to ascertain the cause and provide relief to her incessant scratching we had a food allergy test done. To our surprise
she was found to be allergic to soy, wheat, dairy, nuts, shellfish, eggs and a host of other foods that were constants in our diet. Our life would forever be changed along with our
diet. In the beginning we would make one dish for ourselves and then a separate dish for her. This didn’t last long before Abena decided to make a dish that we could enjoy
collectively allowing our daughter to experience the social aspect of sharing a dish with others. She lacked this luxury in school where her peers ate very differently than herself.
The development of gluten free and soy free vegan dishes often resulted in culinary disasters that we would begrudgingly eat. The dishes that were able to survive the rigorous testing process of our household were eventually transitioned to events outside of our home. Our true control group became our daughter’s classmates. We knew if we could make gluten free, soy free vegan desert for kids then we were accomplished. We began to refine our deserts and dishes. We would continue our refining process until we could make virtually any “mainstream desert” and make it taste comparable to its traditional counterpart. Our initial dishes would be made with a southern flair although we soon started to incorporate international spices and flavorings.
In time, our social invites increased. We would soon be able to alleviate the angst our friends would experience. We would be able to respond to their “Should we make you a salad or something?” with the words “No worries…we will bring a dish to share”. In time, it became “Hey can you make one of those vegan dishes?”
Surely, some of the truly unifying moments of our society are played out around a dining table of some sort. Around these tables we are able to introduce others into our world and
experience. With food as with life we find when you approach a dish or situation with an open mind and open heart you can discover richness previously unfound. The daring that
would try our dishes were pleasantly surprised to find they could enjoy vegan cuisine.
We had found our muse.
The reaction to our dishes is still humbling. Our love has gone full circle for we are now able to share with others what initially started as an act of love for our children. We have learned that the paths of life are as varied as the people in them. Whichever path chosen possesses beauty for those aware that life is lived in the seemingly insignificant moments. The piece of art adored a moving melodic rendition or even an exquisite dish. The moments that make life living. We look forward to continuing to share our vegan delights with others for all great things first begin with a moment of inspiration.
As with food as with life.
Willing you peace upon your path!
K. Divine and Abena Bediako