BRYANT TERRY pretty much wrote the book on vegan soul-food cooking, by which I mean 2009's Vegan Soul Kitchen (Da Capo). Not that there were no well-done guides to vegan soul food out there, but Terry's had a huge impact in mainstream and vegan worlds - and on Takia McClendon.
About the book that the New York Times said "makes Southern cooking healthy and cool," McClendon related in a phone interview that "it was my first cookbook as a vegan!" Terry, she said, is "someone who really taught me how to cook," inspiring her efforts to connect her community with soul food that tastes great but omits the health, environmental and ethical downsides of traditional fare.
So when Terry reached out with an idea to collaborate on a Philadelphia book-signing, McClendon was eager to make it work.
He's coming here to promote the new Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed (Ten Speed Press), and the event, hosted by McClendon's Uptown Soul Food, will be a sit-down dinner at Germantown's Soup Factory Studio on April 28.
McClendon launched Uptown Soul Food in 2011 with a mission "to serve fresh, creative, plant-based cuisine while celebrating and upholding traditional African-American culinary history."
In addition to meal-planning and catering, an Uptown series of "pop-up" restaurant events at the now-closed Wired Beans Cafe featured vegan versions of comfort foods such as chicken sandwiches and macaroni and cheese.
At next week's supper, "vegetables are more central to the menu," McClendon said. She laughed when I referenced the upscale restaurant Vedge and said that, while no one will confuse this food with Rich Landau's cooking, it is an endeavor "to introduce high-quality, plant-based food to people who are not going to Vedge or HipCityVeg."
All the dishes will be from Afro-Vegan, such as a mustard-greens salad with an oil-free vinaigrette.
"Mustard greens are often used in soul food," McClendon said, "but African-Americans tend to cook 'em to death."
Here, the bitter tang of the greens is balanced by strong flavors of garlic, yellow onion, tomato paste and hot-pepper vinegar, so that while "the greens are a key ingredient, they wind up taking more of a background role."
This kind of reinvention of soul-food cuisine is Terry's signature. His creations appeal because he's remixing "flavors and spices traditionally associated with African-American cooking" rather than simply swapping in "a 'chick'n burger from Gardein or something," McClendon said.
She has other supper clubs in mind for later in the year, bringing in local chefs to "cook plant-based versions of their favorite dishes," and Uptown Soul Food will be expanding its cooking classes and food demonstrations around Germantown. For now, though, she's concentrating on creating a fantastic event next Monday with Terry.
It's a logical collaboration: Terry's creations tie together distinct cuisines from the African diaspora, "tracing their history and giving them cultural context," as his bio notes, and "building community around the food we prepare and eat."
Bringing together people from around Germantown (and foodies from around Philadelphia) to bond on issues of food justice, healthy eating and all-around deliciousness, McClendon is doing likewise.
V for VeganFest: I'll be appearing at VeganFest 2014, starting at noon Saturday at Weavers Way Mount Airy, Carpenter Lane and Greene Street. Come and join me for some vegan fun!