By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter
I love to cook.
In fact, there are few things in life that relax me more than when I have the opportunity to take my time and cook the things that I love for the people I love. And I like to show off the finished products, especially when I cook on the grill. Anyone who has been on my Facebook page over the years knows this to be true.
My Facebook timeline provides evidence of me grilling 12 months out of the year, from the sweltering dog days of summer, to the middle of the winter with snow falling. Nothing can stop me from having a tailgate party when the mood strikes me, even if I’m the only person invited. I do it all: lamb, steak, brats, dogs burgers, chicken and of course, the world famous grilled smoked salmon.
But, even a proud meathead like me, even at age 55, can change.
So, in recent years I’ve been immersing my metaphorical big toe into the ever burgeoning ocean of veganism. Now, don’t get me wrong I don’t embrace all the politics connected to the expansive vegan universe (and I don’t knock those who do). But, honestly politics has been ubiquitous in my life since I was a boy and I have no appetite (pun intended) to mix it with my food.
At this point my exploration of veganism is simply about my health, which is good. And I want to keep it that way.
My first real exposure to vegan food was through The Land of Kush, the vegan soul food restaurant on Eutaw Street, which has become one of the city’s vegan institutions especially in the Black community. Land of Kush is owned by Chef Gregory Brown and his wife Naijah Wright-Brown. Naijah is also co-founder of Vegan SoulFest, which is described as “Baltimore’s premier vegan festival.” My experience thus far with Baltimore’s Black vegan community has been really nice, I’ve met some genuinely lovely people.
But, to make it plain the reason I really became interested in veganism is because the food at the Land of Kush is delicious, it’s as simple as that. My experience with the Browns and their restaurant quite frankly exploded a lot of myths that I believed about vegan food. The biggest one being that it was generally not so delicious. In fact, my trips to Land of Kush (which is only a few minutes from where I live) really gave me the feeling that I was indulging in something decadent (not an adjective typically attached to veganism). But, the food is that damn tasty.
Although I still hold it down for Land of Kush, my girlfriend recently introduced me to a new vegan spot, called Dodah’s Kitchen, located on Charles Street (they also have a location in Mt. Rainier). And the food at Dodah’s is also incredibly tasty. I typically get the “pepper steak,” with collard greens and “seafood mac and cheese,” and I smash it everytime like it’s the first time. I’ve tried other entrees and they’re all dope, really.
Dodah’s is owned by a multicultural trio of friends and the food is inspired by the cooking of one of the co-owner’s Janice Cheaver, a Black woman who grew up near Miami.
Cheaver, who co-owns Dodah’s with Edwin Lottie (who is Afro-Panamanian)and Gary Feld (who is Jewish American), is the eldest of 10 children and apparently helped her mother cook traditional soul food, pork, chicken, fish, etc. However, when she was 15 she and her family became African Hebrew Israelites, and they gave up eating animals. Her family actually moved to Israel and lived in the African Hebrew Israel community where Cheaver remained for 30 years. And that’s where she crafted many of the vegan recipes featured at Dodah’s.
As I alluded to earlier, my initial exploration of vegan food was all about maintaining great health as I get older, cutting back on red meat and dairy. But, the unexpected deliciousness of the cuisine at the Land of Kush and Dodah’s Kitchen has compelled me to delve more deeply into veganism.
And not so long ago it seemed impossible that I would contemplate giving up meat totally, but what seemed impossible now has become very plausible. I’ve virtually given up dairy already. Not sure if I’ll ever give up seafood. Being from West Baltimore I can’t imagine giving up crabs and crab cakes. And given the fact that I’ve perfected the World Famous Grilled Smoked Salmon, I can’t see letting that go either.
But, the inescapable, beautiful truth for me and this improbable vegan journey I find myself on is I’ve discovered a plethora of delicious soul food. And when I eat it my body literally feels better, which makes it the most authentic and fulfilling soul food I’ve ever experienced.