A number of guests wondered what his stage presence might be when he’s well-rested. His presentation was vibrant, entertaining, and educational, delivered with evident passion for sustainability and the food justice movement.
In addition to cooking, he talked about his work in eradicating “food deserts” where people — often of color, almost always living in poverty or close to the edge — have little access to healthy food. Dubbed a “cheftivist,” he was named to Ebony magazine’s list of the “Power 100” in 2011 and named by Hillary Clinton as one of 80 American chefs in the new American Chef Corps in 2012.
Chef Bryant emphasizes the importance of “eating real food” and said his goal is “to bring the culture back into agriculture.”
During his demo, Chef Bryant not only cooked but also sang and talked about how he matches music and books to his recipes. During each course, guests were treated to musical selections chosen by the chef.
Though he is identified by most as vegan (his most recent book is “Afro-Vegan”), Chef Bryant eschews the label, which generally connotes “bland, disgusting” food. He does not eat animal products for ethical, economic, and health reasons, but he stressed there is no one “right” diet for everyone.
He gives high importance to cultural foods, however, and uses techniques culled from the African diaspora to produce healthful, delectable dishes. His recipes are inspired by his grandmother’s cooking and the foods he grew up eating.
Chef Bryant’s take on the classic Texas Caviar, which was served here on grilled rustic bread from Della Fattoria, set the tone: flavorful and delicious, an appealing mix of black-eyed peas, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and onions.
He followed with Dandelion Salad with Pecan Dressing, which included sugared pecans and tangerine slices to counterbalance the slight bitterness of the greens. The Republic of Tea, premier sponsor of Fresh Starts Chef Events, provided their dandelion tea.
Focusing on the main course – Tofu Curry with Mustard Greens – Chef Bryant said he dislikes “the old idea of taking a meat recipe and substituting tofu.” Instead, he created a blend of spices to combine with the roasted tofu for a unique dish. As he spoke, students and chefs from Fresh Starts Culinary Academy prepared the recipes for guests.
His biggest surprise was Cocoa-Spice Cake with Ginger & Coconut-Chocolate Ganache. Chef Bryant said, “I love this recipe. Ripe avocado … gives it that creaminess that vegan desserts are often missing.” Judging by the clean plates, all who ate this cake loved it too.
Chef Bryant stressed being creative when cooking, “using what you have on hand. Recipes should be used as a guide.” He generously shared this recipe, which is from his book “Afro-Vegan.” — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos by Neely Wang.
Texas Caviar with Grilled Rustic Bread – Serves 4 to 6
2 whole sun-dried tomatoes, or scant ¼ cup diced sun-dried tomatoes
2/3 cup dried black-eyed peas, sorted and soaked in water overnight
1¾ teaspoons coarse sea salt
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
16 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1½ cups diced seeded heirloom tomatoes, in ¼-inch pieces
1 cup diced green bell pepper, in ¼-inch pieces
½ cup diced yellow bell pepper, in ¼-inch pieces
¼ cup diced red onion, in ¼-inch pieces
2 jalapeño chiles, seeded and diced into ¼-inch pieces
½ cup packed minced cilantro
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large loaf rustic bread, cut into about 12 slices, each ½- to ¾-inch thick
Put the sun-dried tomatoes in a small heatproof bowl and add boiling water to cover. Cover and let soak for 5 minutes.
Drain the black-eyed peas and rinse them well. Transfer to a medium saucepan and add water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium, skim off any foam, and partially cover. Cook until the beans are softening but still firm, 40 to 50 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the salt and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain in a colander, rinse under cold water for 1 minute, and let cool.
Meanwhile, warm the oil in a medium skillet over low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until crispy and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Strain the garlic oil through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and reserve the garlic and the oil separately.
Drain the sun-dried tomatoes, chop finely, and put in a blender. Add the lemon juice, vinegar, and the remaining ¾ teaspoon salt and process until smooth. With the blender running, pour in ¼ cup of the garlic oil in a slow stream and process until creamy.
Transfer the blended mixture to a large bowl. Add the black-eyed peas, tomatoes, green and yellow bell peppers, onion, jalapeños, and half of the cilantro. Stir gently until well combined, then cover and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Season the black-eyed pea mixture with black pepper and, if desired, more salt.
Lightly brush each side of bread with garlic oil, saving any leftover for drizzling. Put the bread on a large baking sheet and bake, without turning, until lightly browned and toasted on top, 6 to 10 minutes. Top each slice with 2 heaping tablespoons of the black-eyed pea mixture. Garnish with a few slices of crispy garlic and a scattering of the remaining cilantro. Drizzle with garlic oil and enjoy.