Bryant Terry has established himself as one of the most influential chefs and food justice activists in this country.
From his ground breaking collaboration with Anna Lappé, Grub, to his two more recent books, Vegan Soul Kitchen and Inspired Vegan, Terry has not only continued advancing his argument that soul food is also healthy food, but more importantly, it is a fundamental human right that everyone have access to real food. A highly sought after speaker at colleges and universities, Terry can more often than not be found plying his trade alongside a host of community based organizations with which he works to help eradicate this nation’s vast array of food deserts. We recently caught up to get Terry’s take on his latest ventures, and of course, music.
You were recently featured prominently in Byron Hurt’s Soul Food Junkies. Can you say a little about how this collaboration came about?
You know it’s funny, I think I was one of the first funders of the film. A wealthy friend of mine gave me a chunk of money a few years ago to give away to organizations and individuals working around health and food issues. Byron and I are Facebook friends, and he posted that he was working on a new documentary about soul food. I immediately had a check cut to support his film. I don’t know if he remembers that I hooked it up, though, since the check came from my friend’s family foundation. Simply put, I bought my way onto the film (joke).
You’re referred to as everything from a food activist, a vegan, a writer, etc. They’re all parts of what you do, but how much do you think these various tags define who you are?
I’m inspired by multitalented Black men like Paul Robeson, Romare Bearden, andGordon Parks, but one of my major inspirations is the late Edna Lewis. In addition tobeing an accomplished chef and author of four cookbooks, she was a radical politicalactivist, a seamstress well-known for her African-inspired dresses, and a mentor toyounger chefs. I want to be like those elders–exploding with creativity and working tobetter humanity in the process. None of those titles fully capture the complexity of whoI am striving to be in this world. I saw early on that there are so many expectations thatI perform being a “food activist,” a “vegan soul chef” a “cookbook author,” and I feelmore freedom just calling myself a creative person. Yet, I understand that those titlescan be useful in framing what I do.
As you near the completion of your fourth book, can you give us a snapshot of what that book’s about, and how it relates to your previous work, and your evolution as a chef and author?
I’m really excited about my forthcoming book, Afro-Vegan, which will be published next
spring. I feel like all my previous books were preparing me to write this one. I have a
new publisher (Ten Speed/Random House), and this will be my first full-color,
hardback book. It is primarily inspired by visual artist Romare Bearden and approaches
cooking as collage–cutting, pasting, and remixing staples, flavor profiles, and classic
dishes of the African Diaspora.
It’s not everyday that a vegan soul chef ends up featured in a national ad
campaign for a car? What led you to deciding to work with Scion?
Someone sent me a casting call for the campaign. They wanted to feature real individuals who turned their passion into their life’s work, and I had to compete against hundreds of people for 1 of 3 spots. I’m happy with the campaign. It gave me the opportunity to highlight my work in addition to the work of many of my friends and colleagues, and I loved showing off the beauty of Oakland. In the end, everybody wins: they promoted their car, I got paid, and my book sales have spiked over the past few weeks. And no I did not get to keep the car.
Ok, this one is a two-part question, you’re a chef who loves LOVES!!! music have you ever considered a collaboration with Raekwon the Chef, or another musical gourmand? And you know we gotta ask, but what are you
listening to now?
It would be a dream come true to collaborate with MF DOOM. He is probably my
favorite MC of all time, and his MM.. FOOD lp (filled with food-related lyrics and
samples) is sick. I would love to make a meal on two portable burners set up as if they
were turntables while he is performing that album live at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
The past few weeks while writing and testing recipes I have been playing Portishead and
Benga in the background. I have been bumping Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d
city a lot when my daughter is not around, and I just discovered this kid Joey Bada$$
from Brooklyn. I’m excited about this generation of MCs.
In the car, we listen to my daughter’s favorite lp, Back to School: The Remix by Alphabet
Rockers. It’s good.
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