Aph Ko had the privilege of asking Chef Babette a few questions about her personal vegan journey. Chef Babette is a world class healthy chef, fitness expert, motivational speaker and grandmother of two. She's a chemist in the kitchen and is the owner of the healthy soul food restaurant, Stuff I Eat, in downtown Inglewood, California.
Chef Babette tests the boundaries of what can be done in the kitchen without the use of animal products because its an interesting creative and philosophical way of thinking. At the age of 40, a simple change in lifestyle created her fountain of youth. Fueling her body with the nutrients to allow her to continue the active lifestyle and body she proudly displays at the age of 66.
Not only has she guest starred in a episode of HBO's hit series Insecure, she is also an advocate for animal rights. On January 4, 2017, Golden Globe winner Viola Davis praised Chef B as her #WCW seen for her work with Mercy for Animals. Below is our interview with Chef Babette.
BVR: When were you first exposed to veganism and when did you decide that it was the right lifestyle for you? (You can also tell me a little bit about your parents and your family growing up...what was their diet like? How did they raise you? How have they influenced you?
Chef B: Growing up my mother did domestic work and often worked two or three jobs so she had to board us out. When I lived with my Godmother, she was a Seventh-Day Adventist so we ate a vegetarian diet, however, most of the time we did not have fresh food...it was either frozen or in the can, but it was vegetarian. I was first introduced to vegan food twenty-seven years ago when my boyfriend, now current husband, invited me over for dinner. I ate the food and it was delicious and I did not have any of the after meal indigestion issues that normally followed my meals.
BVR: How has your local community reacted to your vegan restaurant?
Chef B: The community has been very welcoming. Who would have thought a vegan restaurant In Inglewood would be successful? We also attract people from other communities who have heard about Stuff I Eat, as well as many people from other countries (Africa, Brazil, London), who come specifically because they either have been here before or heard about if from social media, or word of mouth. We have done no form of advertising and rely on word of mouth and we are now going on our tenth year at the same space.
I can safely say that the welcoming of our restaurant is due to the familiarity of our menu, which even though is vegan, is very tasty filled with foods that people love to eat. For instance, our soul food platter is a delicious rendition of what your mother made but a healthier version, and the fact that a large part of our patrons are not vegans speaks volumes to our food and the fact that a lot of people, if given the chance, would eat healthy if they love the food.
BVR: How has your own vegan journey impacted your family and their food choices? Are any other members in your family vegan?
Chef B: I do believe my journey has been an inspiration to both my friends and family. Because I can still do pushups, run up hills, etc, so people admire my level of energy at 66 years old. My husband, obviously is a vegan, and my daughter has now come around to a healthier/vegan lifestyle. She also specializes in diets and helps others prepare meal plans to suit their health needs.
BVR: Running a restaurant is tough work! What are some of the best moments you've experienced throughout your tenure as a restaurant owner?
Chef B: I think some of the best moments are when we have a restaurant full of happy customers, and most of them are not vegans or vegetarians. Seeing them try and enjoy food out of their comfort zone makes me happy.
BVR: What does vegan soul food mean to you? How would you define it for people who have never heard that term before?
Chef B: Now vegan soul food means a healthy slant on the traditional southern meal. People who have never heard of it, I would say, we no longer have to eat the food knowing down the line there will probably be health repercussions.
BVR: What advice do you have for people who feel like they can't adopt a plant-based diet because they've been eating a certain way for so long and they feel like it's too late to reap any benefits from eating healthy at their age?
Chef B: So here's the advice I would have for anyone, especially someone who has reached the age of forty: I would suggest that they reconsider the way that they nourish themselves, and understand that the older you get, the more important nutrition is in your diet, and it’s never too late to nourish the human body. Also you owe it to yourself, especially when you are battling issues like high-blood pressure and diabetes. Educating yourself is key, because you cannot do or live the same way and expect a different result.
BVR: What does it mean to you when celebrities like Viola Davis publicly celebrate your activism and work?
Chef B: It’s always nice when anyone recognizes and appreciates your contribution. I have respect for Viola Davis and her talent, and the fact that she took time to acknowledge my contribution speaks volumes.
BVR: Who are some of your favorite vegan people? (Are there any musicians, artists, authors, or chefs that you admire?)
Chef B: I really love Erykah Badu, she’s been vegan for a while. I love her expression of her ethnicity and how her artistry and her lifestyle are balanced.
BVR: Tell us what's next for you--you've already accomplished so much and I know you've probably got more lined up. What can we expect from Chef Babette in the coming years?
Chef B: A cookbook series is in the works called Cash In On Cashews, which features desserts made from various nuts. I want to do more guest appearances and eventually have my own lifestyle show.
BVR: Is there anything else that you think the Black Vegans Rock audience should know?
Chef B: I think they should know that Chef Babette, in her attempt to create balance in her own experience, understands and appreciates life, which includes every being on this planet. This journey is not just about myself...it’s about all of us.
Here is a video spotlight on Chef Babette for Mercy for Animals: