Adjoa Courtney, better known as Chef Joya, is redefining the rules of veganism, one recipe at a time. She entered into the plant-based world at the young age of seven. This equipped her with the knowledge and exclusive skill set to take veganism to new heights.

She is an award-winning celebrity chef and the author of four plant-based cook books. She has developed vegan recipes which range from the delicious flavors of Soul Food to the rich tastes of Afro-Caribbean cuisine. Through her recipes, Joya proves that plant-based diets do not have to lack flavor, nor does the transition into veganism have to be a difficult one. Just ask her celebrity clientele which includes the likes of Jazmine Sullivan, Fantasia, Mo’Nique, John Salley and Tabitha Brown.

Because of Joya’s undeniable level of innovation and ever-lasting ability to address the needs of her audience, she has over hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. Users watch in amazement and delight of every recipe that she shares.

Read as Chef Joya shares the biggest mistake that she sees many people make when they’re transitioning into veganism, the best way to adjust one’s grocery shopping habits to the lifestyle change, an easy recipe that’s perfect for the upcoming summer season and more!

Jadriena Solomon: You’ve been a vegan since the age of seven. What initially sparked that lifestyle change for you and your family? 

Chef Joya: The initial lifestyle change happened when my mother literally came home one day and said that we were going to be vegan. My dad was borderline diabetic at the time, and because he’s not one for Western medicine, he decided to instead change his diet. I was seven years old, I had no choice and that’s where it really began. 

I did that up until my teenage years and then I started dabbling. I went off the vegan journey, up until about four years ago, and then I came back to it.

JS: That’s a perfect lead into my next question. I was curious as to how you were able to initially transition your mind to adopt veganism so well, and then stay on that dedicated path?

CJ: It was horrible back then. You have to imagine thirty years ago, being vegan – they’re just now coming out with really good products. 

Although it was really bad back then, what I do appreciate now, especially within my career, is that I know how to make a lot of things from scratch. I know how to make a lot of things that people don’t even know exist, because back then we had very limited options. My family also spent a lot of time in different cultural markets – because a lot of other countries have plant based options incorporated into their dishes and cuisine. And those are the markets that my parents used to shop a lot in for food. So that background actually helped me a lot in my present career path. 

JS: Wow. So what made you decide to return to veganism? 

CJ: When I went into business in 2017 as a personal chef, I went in wanting to  challenge people to try being vegan for thirty days. I would always hear that being vegan is nasty and it was difficult to find really good food. My parents were still vegan as well, and when we would go out to restaurants, I saw that the options that they had were really limited. 

We completed the challenge in thirty days and once I did it, I just decided to stay on it. The first couple weeks were challenging but after that I was fine because I realized that I was just dealing with FOMO.

JS: You experiment with a lot of different cultural flavors in your food and you strive for your recipes to serve as a reminder to those that are transitioning, that they can still enjoy, and indulge in, their meals. Which I think is something that a lot of people struggle with when they transition. What mistakes do you see people make when they’re switching over to veganism that makes it more difficult for them to be successful?

CJ: One of the biggest mistakes that people make is thinking that they have to buy everything organic, and at a high price – just overspending. And not really knowing what they’re going to do with the items that they’re buying. They see a couple recipe videos on the internet, and buy the same items over and over and what happens is that it becomes repetitive and they end up getting bored or giving up. 

And then on the other end of that, I’ll see people buying a whole bunch of processed food, like vegan burgers, tacos and hot dogs. And that’s okay when you’re first learning, but at the same time they’re also not going to be able to maintain that – their sodium levels are going to go through the roof. And it can ultimately just lead to other health issues. 

 

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JS: On the flip side of people that are open to trying veganism, are people that are completely against it and don’t see it as a possible option for themselves. What are some health benefits that you’ve noticed throughout your time being vegan, or that you’ve seen in your clients? And why should it be something that the Black community embraces more? 

CJ: Speaking to the Black community specifically, first and foremost, cholesterol issues are huge. So it definitely helps to see a decrease in that. And then with veganism, it forces you to still be conscious about your health and what you’re eating. So if you’re diabetic, you still don’t want to consume too much sugar, or too many natural sugars. You still have to watch out for all these things. 

But also within our community, it forces us to take a healthier approach overall, and then indulge in not-so-healthy options every now and again. And that actually helps with over-indulging and ultimately, avoiding high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol – all the diseases that really hang around in our community.

JS: Right. So in your opinion, what is vegan life really about? What are the things that people don’t speak about enough when it comes to veganism? 

CJ: The thing about it is that vegan life is personal to each individual, everybody has a different journey. Everybody has a different reason for why they’re doing it. The general rule of veganism is to abstain from any animal consumption but everybody really is doing it for something different. It could be the person that needs to do it for health reasons, the person who doesn’t want to eat meat anymore, or it could be for the person who’s environmentally conscious. And my reason for continuing to do it is because of the way I see that my journey has inspired others. 

It’s what keeps me on my journey, it’s the biggest fuel. People like to see some of the healthy stuff, but they don’t come to my page for just that. They want to  see the foods that they miss. They still want to enjoy those treats. So when they do feel like having something fried, or they want something that’s familiar, they know that they can come to my page and see it done correctly and know that it’s going to be familiar and taste great. 

I’ve built that trust through social media – to help people indulge, to help them make that transition, to know what products and recipes to use – and that’s the most awesome thing ever. 

 

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JS: Yes, it has to be. And I love that you bring up the uniqueness of your recipes and how it makes you feel. One of your recipes that surprised and excited me the most was your vegan curry goat. What is one vegan recipe that you’ve learned that’s actually surprised you? 

CJ: It’s my vegan bone marrow. That one is something I do for very special events, I haven’t done it on the internet at all yet. 

I remember going to a restaurant one day, excited to get it, and when I got there they didn’t have it. And I was so disappointed. So I literally went home that night and I looked at pictures of what bone marrow looked like and I watched a couple of videos on YouTube about how people made regular bone marrow – because at the time there weren’t any vegan recipes. 

So once I got an idea of what it was supposed to look like, I went and grabbed a vegetable and pretty much recreated it. I figured out how to season it and get those flavors in there, and it was perfect – it was dead on.

JS: Wow. That sounds cool. So you have your own YouTube channel called “Say What? It’s Vegan!” where you showcase all of your recipes. And you’re also the host of “Vegan On A Budget” which is a weekly online cooking show with Compare Foods. What are some grocery shopping tips that you would recommend to someone who wants to transition into veganism, but doesn’t want to break the bank?

CJ: You want to make sure you have your list. And then you also want to have items that you can be versatile with – I always say, you want to make sure you have things like your grains, your produce items. And if you’re a busy person, there’s nothing wrong with frozen food. That’s a big misconception that people have. They think they have to buy everything fresh. But if you’re busy, there’s no point in having all your greens and vegetables spoiled. So it’s okay to buy frozens items. 

Then also looking for those different replacements – I don’t know where the chickens are going, but they’re scarce. So you can try making something like a Portella mushroom. You definitely want to learn about your produce goods, get an idea of the right grains and oils for you to use. And pretty much make a list of that, and your replacements. 

Substituting with chickpeas is great as well. It can be made in so many different ways –  you could turn into something that tastes like tuna or you can use it to make Buffalo chicken wraps, and all sorts of different things like that. 

The biggest thing to remember when shopping is to be versatile and be open minded. 

JS: Wow. That’s solid advice. And I feel like when people try transitioning, it’s always looked at like this all-or-nothing, rushed type of approach. 

CJ: Yes, and I tell people this too – ease your way into it. Some people think they have to go and get rid of their entire refrigerator and that’s not what you want to do.  You need to have a plan so that you’re ready for what’s about to happen and not just going off of what other people say. Otherwise, a disaster is sure to happen. 

Start by replacing those meals that you enjoy. If you like spaghetti often, figure out the best way to replace that. If you want to use something like Beyond or Impossible Meat, I don’t have anything against that. Or if you want to use lentils or walnuts, that works as well. Just don’t forget to figure out those replacements and don’t be scared to season your food. 

JS: So of course we’re just a couple months away from summer and you have the perfect recipe book to make sure that we’re still eating good and eating healthy called It’s Sizzlin’ Baby: Chef Joya’s Ultimate Vegan Cookout Guide. Could you share with our readers one recipe from the book that would be a great vegan option for the summer? 

CJ: This is one of my favorites, it’s called a Chorizo Smoked Cabbage. 

It calls for the head of cabbage. And then you use some vegan chorizo – you can easily make that with some sazon and vegan brown meat, or you could actually just go to Trader Joe’s and get their vegan chorizo.

And then you’ll use a Cajun spice, or you can use my red house seasonings from my Seasoning Bundle, which will go really well on that. Next, you use a tablespoon of grape seed oil and add some vegan butter. Then, clean your cabbage, cut the core out, stuff it, season it, top it with your vegan butter and wrap it in foil. 

Place it in the oven at 250 degrees for about four hours, and when you take it you have the most amazing thing – and it’s so good! 

Keep up with Chef Joya, her recipes, and services by heading over to her website at www.cookingwithjoya.com!

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