From early experimentation in the kitchen to blogging about her journey of eating purposefully plant-based, chef and educator Bree Smith’s relationship with cooking has always been about transformation. “An alchemist is a person who transforms or creates something through a seemingly magical process,” Smith explains. “By definition, that is exactly what I do. I take what I have and create food that will make you rethink everything you ever thought about food.”
Think mac and cheese needs dairy to be creamy, or that comfort and health food can’t be synonymous? Think again. Smith takes meat substitutes like jackfruit or cashew-based cheese sauces and incorporates them into wholesome, familiar reinterpretations of the food she grew up with. “I love to show the versatility of vegetables and make them palatable for even the pickiest eaters – like my eight-year-old!” she says. “I love to experiment with tastes, textures, temperatures, and colors.”
For Smith, the culinary seed was planted at a young age as she grew up helping her Nana at the stove and was enthralled by the likes of Julia Child, Jacques Pépin, and an arsenal of other PBS cooking personalities. When she took to developing her own creations at 11, her mother helped her seek out the niche cooking tools and ingredients she saw on TV. “I even found a real wok with all of the fixin’s at a yard sale for $1,” Smith recalls. “At the time, I had no idea how life-changing that purchase would be.”
Now, under the title of The Afro Indigenous Vegan, Smith curates Sunday Suppers for delivery, caters events, and can be found popping up around Providence with plant-based versions of soul food. Along with frequent menu staples like collard greens and BBQ pulled jackfruit (which has a texture that rivals the best prepared pork), Smith uses a combination of whatever produce is in season and ingredients she finds at local cultural markets to concoct new recipes. “I try to make the meal cohesive from soup course to dessert, so you have what we refer to as ‘The AI Vegan Experience’,” says Smith, an experience that defines “comfort” broadly across individual preferences and cultural influences.
Smith’s journey started as a personal one, relearning the foods she loved through a vegan context, but now she says the meals she most enjoys making are the ones her customers ask for, entrusting her to take their favorite food and work her alchemy on it. “Making plant-based foods from different cultures allows people to see that eating plant-based doesn’t mean leaving your favorites behind,” says Smith. “That opens a whole new world for many people, especially BIPOC who feel as if eating vegan is unfamiliar and inaccessible.” Follow @the_afro_indigenous_vegan on Instagram for menus or visit TheAIVegan.com.