Talking Culinary Culture and Foods for Intimate Wellness With Celeb Chef Cynthia Pean

We sat down with plant based celebrity chef Cynthia Chea Pean to celebrate black history, Valentine’s day and intimate health through food. Known for her inventive take on African diaspora recipes Pean incorporates plant based ingredients for better health. Founder of Afcave Foods Pean has also been chef to celebrities such as Tanner Roark, the family of Denzel Washington and Will Smith.

Interview by Janet Williams, M.D. Ob/Gyn

 

How did you start cooking?

I’ve been cooking for friends and family for many years but I started cooking professionally for my church at a time that I was out of work.  That's when I discovered I had a real love and passion for cooking, hosting and caring for people. 

 

Have you always been vegan?

No, not at all. There was about a 1 year period when I was living in NYC that I was vegan but prior to that I definitely enjoyed my share of oxtails [Laughs].

 

So what made you decide to be plant based?

My grandfather died at age 44 of a diabetic stroke. My mother died at age 58 of cancer. My grandmother died at age 63 of cancer and my great grandmother died in her 50’s from a heart condition. All of these were either caused by diet or exacerbated by diet. It became clear to me that diet in particular was determining the quality of life in my family. I did not want that to be my story. I am someone who has always struggled with my weight…and I still struggle…but not to the extremes that I did before I became a real steward of my body, being really conscious about what I'm eating. It was caused by my family history. I made the change because I did not want to have my life limited because of what I put on my plate.

 

How did you become a vegan diaspora chef? Prior to culinary school I got my Master's degree in International Relations with an emphasis in Sub-Saharan Agrarian Cultures. I also grew up exposed to a plant based diet. So it wasn’t a far jump for me to embrace all of it. I attended the Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts. At the time it was one of the few plant-based, all natural cooking schools in the US. There was no flesh cooked there at all. I learned different schools of thought on food. I also learned how to cook to fight disease.

 

Are there any foods or dietary practices you recommend to support intimate wellness?

Well that would be any fruit or vegetable that is high in water content. Watermelon, pineapple, cucumber, tomato…Most fruits are really great because in terms of digestion it moves things through. The idea is to flush the body through. Then just drinking a lot of water. People underestimate the importance of water in these diets. Water is what keeps everything moving.

 

How can women use diet to fight off and prevent Candida yeast infections?

We as a society suffer from the pursuit of convenience. We are constantly looking for shortcuts. That has put us at the mercy of preservative packed foods and process foods. Snack foods and things like that. These are foods that are full of corn syrup and yeast inducing properties. All of those things contribute to Candida. Avoiding white bread, white rice, white flour, and refined sugar. All of those things are thought of as being expansive… propelling the yeast to grow.

Candida elimination diet is really about eating foods very close to their natural state. Things that are not processed. That is what helps to get a balance back into your system. Cassava, which interestingly is one of the root vegetables from the diaspora…avocado, black beans, sweet potatoes are all foods that I use for clients with candida concerns.

 

What is the diaspora?

In general the diaspora refers to a group of people that originate in one area and the cultures that have come out of it. When I speak of the diaspora I’m speaking of the African Diaspora and what has come out of it. The path of the trade winds, the path where the ships of the enslaved traveled. Not only the continent of Africa but also south America, Brazil, Latin America, the Caribbean, the West Indies, the American south…all of those areas represent the diaspora. The cultures that came out of that are still based on African traditions and the continent of Africa. So when I refer to the diaspora I am referring to the diaspora that I am a part of.

 

How do you incorporate the African Diaspora into what you do?

It is everything that I do. Africa’s culinary legacy is my passion. The African diaspora in my opinion is the foundation of the culinary world. Who was in the kitchens cooking in these households? The slaves were the ones that were in the fields, tending the fields, planting food, harvesting food, creating recipes from what they had planted and harvested. These people were not being told what to fix, they were being creative and referencing their native foods. And these are the foods and meals that became traditions and have traveled throughout the world. Low country cuisine has its roots in African communities. The enslaved African has contributed overwhelmingly to the culinary legacy of the Americas.

 

Is fair to say that you celebrate Black History every day? Yes..Absolutely! Truly every single day I’m celebrating my culture and I’m introducing people to it. I love being able to expose my clients to my culture. One of the ways to connect with people is through food. I love being able to do that while exposing people to what I believe is an incredible culinary history.

 

Speaking of connection, what is your recommended go to romantic vegan meal to prep for a special someone? Hmmm..definitely something spicy! Kind of like an aphrodisiac kind of thing. Maybe a pasta dish. It’s kind of hard to mess up. I would do a spicy tomato based pasta with crisp veggies. Using my Afcave Diaspora Chili because the blend has spice, warmth and a sweetness to it. It’s reminiscent of Ethiopian cuisine. It hits all of those different notes. For desert I’d do something simple like a vegan pound cake, fresh non-dairy whip cream, lemon zest and fresh berries. And of course one of our agua frescas drink recipes.

We are so excited about the recipes you created for us using both the Pandora’s Pops Candy Jewels and the Le Vie En Rose Lollipops. Besides the recipes below, where else can we find more of your recipes? I am a contributor to the book Healthy at Last: A Plant-Based Approach to Preventing and Reversing Diabetes and Other Chronic Illnesses. It’s a great book featuring delicious heart healthy recipes from some of today’s leading plant-based chefs and personalities. I have three recipes in the book – A simpler, healthier African Greens Melange recipe, one of my crowd pleasers…Maple Jerk Hummus and my savory Oven Roasted Moroccan Squash with Tahini dressing.

 

 

“Secret Garden” Passionfruit Aqua Fresca with Pandora’s Cherry Dust

  • 3 cups spring water
  • 1 cup fresh ripe pineapple
  • 1 cup passionfruit pulp
  • 1 cup sugar dissolved in 1 cup spring water (or equivalent in another sweetener)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest
  • 1 package Pandora’s Pops Amazon Cherry Candie Jewels - crushed
  • Lime wedges and pineapple spears for garnish (optional)
  1. Pulverize/crush the cherry candies until you’ve reached a crushed consistency – a coffee grinder works best. However, you can also place candies in a doubled Ziploc bag and crush them using a rolling pin. Transfer crushed candies to a plate. Set aside
  2. In a blender combine water, sugar, fruit.and pulp. Blend until smooth. Pour mixture (through a sieve, if desired) into a pitcher or serving container. Stir in lime juice. Taste, add additional sugar, if necessary. Refrigerate until cold.

Place a teaspoon of the crushed candies into the bottom of your Martini glass. Carefully pour the mixture into the glass. Garnish with a lime wedge

Serve a shot of tequila alongside the agua fresca

 

 

 

“The Back Shot” Pineapple Ginger Agua Fresca with Pandora’s La Vie En Rose Dust 

  • 4 cups spring water
  • 2 cups fresh ripe pineapple
  • 1 – 1 inch piece of ginger or 2 tablespoons ginger puree
  • 2 tablespoons rose water
  • 1 cup sugar dissolved in 1 cup spring water (or equivalent in another sweetener)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest
  • 1 Pandora’s Pops La Vie En Rose Lollipop – crushed
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced crystallized ginger
  • lime wedges and pineapple spears for garnish (optional)
  1. Pulverize/crush the cherry candies until you’ve reached a crushed consistency – a coffee grinder works best. However, you can also place candies in a doubled Ziploc bag and crush them using a rolling pin. Transfer crushed candies to a plate. Transfer crushed candies to a plate and mix with the minced crystallized ginger until well combined. Set aside
  1. In a blender combine water (spring and rose), sugar, fruit, and ginger. Blend until smooth. Pour mixture (through a sieve, if desired) into a pitcher or serving container. Stir in the limejuice. Taste, add additional sugar, if necessary. Refrigerate until cold.

Wet the rim of your martini glass with a bit of honey. Carefully press your glass into the crushed la vie en rose/minced ginger mix. Carefully pour the mixture into the glass. Garnish with a lime wedge. 

Serve a shot of Caribbean white rum alongside the agua fresca

 

 

 

 

 

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