Bryant Terry’s recent book-release party for his newest cookbook, “Afro Vegan,” wasn’t just a personal triumph. It was a community celebration, an affirmation of the hard-working folks in the food justice movement, and a reminder that, sometimes, it does take a village to raise awareness.

The Oakland-based Terry is well on his way to becoming a nationally-recognized celebrity chef, with all the bells and whistles that go along with that, including a PBS show (“The Endless Feast”), numerous appearances on network TV and nationally-syndicated radio, and informative articles and write-ups in major foodie magazines and blogs.

Author, chef, activist: Bryant Terry

Author, chef, activist: Bryant Terry

“Afro Vegan,” his fourth tome of healthy recipes, continues to deconstruct the notion that Soul Food, i.e., the traditional fat-and-fried-food-heavy Southern diet associated with African American cuisine, has to be bad for you, as well as the idea that vegan food need be bland and unexciting. It’s Terry’s most international work to date; in addition to the South, the cookbook also draws inspiration from the continent of Africa and the Diasporan flavors of the Caribbean. Another Terry signature is musical inspiration:  with every recipe, he includes a soundtrack, and he imagines his concoctions as “remixes” of traditional favorites. Thus, Moscovado-Roasted Plantains are accompanied by Jose Feliciano’s Latin soul cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady;” Savory Grits with Slow-Cooked Collard Greens are set to Oh No’s hip-hoppish “The Funk;” and Teff Biscuits with Maple-Plaintain Spread are matched with Ethiopiques composer Mulatu Astatke’s “Yekatit.”

Let’s just get this out of the way now: Yum!

But besides the deliciousness of Terry’s recipes, there’s a seriousness to his efforts. Not just a garden-variety food justice activist, Terry is well aware of the crisis affecting African Americans, who are at a disproportionate risk for diabetes and other health problems. In a section called “recipes for the revolution,” he explains that, “my guiding mantra has been, ‘start with the visceral, move to the cerebral, and end at the political.’ My cookbooks aim to challenge the way we compartmentalize the fight for a healthier food system.”

The Marcus Shelby Trio

The Marcus Shelby Trio

The book-release party, held at Impact Hub Oakland, similarly drew together a wide variety of influences. The Marcus Shelby Trio provided the jazzy soundtrack, the tasty plates of ndole, greens, and cassava were served up by A Taste of Africa, and coffee came courtesy of Keba Konte’s Red Bay Coffee Roasters. Terry gracefully shared the spotlight with food justice activists Ashara Ekundayo (an Impact Hub co-founder) and Doria Robinson of Urban Tilth. With those gestures of inclusion, Terry seemed to be saying, ‘hey, it’s not about me, it’s about us.’

Foodies at the "Afro Vegan" launch party

Foodies at the “Afro Vegan” launch party

In his remarks, Terry thanked his publishers and agent, but also spoke to the difference between him and celebrity chefs without a cause.

“I wrote this book for everyone,” he said—Impact Hub’s melting-pot demographic underlining his claim—before explaining his true raison d’etre: “I wrote this book for people of African descent.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPBpHJUorEM&w=560&h=315]

“For far too long,” he continued, “our food has been marginalized. Our food has been vilified. And I really wanted to bring the flavor profiles, ingredients, the cooking techniques, the past traditions of the African Diaspora into wider circulation and the people’s consciousness…  I want people to know that, when we talk about farm and table, garden and table, green, people of African descent are the originators of that. And I think that needs to be recognized.”

Food justice activist Doria Robinson with Keith, a staffer at Urban Tilth

Food justice activist Doria Robinson with Keith, a staffer at Urban Tilth

A cheer erupted at that last line, as if Terry was a civil rights leader who’d just been to the mountaintop.

But the chef-tivist wasn’t done.

“It’s weird that people of African descent in this continent and globally are dealing with many physical and geographic and economic barriers to even having fresh food available in their communities,” he continued. “We know that many of these communities suffer from the highest rates of preventable, diet-related illness.

Red Bay Coffee Roasters' Keba Konte

Red Bay Coffee Roasters’ Keba Konte

“I would argue that in order for better health, spiritual health, mental health, physical health and well-being, we don’t have to look anywhere further than our own home-cooked foods,” he said, to even more rousing cheers.

In other words, Terry wants you to cook your own meals with the same farm-fresh ethos found at Chez Panisse, a simple yet revolutionary act which starts by conquering your tastebuds, while raising your consciousness and positively affecting your health. Now that’s the type of revolution we can all give a fork about.
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Torch factor: Mara Hruby

Torch factor: Mara Hruby

Oakland chanteuse Mara Hruby is one of the music world’s most promising  young talents, a fresh-faced vocalist with an old soul, an affinity for vintage fashion, and an undeniable voice which wraps itself around reimagined versions of contemporary hip-hop and R&B as easily as it embraces jazz standards.

Hruby’s latest EP, Archaic Rapture, is the result of her channeling the anguish over a breakup of a long-term relationship into her craft. She dives headfirst into the torch genre on the six-song release, coming up with fresh takes on well-worn classics like “In the Wee Small Hours” and “Cry Me A River.”

Mara Hruby at yoshis 2013 059It’s a truism among jazz singers that if pain and heartache doesn’t kill you, it makes your artistry stronger; one only need think of Billie Holiday, whose tragic love life was reflected in her emotive blue notes and distinctive phrasing.

In a phone interview, Hruby says that a singer with good technique can adapt to any type of material, yet she acknowledges that her own journey into torch was fueled by her personal experience. Singing songs about loss and loneliness were “very therapeutic” for her, she says.

“Having my heart broken, I was able to tap into a certain level of understanding that I didn’t have with myself before,” she says. “Everyone can relate to sadness. When you listen to those songs, they sit soulfully with you.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MRu67tUkzg&w=560&h=315]

Archaic Rapture veers sharply from Hruby’s first release, a collection of cover tunes called From Her Eyes. The new EP revels in the retro aesthetic she’s cultivated since she was a young child, when she became enamored of classic movies from the 30s, 40s, and 50s and jazz singers like Holiday and Julie London. Hruby not only inhabits the smoky classics like a favorite dress, but says the project represents an evolutionary step in her development: “There’s a whole other category of my heart that I’m now able to grasp, and just let go when I perform and when I write.”

In fact, she says, “I wouldn’t have done a project like that, if I hadn’t gotten my heart broken.” It took her a long time, she notes, “to really understand the lessons learned from it… it’s an emotional loss when you lose someone.”  Ultimately, she says, “I found a better sense of self, and a better understanding of who I am as a person, who I am as an artist.”

Mara Hruby at yoshis 2013 162Last October, Hruby debuted her torch stylings at Yoshi’s, in a performance that left no doubt as to her talent and singing chops. She returns to Yoshis on Wednesday (April 16) as a definite-up-and-comer who has caught the attention of music industry honchos like P-Diddy, who shouted her out on Instagram and Twitter after a showcase in New York. “I didn’t realize I was on his radar,” she says. “It made me feel special, to be considered someone to look out for.”

Also be on the lookout for Hruby’s homemade jam, earrings, and scarves—currently available on her website—flavorful, stylish evidence that her creative side extends beyond music.
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This Week’s Picks:

Mobb Deep w/ Raw-G, DJs Steelo, Julicio, Platurn, April 17, 9pm, $17-$20, the New Parish, 579 18th St.

45 Sessions v. 50 Record Store Day Edition featuring Vinnie Esparza, Justin Torres, Baby Jaymes, plus Residents Platurn, Mr. E, April 18, 9pm, $5-$10, Legionnaire Saloon, 2272 Telegraph Ave.

Friday Nights @OMCA: “SuperAwesome” + “Vinyl” previews, Off the Grid, OMCA Record Swap, April 18, 5pm, 1000 Oak St.

King of Kings 12-Year Anniversary Dubplate Showcase with One Blood Sound, Jah Warrior Shelter, TNT, Papalote, Cooyah, Guerilla Takeover, WBLK, Kurious, Lonestar, Onewise, April 20, 10pm, ladies free before 11pm, The New Parish, 579 18th St.

 

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