A Reason to Smile: Q&A with Plant-Based Culinary Expert, Chef Bo

Tell us a little about your business and when you got interested in cooking?

I was dealing with a lot of personal situations and out of those situations, I used most of my energy to create this cookbook and platform - Cooking with Bo. I created dishes and recipes and gave out tips and that’s how it started. I started cooking through the pain. I was in Atlanta and moved back to California which I now realize was a bad move. I basically hit rock bottom – relationships went bad I went through a bad depression and a space of darkness and hopelessness and what pulled me through was having this tight group of friends to uplift me and stop me from throwing in the towel. Through them, I learned what it means to have true friends be there for you through thick and thin. It might be weird but the greater the pain the greater the creativity became. So, the cooking and developing recipes became therapeutic for me and helped me get through that dark time I was going through. 

Was there a defining moment that you decided to turn cooking into a career path and something bigger than creating for leisure?

I was seeking work and still trying to develop the cookbook and I was watching all these cooking shows. That was the moment for me to turn lemons to lemonade and I started researching and working harder so I would say that was the defining moment for me. – watching the cooking shows, in addition to looking at some of the people I was following on Instagram and looking at their page. That was inspirational for me as well.

Tell us a little bit about the creation process for the book?

Being called a vegan cookbook…I pulled away from that word vegan. When some people hear that word, they think of this person that is super judgmental and that’s not the image or the perception I wanted to give off.  I changed the word vegan to plant based to make it a little softer. I also stopped using processed ingredients and started using only whole and plant-based ingredients. So that was the concept of the book.

Have you always been vegan? What made you go plant-based?

I started the process in college – I think it was 1993. And to be honest I didn’t do it to save the animals…I was reading an article that was on Alonzo Mourning about how he gave up beef. My roommates challenged me on it, and it encouraged me. I ended up winning the challenge. Once I gave up the beef, I realized my body went through this change. Before I started, I was 240 pounds, I got down to 170. Also, my skin started clearing up and I started feeling healthy. So, each year after that for next 3 – 4 years, I gave up a meat and then the last type of meat I ate was fish and I think that was in 1996 or 1997. 

What are some of your favorite plant-based things to make?

Some of my favorite things to make are this flatbread and jalapeno hummus. I do a lot with chickpeas. I love making smoothies. Smoothies are something I learned how to create without using the very basic fruits and vegetables. I try to do a little something different with mine.

What are you favorite Thanksgiving meals to make?

My favorite Thanksgiving meals are most definitely the dressing and the mac and cheese. I don’t do sweet potatoes anymore, but I use a butternut squash instead and agave as the sugar. I take a lot of my mother’s recipes and just make them plant based or vegan.

Is that where you learned to cook?

Yes, absolutely my mother was the queen. She taught us all – my brothers and my sisters. That’s where we get our teachings.

What would you say is the hardest traditional dish to make plant based or find an alternative for? What do you think is the easiest?

For me the hardest is making a plant-based cake. The issue is trying to make sure it remains moist and it stays together. If you aren’t using the egg you have to find something else to make it stick together. That would be the hardest thing for me…the cakes.  The easiest is the dressing. The dressing my mom used to make was so good, so I took everything not plant based out. What people have to understand about Thanksgiving is it’s more about the spices and the seasonings so if you can get the sage and the pepper you can get that quinoa dressing to taste just like your mama’s.

What was hardest thing for you becoming vegan?

I think one of the first things I struggled with, especially in the 90s, was feeling that it wasn't accepted for a man to be vegan because it wasn't considered to be manly enough, or a man was considered to be soft doing so. Initially, I didn’t announce it, I just kept it to close friends. But eventually I said, you know what? It is what it is. Me not eating meat doesn’t determine my sexuality. But again, this was back in the 90s. Now I think being vegan is growing and people are researching more. The biggest advantage is the internet.

Are you doing anything around Thanksgiving specifically? 

Yes absolutely. Last year I created an entire meal and listed the recipes for everyone to read. I made the macaroni, the dressing and the butternut squash. It was four dishes total that all kept the flavor of Thanksgiving.

What advice would you give people creating a vegan Thanksgiving for the first time?

My advice would be to breathe and relax. Be cool and don’t beat yourself up. Also start prepping weeks before Thanksgiving. Start working on recipes and looking up information and having others taste it so when you get around family for Thanksgiving this won’t be your first time creating this dish.

Where can people find more information about you or get recipe ideas?

Instagram is probably the best which is: @Kenny.Bo or they can check out my website: www.cookingwithbo.bigcartel.com

Last question, what are you thankful for this season?

I am thankful for peace of mind and to be able to have peace and not be in that dark place anymore.

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