Diaspora

Singing Vegan TikTok Chef Gabrielle Reyes Mixes Beats With Beets – Exclusive Interview – Mashed

This interview contains discussion of eating disorders.
Gabrielle Reyes has the kind of career that’s only imaginable in the age of the internet. She’s probably most famous for her TikTok page, One Great Vegan, where she turns colorful, vibrant vegan recipes into little music videos complete with danceable beats and groovy, soul-inflected vocals that she writes and sings herself. She often collaborates with her husband, Ace Anderson, a rapper, comedian, and photographer with his own impressive TikTok presence. In addition to the cooking videos, the two have also made an album together, so you know Reyes is just as serious about music as she is about cooking.
Somehow, the TikToks and music aren’t enough for Reyes, who also published a cookbook and has made appearances on many TV shows, including “Access Hollywood” and “Good Morning America.” We’re not sure when she sleeps, but it’s clear that this multi-hyphenate is bursting with talent and energy. We sat down with Gabrielle Reyes and asked her about her creative process, the secrets to making delicious vegan food, and more.

You sang on tour with Oprah. Did you learn anything from traveling with her?
It’s so interesting you say that, because I learned a lot, absolutely. I learned everything because that was the first job I did that was professional. I’d been doing theater. I did some stuff in New York on Broadway, and in regional theaters, but this was the first opportunity I had to sing in front of hundreds of thousands of people, and my voice was actually being selected as a good voice. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I can actually do this.” I learned confidence and how to perform to a huge audience. Getting to meet Oprah wasn’t bad, either. She was so much taller than I expected. I was like, “Girl. Hello.”
It’s always interesting to meet people you’ve only seen on a screen.
I’m an actress in my other life, and I just did a film with Sylvester Stallone, and I got to meet him. I was like, “Wow.” I’m not starstruck, normally, but I was like, “Wow, that’s you. Wow. You exist.” It was interesting because [of] the height — whenever you meet celebrities, you’re like, “Whoa, you look so much bigger.”
It’s really cool to get to interact with people of notoriety, but on a creative level, not so much as a super-fan but instead as a peer, a comrade. “Yeah. We working together.”

For our readers who might just be discovering you, what inspired you to go vegan?
Back in 2011, I was in college. I was studying theater, acting, singing, all that. The performance space can be pretty toxic. There’s a lot of ideas about what a woman should look like, how her body should be, how much she should eat, dieting, all that nonsense.
I was deep in that for a couple of months, and that developed into an eating disorder. I was really struggling. I was binging, purging, over-exercising, undereating. Everything bad you shouldn’t do, I was doing it. And then, one day after a huge tailgate, I ate all this food and I felt like crap. I was going to go do what I did at the time. I heard a voice in my head, and it sounded like my late father (he passed when I was younger). It sounded like him, and it was literally, “Go vegan.”
That was it, and I was like, “All right.” I never went back. People think it’s crazy when I tell them that, but it was something that was almost a higher universal calling, because I’d been struggling so much with feeling guilty about what I was putting into my body for so long. I was feeling at a low vibration. I wasn’t feeling like how I feel today. 
After that, I never looked back. I never craved meat, never craved cheese, never craved eggs ever again. It was like a light switch went off, and then I started cooking. I’ve been cooking for a while. I’d been making Haitian, Caribbean, Latin food, and soul food for a while with my family. This was my chance to cook for myself, become an adult in a way, and take ownership of what I was doing to make myself feel incredible every day. I’ve been doing it ever since.
If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA’s Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

You grew up in the Dallas area, right? Is there something that makes DFW a special place for food?
In Texas, they love their meat. They love their cheese. It’s Texas. Texas barbecue, right? What’s so cool about Dallas-Fort Worth, it’s [one of the best cities] in America to live in if you’re plant-based or vegan. There’s a [huge] Indian population out there. Most Indians eat vegetarian-vegan already, and there’s also the Ethiopian population out there. A lot of them eat vegan or vegetarian. It’s almost like it’s a mixture of the cultures that have come to Texas for better opportunities, set their roots, and then were like, “I’ve been making plant-based food already, so I’m going to make a restaurant.”
What’s been cool, too, is, especially in the Black and brown communities in Texas overall, all these couples, young people, moms, dads, older people, grandmas, and grandpas are realizing, “I love soul food. I love things fried. I love my cheese. I love my creamy. I love all that goodness, but I’m not feeling so great. How can I still make this food? How can I share my love of Black culture, African culture, but help people feel better?” It’s been really cool watching and helping Dallas grow.

What’s the creative process for creating one of your musical cooking TikToks? Is it music first? Is it food first? Is it both at the same time?
Every day is different, but I’ve gotten now to a point where I’m consistent. I plan what recipe I’m going to make. I make the recipe video. I edit the video. I released an album recently, and I work with the same producer to create beats — African, Afro beats, Latin beats, whatever’s the vibe of the recipe. He’ll create a beat for me, and then once everything’s edited, the beat has been selected, I’ll watch the video, and I’ll sing some random little tune to it.
I won’t say words at first. It’ll be like “doo doos” and “la las” or “oohs” and “ahs”. Then, I’ll start to incorporate the recipe.
I’ll start feeling how the words fit with a little song. I’ll change up the tune. Once I have the core title or the first two lines that rhyme, I run with it and I go with the flow. At that point, I start rhyming. I try to make it different. I try to make the tunes different. My husband helps me too sometimes, because I always want to make sure that as a creative, I’m bringing something completely different — not just completely different than you’ve ever seen, but something you’ve never seen from me.
Each video takes 48 hours to make, [from] beginning to editing. The recording — oh my gosh, the recording process — it takes two to three hours each video, but it’s a labor of love. I do not complain. I always feel so fulfilled when I’m done with it. I’m like, “Yes, it sounds so good. I’m dancing.” I start working out to it. I always feel great.
Speaking of music stuff, if you could cook and eat a meal with any musician, living or dead, who would it be?
I’m going to have to say Beyoncé. I know it’s pretty cliché, but it’s Beyoncé. Come on now. Number one, Beyoncé can sing. I already feel like we could be best friends. Number two, I know she’s interested in plant-based. She’s invested in a lot of plant-based stuff. If I had to pick two others, it would have to be Lizzo and Rihanna, because they’re a vibe too. I know they’re also into eating plant-based Caribbean food.

Do you have any advice for somebody who’s curious about dipping their toes into plant-based eating?
Yes. I love plant-curious people, because it’s so fun. It’s such an exciting time, because I always tell people, “You don’t have to go vegan. You don’t have to be like, ‘I’m vegan now.'” That was my journey, and I’m so grateful for it.
Start off by, instead of eating fried chicken, making some fried mushrooms. Instead of eating a beef burger, you can try making your own plant-based burgers. Personally, I like Beyond Meat. Things like that are nice to start the transition. The key to sustaining a really delicious, healthy, fabulous plant-based diet is eating the rainbow — not thinking about, “I have to eat this. I have to get my protein. I have to get my iron, my B12.” Don’t worry about that. First thing first, start with your red. Then go to your orange, get your yellows, your greens, your purples, your blues, get all that gathered up.
I can tell people, look at it more like, “I’m going to eat the rainbow. I’m going to live, eat, dance, sing the rainbow, and we’ll see where that takes me.” And seasoning — oh, my God. Seasoning is the most important thing, because you can throw a poultry seasoning, which is vegan, or a steak seasoning, a pork seasoning, or other spices. You can throw that onto some sweet potatoes, some mushrooms, some cauliflower, chickpea, and boom. Don’t worry about it. You’re good.

Your YouTube show is called “Colorful Home Cooking.” Why is it so important to be eating all the colors?
Every single color that makes up a vegetable or a fruit has nutrients in there that are going to help your body. With red vegetables, it’s good for your heart and brain health. With orange, it’s good for your skin. Every single vegetable or fruit has some benefit in it that’s going to help you. It’s not going to harm you — unless you are allergic, but you work around that.
Every time you look at a plate of fine dining food, there might be a big steak, there might be some potatoes, but the thing that makes it beautiful is that little bit of color — that little garnish, that freshness, whether it be green purple, red, orange. I started to realize, “Wow, if that garnish is cute, what happens if I start to make more garnish? What happens if I start to make everything colorful and bright and vibrant?” I aim to … I can’t tell you how many recipes are called “rainbow something.” Rainbow noodles, rainbow salad, rainbow pasta, rainbow tacos, everything.
It’s cheaper than buying fake meats, fake cheeses, fake yogurts. It’s way cheaper this way, and it’s beautiful. Who doesn’t love beautiful food?

You’re working on a new cookbook based on the 23 different cultural backgrounds in your ancestry. Has that been an opportunity to learn about food traditions that you haven’t cooked as much?
Yes. It’s been beautiful and challenging. As a woman of color, people assume I am just that. They assume I’m just Black or I’m just Latin. I was just chatting with my husband. It’s fascinating when I try or when I experiment with other recipes online. When I start playing around with my Asian culture, my Indian, my Native American culture, Italian culture, Spanish, sometimes, it can be a problem. 
People assume that I’m not those things, and I’m not allowed to cook those things because I don’t look that way. I love to explain, “Yo, I’m so blessed. I am these cultures. I get to honor my ancestors through food, and through diving back into plant-based eating.”
I can go on for years about this, but what’s so cool about learning about my cultures is I’m starting to realize that every culture I’m a part of has a fruit or a vegetable or a grain, or something that has sustained them for thousands of years. Whether it’s been rice, lentils, or corn, these are things that have continuously sustained cultures for thousands of years. I love to lean into that.
I love to lean into teaching people how inexpensive it is to eat world cuisines, because, hello, these are staples that we’re basing everything in. Indian cuisine and Ethiopian cuisine, with lentils, as well as Greek cuisine with lentils and chickpeas, there’s such an abundance of plant protein that grows across the world that people have been using, making vegan food, not calling it vegan. I love to lean into that and update it and bring in my own little special spice.

In your episode of “Supermarket Stakeout,” you got eliminated because you didn’t have any bread. Do you think you were robbed?
Yeah. I think back on that sometimes, and I’m like, “I could have made some bread. I could have whipped up some flour. Dang, I could have put some flour and water together.” To be honest, I’m very grateful for how it went, because it was hot that day. It was very hot, and they had to be out there all day. When I got eliminated, my cute little self was like, “All right, y’all. Thanks. Bye. See you later.”
At the end of the day, I’m not competitive in that way. I don’t care about proving myself to other chefs. I don’t care about winning $10,000. I don’t care about any of that. I’m here to have a good time. Ultimately, it was really successful because of what came after it with the connections and friendships. Alex Guarnaschelli, who was my judge, she’s one of my biggest fans on all my social media now. It was cool. I gained a fan, and I didn’t really win, but I won.
Was Alex Guarnaschelli cool on set?
She was supportive. She was like, “Girl, you got this, but you got to go, girl. You got to hurry up now.” It was the craziest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never done a cooking show. There’s four cameras on you. I’m used to cameras, that’s cute, but it was the fact that we had 30 minutes or 45 minutes — I don’t remember — and you’re trying to do so much at one time. Since I’m a plant-based vegan, I knew I was going to stick to that. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I love a challenge. Truly. I love it when people say, “Can you do this? Can you make this? Can you try this?” I love it because life is low-key boring without a challenge.

It’s pumpkin spice season. Do you get excited about the onslaught of pumpkin foods every year?
I love pumpkin. Pumpkin is very traditional in Haitian cuisine. They cook it a lot. There’s actually a pumpkin soup [called] soup joumou. It’s a celebratory soup that they use to celebrate Haitian Independence Day. That’s January 1st, but I love to start pumpkin season early.
Boom, September 1st, I already have recipes cranking out, and I love messing with pumpkin in so many different ways. Whether it be pumpkin spice — sweet, decadent, and delicious, or savory soups, bakes, different kinds of baked items I can make, or even tacos, pumpkin tacos, pumpkin tortillas — pumpkin’s great. Pumpkin is a really great replacement for eggs in baking. If you don’t have eggs, you have pumpkin instead. You are good to go. I love to use pumpkin, honestly, all year long.
If you could pick a chef to cook dinner for you, who would it be?
This is so bad because I really like my own cooking. I hate to say it, because I love chefs. I love the chef life, but I’ve found that I love my very specific textures and flavors. I have a certain flavor that I love, and it’s seasoned. It’s well-seasoned. I’ve noticed a lot of chefs who cook vegan, even in high-class restaurants, it’s a little sad. There was a whole thing at the Met Gala, they went vegan, and it was sad. There are a lot of chefs out there that are great. They’re doing the thing, but I find myself underwhelmed by the creativity and the flavor. I have to say Gabrielle Reyes, I’m going to have to cook for myself.

What’s one ingredient that you absolutely can’t live without?
Definitely mushrooms. I use mushrooms in everything. I’ll go to the farmer’s market, and I have multiple mushroom dealers. They’ll have every kind of mushroom you’ve ever imagined. There are thousands of different kinds of mushrooms, and they all have medicinal purposes. Some of them get you feeling some kind of way. Some of them are good for eating, but they’ll have every kind at the farmer’s market.
I joke with my friends. I’m like, “Ah, I’m at the butcher shop. This is my ham. This is my fish,” because they all have different textures that they can take on. There’s a certain kind of oyster mushroom, I think it’s pink oyster mushroom, which actually has the flavor of a lobster or crab. It’s very easy to manipulate it into a seafood dish. [It’s] mushrooms all day, every day.
If you eat fast food, what’s your favorite spot, and what do you get?
I do eat fast food. Chipotle is my girl, through and through. People are shocked when I tell them I can eat vegan at Chipotle. I’m like, “You realize most of the things that Chipotle are vegan, right? They got beans.” I get both beans. I get both rices. I get extra sautéed veggies. They always ask me if I’m getting meat. I’m like, “More veggies.” I also get all three salsas. The guac is always free for me because it’s veggie. I get the lettuce, and then you get a free tortilla on the side.
For $8, $9, I’m good, and you know that’ll feed you for two days. That’s like breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack with Chipotle. We eat Chipotle once a week at this point, because it’s quick. It’s easy. I know it’s going to be good. I know the flavors are going to be there, and it’s a really great option. They’re actually coming out with mushroom meat. Are you kidding me? I spoke mushrooms into existence. They’re coming out with a plant-based meat alternative that’s made from mushrooms, which I was like, “Yes. That’s what I want. That’s exactly what I want.”
You can buy Gabrielle Reyes’ cookbook, “Colorful Home Cooking,” on her website. Her new album, “Blessed By Grace,” is available from multiple streaming platforms. She’s also appearing in “Tulsa King,” a TV series debuting on Paramount+ on November 13.
This interview has been edited for clarity.

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