Food has always been at the center of my identity. I grew up in a Caribbean household where Fridays were for fish, Saturdays were for bake and saltfish in the mornings with smoked herring and avocado, and Sundays were for callaloo, stewed chicken and macaroni pie. As I got older, I realized that these traditions weren’t exclusive to my culture and I became obsessed with the how, what and why people eat. 

In the beginning of my culinary exploration journey, my curiosity was limited to cultural customs. As I ventured further down the dietary rabbit hole, my interest expanded to a fascination with folks whose identity was centered around what they do not eat.

One of my first conversations was with my dear colleague and friend Lyani Powers. Afro-Latina by birth, Powers is an army brat raised in Alabama, who found her way to New York City to pursue a career in fashion. Somewhere along the road decided to dedicate her life to wellness. She’s a chef, herbalist, doula, and beekeeper, among other things. Not to mention, she makes the most amazing paella I have ever had.

Recently, I caught up with her for EBONY to gain some insight into her journey. 

Chef Lyani Powers. Image: courtesy of Lyani Powers.

EBONY: Hi, Welcome to Feast, Fete and Flowers! I know how amazing you are but please introduce yourself to our audience. Who are you?

Lyani Powers: My name is Lyani Powers, and I have lived a million lives. I started off in fashion and was the editor for a few popular magazines. That path eventually led me to a career in set design and interior design both behind the scenes and on camera. I have always had a passion for growing and holistic living but I made the full transition into wellness as a career when I was diagnosed with MS twenty years ago. I consider myself a wellness multi-hyphenate.  Food and I have been besties for the longest and I began my culinary journey years ago. First in the kitchens and open fires of my family, then in the structured environment of culinary school. When I shifted focus into clinical herbalism, I wove the two together. While most chefs focus on taste and technique alone, my focus is not only on taste and technique but the effects food may have on the body. I believe that food is medicine… and medicine can be delicious.  

You’re paleo right? What led you to this lifestyle?

Initially, I went paleo and then adopted a more vegan lifestyle. I guess you can call me a pegan! I focus on plant proteins, high nutritive fats, low grain intake, and consuming all shades of veggies and greens. What I do is listen to my body, I think it's important that people listen to themselves. If I’m in a season where I feel like I'm not getting the nutrients I need from plants, I will partake in a bite of salmon if my body is calling for it. But, it makes up a very small part of my diet. Any of the animal protein I consume has to be %100 free range, wild caught,  grass fed and humanely raised. 

As a mother, is everyone in your home eating this way? How did you get the little ones to eat paleo? Most of us find it hard to get them to eat anything other than French fries lol

I am a mom, I have three boys who are always hungry!  I'm pretty disciplined with my food and I'm honest with my kids.  I teach them that there are “growing” foods and foods that don’t really serve you. We are balanced, we don’t always avoid a French fry, they realize, it isn’t optimal or necessary, it's just a fun indulgence.

I am not super strict with the kids because I want them to try things and have a healthy relationship with food. I lead by example. As we all know children don’t do what you say they do what you do. So, we model healthy habits in our home and show them that whole, nutritious food can taste great. They are in the kitchen with me chopping and tasting so they get introduced to different flavors and textures. It's an interactive experience that gets them excited to taste what we have made. Good momma rule number 1: teach them how to cook so they will know how to feed themselves well when they are grown. 

We are at that point in the year where everyone is chasing the last bits of summer fun. Which means a lot of outdoor cooking. What would you recommend for omnivores that are hosting guests with specialized diets?

People with specialized diets always get stuck in the salad or sides section of a menu. If you want to make a guest feel welcome make one of the main dishes a viable option for everyone.  We can all use veggies in our life so make sure it's something an omnivore can really sink their teeth into.  When it comes to entertaining I love things to be super fresh and flavorful… but also something that I can make and prepare the night before. 

Can you share with us one of your crowd-pleasing dishes?

As a matter of fact I can!  Here’s a surefire recipe for jackfruit sliders with mango slaw and lime creme fraiche. The best thing about this recipe is each of the components can stand on its own. This is my go to for a quick, delicious yummy bite that’s a win for both omnivores and herbivores.

BBQ Jackfruit Sliders

Jackfruit BBQ Sliders. Image: courtesy of Lyani Powers.

Ingredients 

32oz Jackfruit 

Bbq Sauce

1cup tomato puree 

1 tsp  brown sugar  

4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar 

1 tsp garlic powder 

1 tsp onion powder 

1 tsp Liquid smoke 

1tbsp Worcestershire sauce (no anchovies)

1tsp cornstarch 

Coarse Ground Sea Salt 

Fresh Cracked Black Peppercorn 

Optional 

2 tbsp tamarind paste 

Hawaiian Rolls or you favorite gluten-free buns

Jackfruit Preparation:

Remove jackfruit if it's canned, making sure its wrung bone dry.

-Then chop and shred into a large glass bowl and set aside. 

BBQ Preparation:

-Combine all ingredients into a sauce pan and cook on low heat  for 15 minutes or until bubbles begin to form at the sides stirring every 5 minutes.

-Allow the sauce to set.

Sliders 

-Once your sauce has set salt and pepper to taste. Then fold in the shredded jackfruit until it is completely saturated in the sauce. 

-Slice your buns and place them on the grill until you get light grill marks. Pro tip: this helps the slider to maintain its structure (nobody likes a soggy sandwich)

-Assemble the slider by placing you bbq jackfruit, mango slaw onto your grilled bun drizzle with lime creme fraiche. 

Mango Slaw 

Image: courtesy of Ron Lach

Ingredients:

1 half head of thinly chopped purple cabbage 

½ cup chopped cilantro 

¼ cup chopped red onion

3 Ataulfo skinned diced mangos 

½ cup Extra Virgin Olive oil 

⅓ cup apple cider vinegar 

1 tsp ras el hanout

1 tsp coarse ground black pepper 

1 tsp pink himalayan sea salt 

1tblsp Agave 

2 limes juiced 

Preparation 

-Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss until everything is covered in the wet ingredients 

Creme Fraiche 

Ingredients:

½ cup vegan mayo 

½ cup coconut yogurt

1 lime juiced

⅓  chile powder 

⅛  garlic  powder 

Preparation:

-Salt to taste 

-Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until light and airy. 

-Plate and enjoy!