Soul Food Revamped

by Selina Johnson, Wylam Branch Library

Chef Ama

Wylam Branch Library’s first program kickoff for African American History Month was a presentation by Chef Ama Shambulia on ways to make soul food dishes more nutritious. Chef Ama is a trained natural foods chef, organic gardener, and certified health coach. She is an educator and advocate for wellness as the healthy living programs director of the West End Community Gardens and the West End Community Café at Urban Ministries, Inc., a community-based non-profit in Birmingham, Alabama.

Chef Ama provided patrons with samples of delicious vegan soul food dishes that had everyone coming back for a second taste. Her black-eyed peas were seasoned sans animal fat or meat and my favorite dish was what she calls Mama Ama's Marinated Collard Green Salad. I never thought that I would enjoy eating raw collard greens but I was pleasantly surprised.

Preparing Mama Ama's Marinated Collard Green Salad

Chef Ama provided insight on some of the staple ingredients that she uses in her preparation of foods. She demonstrated how to properly cut greens and discussed how to select tender greens for cooking. She was very thorough in explaining from start to finish how she prepared the dishes that were served. We are so pleased that she facilitated the food session and shared her vegan creations. An all vegan diet may or may not be for you. However, we all can reap healthy benefits from exposing our bodies to healthier choices of foods.

Hands-on learning about how to select the the best greens

I spoke with Chef Ama before the food session. Read on to learn more about her.

When did you know that you wanted to be a chef?
My grandmother was an awesome cook and so I was inspired by her to learn to cook. I came to a crossroad in my life at 40 years old and decided to formalize my skills with training to become a chef.

Where were you trained and how difficult was your training?
I was trained in my grandmother’s kitchen and formally trained at The Culinary Institute of Virginia College. The training was not difficult because I loved the experience and the cooking environment.

Tell us a little about and West End Café and West End Garden?
I am the director of WE Café and WE Garden. This is our 10th growing season having young community horticulturists. We train them and pay them. We provide a service to the community by providing fresh produce that is sold at Princeton Hospital and Pepper Place Farmers Market. Some of the produce goes back to the Community Café to use to prepare our dishes.

What is your favorite kitchen equipment or gadget?
My favorite gadget is the chef knife because it is a foundation tool that will allow you to perform multiple tasks in cooking preparation. A skilled chef can be very creative with a chef knife.

What do you like to eat when you’re at home?
I know this may seem odd but I don’t cook much at home. I am cooking for others so often that I often don’t take the time to cook for myself. Sundays are the days that I will take the time and prepare a family meal. Lately, these meals have had a “green theme”: green juices, smoothies, salads…we even have salads for breakfast. Sundays are the healthiest days of the week for our meals.

What are your favorite cookbooks?
My favorite cookbook is Afro-Vegan by Bryant Terry. He has several others that are very good.

Visit the Birmingham Public Library website to check out Bryant Terry’s cookbooks and to find out about more of the Birmingham Public Library’s empowering programs and Black History Month events.

Cookbooks by Bryant Terry
Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean and Southern Flavors
The Inspired Vegan: Seasonal Ingredients, Creative Recipes, Mouthwatering Menus
Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African American Cuisine