Featured photo: Tré Shawn Legette started cooking when he was 13. He recently put out his own vegan cookbook. (courtesy photo)
It doesn’t have to be complicated.
That’s the message that Tré Shawn Legette, a Winston-Salem-based vegan home chef, has for people trying to adopt the lifestyle. His new cookbook, The Beginner’s Dozen: Recipes for Transitioning Vegans Vol. 1, dropped last week and includes many of Legette’s favorite vegan meals that he cooks for himself.
“One reason why people are afraid to go vegan is that they think they have to do so much,” Legette says. “But no, you can cook things just like you would regular chicken wings. I didn’t want people to do much. If it’s too much, I’m uninterested.”
The 22-year-old grew up in Charlotte and has been cooking for the past decade. Initially, he says he made meals from his childhood — soul-food favorites like fried chicken, cornbread, mac and cheese and fried fish. But in 2017, Legette gave up beef and pork, and then in January of this year he made the full leap to veganism. He says he and a friend challenged each other to see if they could transition to a plant-based diet, inspired by other Black vegans who are making a name for themselves like Tabitha Brown and Sunni Speaks. As a Black male, Legette says, he wants to show that veganism isn’t just about white girls and avocado toast.
“It’s not expected of Black people so they don’t think it’s stuff that black people do,” he says about the perception that veganism is mostly for white people. “If it was about soul food, well that’s Black people all day. I feel like with most things, they don’t like to give Black people their credit. We’re just doing it better.”
And that’s when he started experimenting with ingredients to make the kind of homecooked meals he was used to.
“It made me a better chef because I had to figure out how to make this stuff taste like meat,” he says, “and how to do it without sacrificing flavor. It broadened my horizons as a chef.”
The cookbook, which is available for digital download from Legette’s social media platforms, includes 13 recipes — in line with a baker’s dozen — and ranges from stuffed peppers to cornbread to Jamaican beef patties to peach cobbler. The dishes have depth and flavor and variety — it’s not just eating raw vegetables, he says.
“It’s not just grass and lettuce,” he says. “You can have really good food and a good experience while being vegan. You’re not missing out just because you’re vegan.”
Legette says he made it as easy as possible to follow along so people don’t feel overwhelmed. Rather than using complicated ingredients that could only be found in specialty stores, Legette prioritizes using straightforward foods that can be bought at your neighborhood Walmart or Food Lion or an occasional trip to the local Asian market. For his recipes that call for “meat,” Legette advocates using popular vegan meat products like Beyond or Impossible meats and others you can find in stores.
Legette says he learned the tools of the trade after taking a culinary course in high school. He picked up knife skills and learned how to incorporate different cuisines in his own kitchen. When he got to college at Winston-Salem State University, he ended up becoming the designated chef among his friend group. During the pandemic, Legette, like many others, decided to try his hand at selling plates of his food. He started with his vegan ribs and vegan pulled pork with some cinnamon rolls.
“People were like, ‘Oh my god, this is so good, I can’t believe it’s vegan,’” Legette says. “I didn’t expect people to embrace my food as much as they did.”
Legette says he saw an improvement in his overall health after transitioning — more water intake, losing weight, eating more fruits and veggies — and that he wanted to promote vegan eating because there still isn’t much of a market for it in the Winston-Salem area.
“I saw people selling plates, but I never saw any vegan options,” he says. “That’s how it is with the restaurant options here too. So, then I thought, I’m going to look out for the vegans.”
He hopes that by making the dishes simple, more people will see veganism as an accessible lifestyle.
“All of the recipes are from the heart,” he says. “It’s a guidebook; you don’t have to do everything exactly the way I do it. Take it and make it your own; put a little twist on it. I just want people to enjoy cooking and don’t take it too seriously.”