Chef Spotlight: Greg Brown

Chef Greg Brown is the co-owner of the Vegan Soul Bistro, Land of Kush, a vegan soul food restaurant located in Baltimore, MD. He had no intentions on becoming a vegan chef. He fell into it by necessity. He always had the vision to own a restaurant that catered to the health conscious crowd. He became a vegetarian in the late 90’s and found a cookbook on vegetarianism and decided to clean out his refrigerator and cabinets of all animal products and become a vegan.

The only issue was he had never cooked like this before and some of the foods in the book were completely new to him. He was always taught that you can learn anything and with that mentality, he began to teach himself how to cook. He took a couple of years to research and put together a business plan and he returned with The Land of Kush.

Get to Know Greg Brown

Culinary contributor Amy Langrehr sat down with Greg Brown to chat about food, family and what’s great about Baltimore.

Was food a big part of your upbringing? Did you cook as a kid?
GB: Yes, food was a big part of things growing up. I cooked some myself, but really my Mom let me cook with her. I always liked making breakfast and spaghetti as a kid. It was fun.

How did you get into veganism - and, cooking in general?
GB: Well, it was about 1997. I was 27 and wanted to get healthy. I didn't like my job very much and I met a woman at my church and she said, "Ask God for answers. You'll find them." And honestly, I answered my own question about what would make me happy. My becoming vegan started out as a health issue more than an animal welfare issue. I do it for both reasons (health and animal welfare) now.

And, cooking, how did you get into it?
GB: A friend of mine needed vegan food options for a summer festival and asked if I knew anyone. I thought about it and I really didn't know anyone personally who was doing vegan food, so I told her I'd give it a try. Every time we did the event (it was a summer series) we'd run out of food in like two hours. I kind of thought, there's something to this vegan thing. I loved cooking and eating it and people really wanted it. I was a personal chef for a few years, did the big festivals, kept working really hard. I met my wife in 2006 and few years later decided to leave my job and do the food thing full-time. (Laughs…) You know, instead of having two jobs I wanted one job, working the hours of two jobs. But kidding aside, focusing was important at that point. I knew I'd found the thing I was supposed to do. We looked at a ton of properties and nothing was quite right. Then, we found our Eutaw Street location and it just fit. And it didn't need a total overhaul, which was hugely helpful.

Do you have a mentor? Any chefs who really helped you find your way?
GB: I'd say Skai Davis. She owned The Yabba Pot, which was such a great place that inspired so many people to think about becoming vegan. She was a huge influence on the way I think and cook. And Christina Pirello. Her cookbook taught me so much. Once I really got into that book, I cleaned out my fridge, totally. No more animal products for me. That was big.

Lots of kids get to choose the meal on their birthday…anything they want (to a point, I suppose…) What would be your ‘birthday meal’ now?
GB: My Mom always made me macaroni and tuna salad. And a chocolate cake - always, chocolate cake. Now? I'm not sure I'd have a specific meal but I definitely want to go out for my birthday - no cooking! Okay, yeah, I'd say a vegan turkey burger and fries. It doesn't need to be fancy, just good!

What do you love about Baltimore?
GB: I’m from here. You know, big city small town. It’s homey, you feel like you can know a lot of people pretty easily. There’s not much pretentiousness here. And it’s at the center of a lot - it’s so easy to get to D.C., Philly, New York. I love that.

What do you love vegan food?
GB: Eating it! (Laughs) The freshness of it. It’s healthy. And, there’s so much variety. People sometimes think going vegan can be limiting, but honestly sometimes there are too many choices. You can eat something new every day. Also, food in general just brings people together. That’s great.

What are some of your favorite places to eat in the City?
GB :Let’s see, I don’t get out that much but try to get to One World Cafe, Grind House. I love the vibe and fries at Terra Cafe. That’s a great hangout. I always loved Dougherty’s, too - they had a great veggie burger. I also really like Joe Squared and Red Emma’s.

Where do you like to shop for food?
GB :Farmers markets for sure - I hit Waverly and JFX a lot. We have so many fantastic local farms here. I’m on the board of the Farm Alliance, so supporting local farmers is really important to me, as it is to many chefs around town. There’s the Park Heights Community Garden - Willie Flowers does such a good job there. I also like hitting up Upton Market on Saturdays. Also, The Blues. It’s a community garden run out of the backyards of private residents near Morgan State. It started in one backyard and then neighbors offered up their yards, so it’s a lot bigger now. It’s pretty cool. Also, I like Ok Natural on Preston Street.

How would you describe Baltimore’s culinary scene?
GB: Diverse. Hugely. You can get anything here, even as a vegan. There’s Indian, Thai, Korean, American, etc...our food scene is more diverse than people give us credit for.

What is the biggest food you are seeing here?
GB: Again, it’s gotta be the ethnic food. It’s getting more plentiful and better and better. Lots of great Latino food, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and more. It’s so fun for the city to have so many choices.

What’s your favorite thing to cook?
GB: Quinoa and tempeh. And, Thai pumpkin soup. Anything with coconut milk - I love it!

What’s a good date night spot for you and your wife?
GB: We like XS in Mt. Vernon and also Brewers Art is fun. I like to have a drink sometimes, so if we can get good food and drinks, I’m down.

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