Cadence, a vegan restaurant in the heart of New York City, is the talk around town. The soul food restaurant in the East Village was named to the Top 10 new New York Restaurants of 2021 by The New York Times, as well as its Top 50 Favorites in America.

So what makes this small eleven-seat restaurant so unique? The 28-year-old, innovative, vegan chef Shenarri Freeman.

Shenarri grew up in Richmond, Virginia, with a big family where cooking was an important bonding experience. She told Vogue, “There was always a lot of soul food—fried oysters, chitlins, certain staples.”

“When it comes to soul food, there’s a little bit more love and thought and care put into it.”

Her background in soul food piqued her interest in cooking, and as a student at Howard University, she accepted her first role as a line cook and would soon move into a manager role. She was drawn to hospitality but noticed the long days and nights affecting her overall health.

“That just brought along a lot of late nights—a lot of Jameson, things of that nature and not really keeping up with my body or my diet,” she said. “I was overworking myself and not really paying attention to my health.”

This prompted Shenarri to make a powerful life change: she went vegan. And she felt great! In 2019, she moved to New York and started a plant-based cooking program at the Institute of Culinary Education.

After she finished, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Shenarri was left looking for work. She began working at an award-winning vegan restaurant, Overthrow Hospitality. She enjoyed working in vegan restaurants but thought vegan soul food restaurants were hard to come by.

Her time finally came to make her dreams a reality. She opened Cadence and took eight months of taste testing to make her perfect vegan menu. She took her inspiration from her family’s recipes and put her vegan twists on them.

Cadence’s menu is fine dining with elegant comfort food. She makes her crab cakes with chickpeas and heart of palms, fried lasagna with pine nut ricotta, cornbread with bee-free honey, spicy buffalo oyster mushroom sliders, and all of Cadence’s wine is from Black-owned wineries.

“I wanted to design a place where people are enjoying their soul food but get the experience of a fine dining restaurant,” she told Vogue. “I think that I’m definitely opening up the eyes to what vegan food can be and what soul foods can be—and bridging that gap together.”

Other notable plant-based black chefs in NYC include Chef Elijah B.

Below are some vegan soul food recipes you can make at home:

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