Day two of the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture began at the Essence Eats booth with a cooking demo by New York’s chef JJ Johnson, who was joined by P-Valley actress Brandee Evans. Together they prepared a salmon dish using plant-based cheese — inspired by a favorite at Johnson’s rice bowl restaurant, Field Trip — and discussed the importance of healthy eating in the Black community.

Evans was motivated to convert to a plant-based diet after her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2018. Considering her role as a star exotic dancer on the hit Starz show P-Valley, Evans said healthy eating also helps to get and keep her in shape.

Johnson inquired about Evans’ full regime, asking, “Some people say if you go plant-based, you can’t work out, you need lots of protein.”

Evans said she doesn’t drink protein shakes at all. “I work out all the time, I’m a workout fanatic. I don’t need it, I feel like I get the energy that I need from eating better now.” She jokingly adding, “Y’all see what I gotta wear [on the show] – nothing, so that’s another reason we had to go plant-based.”

As for Johnson, a man of Black and Puerto Rican descent, he infuses plant-based ingredients into the variety of special rice dishes created at Field Trip.

“The goal is to bring rice culture back to America and also put respect back on the rice grain,” he said. But also, “A lot of Black people don’t eat dairy,” so fresh products like the plant-based cheese used during the cooking demo are important to the community.

“I call ourselves a community-based restaurant, especially in Harlem,” he said. Johnson says he’s proud to be a Black business owner with the ability “to open the doors and [create] a safe space for all.”

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